Friday’s premiere of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier barely left Marvel fans with a chance to catch our breath. Just weeks after the finale of WandaVision, the spinoff to Captain America promises another satisfying installment to Marvel’s Phase Four. The series follows some fan-favorite characters — Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie, and the Winter Soldier, played by Sebastian Stan — as they pick up the mantle (or shield) where Cap left it.
Episode one, ominously titled “New World Order,” proved the new series would not follow WandaVision’s slow burn. While the Scarlet Witch’s own series received mostly positive reviews from critics and fans alike, some couldn’t move past its overall lack of action. Depending on fan preferences, WandaVision was either genius for its unorthodox approach, or it fell flat for failing to deliver an action-driven concept more in line with the classic Avengers style of punching through to a solution.
For those of us who’ve desperately missed less-cerebral plot lines and more beautiful fight choreography, Marvel has delivered with the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Without the First Avenger dominating each scene, Cap’s former sidekicks are poised to finally realize their full potential. Sam Wilson, the Air Force Pararescue Jumper-turned-Avenger, and Bucky Barnes, Cap’s best friend and former supervillain, showcase their fighting abilities in New World Order. For those poor souls who have denied themselves the pleasure of the Avengers movies, here’s a quick recap of where we left Sam (The Falcon) and Bucky (The Winter Soldier).
The Falcon first joined Marvel’s roster of silver screen superheroes in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (although true comic nerds are quick to point out his character was introduced as far back as 1969). In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Sam is befriended by Captain America as he struggles to reconcile the damage left behind in the previous Avengers movie. Sam ultimately joins Cap in his fight against the Hydra supervillain Winter Soldier. Enter, Bucky.
We first meet the Winter Soldier alongside Captain America back when he is known simply as Bucky. Bucky enlists in the Army to fight in World War II but is soon captured and tortured by Hydra soldiers. Captain America rescues him, but Bucky gets captured a second time, completing his transformation into an evil supersoldier. After the events of The Winter Soldier, Bucky joins Sam and becomes one of Captain America’s strongest allies. At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Captain America leaves his shield (along with the attached burden of responsibility) to Sam as Bucky looks on, nodding in approval. The scene ends with Sam claiming, “I’ll do my best,” to which Cap responds, “That’s why it’s yours,” the perfect setup for the new series.
Episode one of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier starts with a bang. We see Falcon back in action, this time forcibly boarding an in-flight C-130 full of bad guys. With the help of an Army intelligence officer named Lt. Joaquín Torres, Sam quickly sets to cracking skulls on a mission to rescue an American prisoner. Warning: spoilers ahead.
During the fight, we get a glimpse of Batroc (played by MMA legend Georges St-Pierre) as he reprises his role from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The two briefly duke it out on the airplane before their fight spills out into a dramatic free fall. Batroc, equipped with a skydiving squirrel-suit, and Falcon with his wingsuit turn a normal fistfight into something reminiscent of Podracing in Star Wars as they exchange punches, kicks, and gunfire while soaring through a breathtaking canyon. The fight ends in a virtual draw, and the episode drives forward into the plot.
Sam heads to Washington, DC, where he relinquishes Cap’s shield to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, saying the shield belonged to Captain America and no one else.
We’re introduced to a post-Endgame world where terrorists known as the Flag Smashers strive to return to a world with half of the human race gone, and where ordinary families (like Sam’s sister) can’t get approved for a loan to keep the family business afloat. It’s a grim world where the reality of supervillains and mass destruction are very real, and it’s a United States struggling to find its way in a world without Captain America.
Almost halfway into the episode we finally join Bucky, plagued with nightmares from 90 years of endless fighting. We see him in therapy, trying to address his demons, yet despite the serious nature of the scene, it’s also the moment the show solidifies the fact there will be a heavy dose of comedy. Bucky’s therapist teases him for having only 10 friends listed in his phone despite being over 100 years old. The trailers promised some funny back and forth between Sam and Bucky, but since the two never meet in the first episode, we have to settle for comedic jabs between Bucky and his therapist and Sam and Lt. Torres.
The trailers also teased a return of SHIELD Agent Sharon Carter, and while her arrival didn’t happen in the premiere, Don Cheadle reprises his role as War Machine, giving us a nice helping of familiarity. The episode delivered the perfect amount of cameos without their feeling like bones being tossed to drooling fans.
The final scene shows Sam watching a newscast in which a “New Captain America” is revealed to the world. Based on Sam’s disheartening expression, we know the new Captain is not worthy to pick up the torch.
As the credits roll, we are left with a lot of questions. When will the two protagonists meet back up? What’s the deal with the new Captain America? And who is behind the Flag Smashers? Hopefully next week’s episode tackles some of these mysteries.
Taking the opposite approach as WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiere was a blast. It scratched the itch Captain America fans have had since we saw him for the last time in Endgame. And while the imagery of Cap’s shield, and the impressive choreography and special effects fill the void left by the First Avenger, Falcon and the Winter Soldier are entirely their own characters and appear to be up to the task of picking up Cap’s torch.
Stand by for a dive into episode two next week.