Flicks With Nicki – The Falcon and the Winter SoldierNicki Salcedo. Photo by Dean Hesse.
“WandaVision” surprised me with its exploration of power, imagination, and grief. I was Wanda. I was Monica. It felt unabashedly personal. I expected less introspection and more action with Marvel’s next TV series, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” But Marvel has the uncanny ability of turning a superhero story into something different.
Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is a regular guy who happens to be an exceptional pilot and soldier. He can fight, he can fly, and he knows how to use technology. He does not want to take the mantle of Captain America when Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) hands him the shield at the end of “Avengers: Endgame.” The shield is heavy with history dating back to World War II and strong from vibranium. The metal comes from Wakanda, but that makes no difference to Sam. He is comfortable being The Falcon.
James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is in recovery. After years of war and being a deadly assassin, Bucky needs atonement. He doesn’t want to be the Winter Soldier, but he doesn’t know who else to be. Though he is battle-scarred and battle-weary, he is willing to fight again when the government recruits a new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell).
“Let’s take the shield, Sam,” Bucky says. When Bucky says, “let’s do something,” it’s going to get done.
We get adrenaline-filled moments. The Falcon defies gravity, and the Winter Soldier’s super strength is enhanced with his vibranium arm. They fight mercenaries and terrorists. Before they can take the shield, Sam and Bucky must fight the Flag Smashers, a group that wants to unite the planet without borders. Their leader is willing to kill for their cause. “One world, one people.”
The old world is black and white. The new world is shades of brown and tan. The Flag Smashers don’t look like they belong to one country or any particular people. They aren’t just humanitarians. They are superhumans made from the same serum that created Bucky and Steve Rogers. Sam must trace the origins of the Flag Smashers and protect the world from the rising revolution.
We see the return of Zemo, the villain from “Captain America: Civil War” and ally Sharon Carter. Though jaded because the U.S. government turned its back on her, Sharon agrees to help Sam and Bucky track down the mysterious Power Broker. John Walker and his partner Lemar Hoskins also known as Battlestar (Clé Bennett) present their own complications in the fight against the Flag Smashers.
Here’s the twist: “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is not a superhero story at all. It is a story about being Black in America.
Sam explores what it means to be Black and super in a world that doesn’t want him to be either. Bucky feels alienated and alone everywhere, but he finds freedom in Wakanda and comfort with Sam’s family in New Orleans.
There is an established precedent that the main superhero should have a Black sidekick. Iron Man has War Machine. Captain America has The Falcon. Captain Marvel has Maria. Wanda has Monica. Even the new Captain America has his sidekick Battlestar. There’s a reason Sam doesn’t want the shield. There’s a reason why Bucky is the right person to encourage Sam to claim it.
This is America. Cue the music, Childish Gambino.
Sam and his sister try to get a loan to save their family business. Although the loan officer eventually recognizes Sam as The Falcon, the bank will not help them. It is easier to fight superhuman terrorists then it is for a Black man to get credit in America.
John Walker returns to his old high school and is greeted with patriotism performed by a Black marching band. My eyes and ears did a double take. Even the Marvel opening sequence is replaced with the sounds of this other America. What mainstream TV show or movie ever showcased a Black marching band? At that moment, I knew we were in for a ride.
Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) is an ill-treated and forgotten super soldier who fought Bucky in the 1950’s. He delivers all the lines that needed to be said in the entire show. Period. At some point, I wondered if I was watching Disney+ or Malcom X.
Sam goes undercover and says he looks like a pimp. Zemo’s smooth reply is this, “Only an American would assume a fashion-forward Black man looks like a pimp.” Did Zemo just shut up The Falcon? Yes, he did. Why do I love Zemo now?
Ayo (Florence Kasumba) comes to arrest Zemo. She’s from Wakanda’s special forces team, the Dora Milaje. Ayo is a friend and protector to Bucky. She easily defeats John Walker in hand-to-hand combat in a scene that upends our expectations of gender and race.
Bucky takes a second look at Sam’s sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye), and I feel his eyes on me. She is beautiful, strong, and smart. How many times have I been overlooked because I didn’t meet the American standard of worthiness?
Finally, Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman). She is young and strong. Both morally and ethnically ambiguous, Karli makes us think. We see the complex interplay of villain and hero in each character. Everyone had a low moment. Everyone had a moment to shine. There were no true villains. Maybe the future isn’t Sam at all, but Karli.
Ultimately Sam must accept not just the shield, but also his skin if he is to become Captain America.
The news is filled with bodies of Black men. George Floyd, Phillip Adams, DMX, and Shock G. Before these men died, how much of their lives were determined by their race, their sport, their music? How many people have profited from both their lives and death? It is easy to blame traumatic brain injuries or substance use disorders for someone’s demise, but what about the systemic racism that allowed both the suffocation and exploitation they experienced before they died.
This is America. This is Sam’s conflict.
Who gives us power? Who takes it away? When do we decide to take the mantle for ourselves?
This is the universe.
“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is available on Disney+. The series has its flaws. The action and drama are sometimes erratic. I didn’t mind waiting a week for the next episode. A lot is shoehorned into six episodes and everything isn’t tied up to our expectations, but they are six well-crafted episodes. At times much too heavy-handed for my taste, the story unfolds with a clear message. America’s legacy does not need to be its future.
The camera work is beautiful. We see widescreen shots like Bucky and Sam walking along a road. We see Bucky lost against the forest wallpaper of the therapist’s office. In other scenes, the camera stays close. We follow the zipper slowly revealing John Walker’s suit and the movement feels like a teardrop.
If you’re unsure about watching, the introduction of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine makes it all worth it. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan have wonderful chemistry. You will see villains make good choices and heroes make bad ones. The dialogue is top-notch. You will come away with at least one line from each episode that breaks your heart. “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” promises action and gives us redemption.
Bucky says to Sam, “He gave you that shield, and you threw it away like it was nothing. So maybe he was wrong about you. And if he was wrong about you, then he was wrong about me.”
I feel the same way, Bucky. Marvel delivers another therapy session. What Sam decides to do might save us all. That’s a superhero story. Grade B+
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