MCU Disney+ Year In Review – Falcon & Winter Soldier

Last year, Disney+ released the first crop of MCU shows on its site and the initial plan was that Falcon and Winter Soldier would be first. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this show had to stop filming, so in January of 2021, Wandavision was released instead. Falcon and the Winter Soldier would subsequently drop in September. While Wandavision was far removed from your typical superhero show, this one was a more standard comicbook story. Let’s dive in and readers beware: there be spoilers.

The Longest MCU Movie Ever

The great thing about this show was that it felt very much like an MCU movie that just happened to be six hours long. Not only did we get the return of one of Marvel’s best bromances, Falcon and Bucky, but the action and special effects were not far removed from what you might see in your average Hollywood blockbuster. The aerial fight that started the series off were gorgeous and exciting. I loved seeing Sam Wilson swooping through the canons while helicopters attacked him. Later in the series, Sam and Bucky fought John Walker and it was very cinematic. Oh, and then there was the fight on the trucks in the second episode. When these shows were first announced, I was slightly worried that the budget would not allow for these sort of action sequences and I’m glad I was wrong.

I also loved that a few MCU characters got the chance to shine after being ignored in the films. For instance, Ayo showed up along with the rest of the Dora Milaje. MCU fans might not have noticed Ayo in past Marvel movies since Okoye was usually the one Dora Milaje who got to do all the cool stuff, but Ayo nearly got into a fistfight with Black Widow in Civil War so that should account for something. Then, of course, there was the appearance of Sharon Carter who, after two movies of being the almost-girlfriend of Cap, got to have a storyarc and kick some ass. Batroc also appeared in two episodes and while his comic counterpart is a bit of a b-list villain, I always liked him in the movies. My favorite returning character has to be Zemo, though.

You knew I would use this gif.

Zemo, in my opinion, is the most underrated Marvel villain and (hipster glasses) I liked him before he was popular. Before Thanos wiped out half the universe, Zemo was the first villain to ever defeat the Avengers on the big screen. After all the aliens, gods, and killer robots the Avengers fought, their undoing was a highly intelligent spy with a vendetta. His plan was pretty smart: he didn’t have the power to beat the Avengers straight up, so he just had them fight each other. And it worked! The Avengers disbanded in Civil War because of him, which led to them being too divided when Thanos came to Earth. Anyway, he had a lot of great scenes here. He was funny, intriguing, and you never quite knew which side he was on. Like the comic namesake, he made for a great anti-villain who was always outsmarting the heroes and occasionally made good points as to why he did what he did.

Of course, the two stars of the show had a chance to shine in ways they couldn’t in the movies where they either were a part of a larger super team or acting as Captain America’s sidekicks. Like Luke Cage on Netflix, Sam’s arc dealt with racism in America. Sam was reluctant to take the mantle of Captain America due systemic racism, particularly in the military. Meanwhile, Bucky was still struggling to find normalcy after being brainwashed by Hydra. Both Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie are great actors and got a chance to really show off their acting chops here. The scene where Bucky learned that he was no longer under Hydra control was a real tear-jerker and Stan didn’t even need to say a word in order to convey what his character was feeling at that moment.

The World Building

Madripoor. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. 

While the show had a lot of characters and sequences that were familiar, it added a lot to the MCU as well. Perhaps the most exciting was the addition of Madripoor, a frequent set piece in the Wolverine mythos. Since Marvel has recently obtained the movie/TV rights to the X-Men franchise, they were now allowed to use this location and they delivered. The place looked like something you might see in a cyberpunk setting and had the appropriate gritty atmosphere. I loved the underground clubs with stolen artwork, which not only set Madripoor up as being a dangerous place but it was also a nice touch that they mentioned that artwork was easier to steal post-Snap.

Speaking of which, the show explored the Snap and the socio-political fallout that occurred when half the world disappeared and came back. While Spider-Man: Far From Home and Wandavision explored the personal ramifications of a post-Snap world, this show went into the politics of it all. On one side, we had the Flagsmashers who were trying to steal relief aid for people who had been dislocated after being Snapped, believing that a world without borders would be more helpful in this situation. On the other side was the GRC (Global Repatriation Council), an international organization trying to aid those left behind when half the world disappeared. This sort of thing adds an interesting layer and in the Mighty Marvel Manor, parallels certain real-world topics.

