It took an age. We were forced to go through three episodes of pain, annoyance and frustration. The path back to brilliance is still a lengthy one. But finally, at long last, Marvel have delivered a good episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Things were better right from the off. The opening scene treats us to some classic Wakandan music, drawing us in straightaway. This is quickly replaced by the chilling Winter Soldier theme as we are revealed to have temporarily travelled six yars into the past, the period where titular character Bucky Barnes spent time in the African country in an attempt to rid his mind of its Hydra programming.
This scene was the best in the series so far. It was streets ahead of anything up to that point, showcasing just what Marvel can achieve when they put their minds to it. There were no flashy moments, no dramatic reveals; Sebastian Stan provided a performance of the highest standard to show us just what Bucky has went through during his time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Simplicity was key. Stan didn’t have to say a word to have us viewers engrossed; the pain in his face as his worst memories flash across his mind, the tear streaming down his face, the relief when informed of his freedom. It may have just been a flashback, but this scene was one of the best Marvel have ever filmed.
Of course, that doesn’t really help Falcon and the Winter Soldier itself – if its best scene so far has been a flashback, that doesn’t say much for the show. Luckily, the rest of this episode followed suit.
Wyatt Russell’s portrayal of John Walker, the new Captain America, has actually been one of this show’s stronger points so far (even if he suffered from poor writing in earlier episodes). In The Whole World Is Watching, he helps in taking things to a whole new level.
He is heavily involved throughout this episode, his short temper and willingness for action helping to generate exhilarating scenes and propel the plot forwards. He is a believable character if not an entirely likable one, ensuring every second he spends on screen is put to good use.
The image of Walker just as the episode ends is incredibly powerful. Over the past decade, we have become accustomed to Captain America being the true inspiration of the MCU; Chris Evans’ portrayal of a selfless patriot was stunning. To see Wyatt’s version of the character stand over a brutally beaten body, his famous shield covered in blood, was beautiful in its own right. This is a new Captain America, and where the final two episodes take his character will be pivotal to the show’s overall quality.
In my personal (and perhaps harsh) opinion, this installment further benefited from Anthony Mackie taking on a more back-seat role. I’ve been critical of his acting in my prior reviews, and its no coincidence that the first strong episode arrived just when his dialogue was reduced.
Stan is undoubtedly a better actor; he has held scenes together on his own, pegged back by his co-star’s shortcomings. Here, Mackie seemed to take on an almost side character-esque job (one he has suited in his film appearances up to this point) and things were all the better for it.
Of course, this won’t be the same moving forward; Sam Wilson is a titular character, so we’ll be seeing much more of him. Let’s just hope that his quality improves.
Action scenes in Episode Four were much better as well. There have been plenty of them so far, but these really felt like they had a true purpose in driving the narrative – and that’s what we need. We don’t want to stare at a pointless fist fight; there have to be stakes, there has to be a reason to have the battle in the first place.
Take, for instance, the ending scene. If Wilson, Barnes and Walker fail to stop Karli Morgenthau (the leader of the Flag-Smashers), she will escape to cause more havoc and destroy more innocent lives. She does proceed to escape and, to rub salt in the wounds, kills Walker’s best friend and sidekick Lemar Hoskins – leading to his bloodstained shield and character development. It all intertwines, and that’s why it worked so well.
There were still some problems. The show seems unable to find a natural way to fit Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter into the narrative; she randomly showed up in earlier episodes with unerring convenience, and now (despite being on the run) happens to “have access to a satellite or two”. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense, and feels like the writers are trying to shoehorn in a character who doesn’t have an awful lot of relevance.
Overall, though, this was much better. Acting was on top form, the storyline made sense and real stakes were introduced. We expected that from the get-go, however, so now Marvel need to make sure the final two episodes of Falcon and the Winter Soldier are as good as this one.
Featured Image Credit: Inside The Magic