‘Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Takes Marvel Back To Basics

Lest any viewer think Marvel’s new TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will follow WandaVision and start with a crazy if delightful detour into a whole different world, it doesn’t.

Left to right, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which becomes available Friday on Disney+, starts with 10 full minutes that are solid classic Marvel. We won’t spoil exactly what, but it’s unmistakable and helps explain why the filmmakers reportedly needed a budget of up to $25 million per episode.

It also fits, like every other Marvel production including WandaVision, into the studio’s long game. We are now moving into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe Phase 4, which was set up by Phase 3 and all that came before.

These new adventures of Falcon, a/k/a Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), and Winter Soldier, a/k/a Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), were teed up at the conclusion of Marvel’s blockbuster Avengers: Endgame.

The Falcon was handed the Captain America shield by the man who had wielded it for decades, Steve Rogers. The tormented Winter Soldier — actually, who in the Marvel universe isn’t tormented? — was Rogers’s best friend and now finds himself reluctantly drawn into the fights that can protect Rogers’s legacy.

So there’s a lot of saving-the-world stuff here, which is kind of Marvel’s thing, and it’s no big spoiler to say The Falcon and the Winter Soldier promises regular doses of the warp-speed action adventure and look-what-we-can-do special effects that WandaVision mostly saved for the end.

What has catapulted Marvel to the top of the superhero world, though, isn’t just its dexterity with computer effects. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier also tells a tale of these two guys, the mundane as well as the soaring moments in their eventful and angst-riddled lives.

Sam Wilson contemplating the shield of Captain America.

The Falcon feels great ambivalence about the Captain America role, first because he doubts anyone could fill Rogers’s boots, and second because he seems unsure of how a black man can represent a country that in some ways still rejects him.

This doesn’t make Falcon and the Winter Soldier a thinly disguised political metaphor. It does correctly suggest Marvel writers have never forgotten the value of acknowledging the real world in Marvel’s manufactured world.

A great scene in the first episode has Wilson facing a mundane financial situation with which almost every homeowner in America will be familiar, and coming away with a result that’s deeply ironic.

One of Barnes’s big solo scenes takes him on a date, which could be awkward if Barnes’s deadpan conversation weren’t so amusing.

Falcon and the Winter Soldier don’t have to carry the whole show by themselves. They’re ably joined by John Walker (Wyatt Russell), a chap the U.S. government thinks might be a better Captain America 2.0 than Wilson, and Sharon Carter (Emily Van Camp), the angry niece of Peggy Carter. She has been out of sight since the movie Civil War.

Marvel’s short-run TV series were designed for multiple purposes. They bridge stories between Phase 3 and the incoming Phase 4 and they enable Marvel to add dimension to interesting characters who have often been secondary in the movies.

The success of WandaVision may have shone a wider spotlight on Wanda and Vision than Marvel expected. That’s less likely to happen with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, if only because the presentation is less of a departure from classic Marvel style and therefore perhaps less apt to fascinate curiosity seekers from outside the Marvel fan world.

But there’s every reason to expect these six episodes will serve as the sturdy bridge Marvel imagines, while delivering wry humor and poignantly humanizing moments.

Oh yeah, and the world could also be saved. Pow! Zap! Bam!

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”