The new characters were also great. John Walker (aka USAgent) and Battlestar made their MCU debuts in this series. I loved the initial introduction of John Walker in the first episode. All he did was wink at the screen for one second and just oozed the appropriate amount of douchebaggery without saying a word. When he and Battlestar showed up to help fight the Flagsmashers in the next episode, I loved the fratboy-esque fist bump they did. Walker was an anti-hero you loved to hate, yet there was a tragic side to him. He was obviously dealing with untreated PTSD and it was implied he had committed war crimes under the orders of the US government but because he was a handsome and highly trained soldier, he was given the title of Captain America. The stress and the fame got to him quickly and after Battlestar got killed, he became unhinged (thanks in some part due to taking a super soldier serum) and killed an unarmed Flagsmasher who was surrendering. I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him when he was brought before the Court and told them “You made me”. He was absolutely right but the government refused to take any responsibility for their actions. Not that it excused Walker, mind you, but it seems like he probably would have been a more stable person, or at least less dangerous, if the military hadn’t turned him into a weapon. This was later emphasized by Val, played wonderfully by Julia Louis Dreyfus, who mentioned that the military wouldn’t have cared that he killed the Flagsmasher except that it was done in view of the public and embarrassed them.

Speaking of Val, I love her character and I’ve loved Dreyfus ever since Seinfeld. She’s like an evil Nick Fury. Considering her appearance here and in the after-credits scene of Black Widow, it’s obvious she’ll be forming some sort of Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers team with Walker and others. I can’t wait to see it.

Another great addition was Isaiah Bradley and his grandson Eli. Comic fans will recognize them as a former (and forgotten) Captain America and the teen superhero Patriot. Eli, along with the Maximoff twins who debuted in Wandavision, were on the Young Avengers, another team the MCU is currently developing. As for Isaiah, he was played by Carl Lumbly and stole the show in every scene he was in. I especially liked his introduction which ended with him telling Sam and Bucky to get out of his house. There was so much real-world pain and sadness with they way he told them to get out. It was a very powerful performance. I hope we’ll eventually get a flashback to him fighting Winter Soldier one day.

A Few Messy Bits

“I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for… me.”

As mentioned, filming of this series was put on hold for a few months. There is also a rumor that reshoots and rewrites were done because the show originally was supposed to feature a pandemic plot and in the wake of COVID, they decided to change course. Again, these are just rumors but the series did show signs of some sort of shuffling going on as there were a few parts that were a bit sloppy.

When it came to the Flagsmashers, their plans were a bit murky at time. We know they didn’t like the GRC but aside from stealing some supplies in an early episode, they didn’t seem to do much more than blow up a building, try to kill John Walker, or kidnap some politicians. We were supposed to see them as misguided young people with good intentions but it was a bit hard to do that at times when they were shown attacking people more than helping them. As for the GRC, we were often told they were doing a lot of bad things, but we were never really shown it other than sending John Walker in to push people around.

The biggest mess had to do with the Power Broker, however. As mentioned above, I like that the show finally did something with Sharon Carter but there were things that didn’t add up with her being the Power Broker. For starters, there is a timeline issue. Sharon went to Madripoor after the events of Civil War because she was an international criminal. In the same movie, Zemo was sent to prison and stayed there until episode three of this show. Zemo talked about the Power Broker running things in Madripoor for years and in the finale, it was revealed that Sharon was the Power Broker. At the time Sharon started her career as a criminal, Zemo would have been in prison, yet we see Zemo meeting old Madripoor acquaintances and talking as if he was aware of the Power Broker prior to being arrested.

To add to that, in an early episode, Sharon led Bucky, Sam, and Zemo to a scientist who created a super soldier serum under orders from the Power Broker. Now, if Sharon wasn’t the Power Broker, this would have made sense but considering she was the one who employed the scientist to begin with, it doesn’t. Her entire operation hinged on this one guy and she wasn’t in a position to give him up, but she just randomly led the heroes to him any way. There were a hundred ways in which that would have ended badly for her and, sure enough, Zemo killed the guy shortly after meeting him, which screwed Sharon’s entire plan. The reveal that she was the villain seems like it was tacked on at the last minute without much thought. One explanation is that Sharon was replaced by a Skrull at some point, which is a common fan theory and something I could get behind. If she turns out to be an alien playing both sides against one another, that would pretty much be the only thing that could make sense.

Final Verdict

The show was a fun ride that had all the things I love about MCU movies. The later half was a bit sloppy, mostly in regards to Sharon Carter’s reveal, but it was otherwise very entertaining. I’m looking forward to the return of all these characters whether in future movies or shows. Next up: Loki.

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