Make Captain America great again: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier “New World Order”
A year and a half ago, Disney and Marvel Studios could not have anticipated what a wide-open market they’d have for their new line of streaming miniseries (or maybe they did—muahahaha!). But what they had in mind with these series hasn’t changed: In the wake of the big series-defining Avengers event movies, and the expiration of a lot of the original MCU players’ contracts, these TV series represent a low-stakes method of fleshing out some of the up-and-coming Avengers who haven’t been defined much outside their relationships to established characters. If it’s a hit, like WandaVision, so much the better; if it bombs, no matter, because it’s on TV and they can always pretend it’s not real.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is about the newly-deceased Captain America’s two best friends: his crazy-ass white boy friend Bucky Barnes, captured in World War II and turned into a brainwashed cyborg assassin; and Sam Wilson/Falcon, an upstanding black gentleman whose superpowers are flying on a set of robot wings and being upstanding. Both of them are living in Captain America’s shadow and struggling with their new roles in a post-Endgame universe. We’re told that “it’s a new, crazy world out there”, and “we need new heroes for the times”, and while we can definitely appreciate that, it seems like someone has said these exact words at the beginning of every single MCU “Phase” so far. How many paradigm shifts can possibly happen in 13 years?
We open up on the Falcon, ironing his shirt in his gauzy soft focus apartment and staring at the vibranium shield the 100-year-old Captain America bequeathed to him at the end of Avengers: Endgame. He slips it into a cymbal bag.
Cut to: Falcon’s mission today, which involves rescuing a captured Air Force liason from a terrorist group called “LAF”. Hmm, need to work on that branding, guys; it doesn’t have the snap of “HYDRA”. They’ve got the captive on a hijacked plane in Tunisian airspace, and Falcon has got to get on the plane and retrieve the hostage without revealing the presence of American military in the area. Various irrelevancies—such as what the terrorist group’s political motives are, and why they’ve selected this particular guy, and what they’re planning to do with him, and what the American military is doing in Tunisia, and why they have to keep their presence a secret—are cheerfully elided with typically Marvelesque aplomb. The terrorists don’t speak English and that’s all you need to know. In fact, they even speak French! Ugh, French! That most callow, fickle, and freedom-hating of Romance languages!
Falcon dives out of a plane, unfurls his wings, and gets up alongside the hijacked plane, giving the pilot a Shatner Twilight Zone moment. And in a small bit of MCU continuity, the pilot turns around to report this to a skeptical Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), last seen hijacking a SHIELD vessel at the start of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Falcon has a drone named “Red Wing”, and he commands it break off from its charging port on his backpack and laser the door off, after which he bursts in and dispatches the terrorists one by one. They fight him, but he’s got hand-to-hand combat skills; they shoot at him, but he can form his wings into a shield that can absorb the bullets with no effect on the wings’ flightworthiness. One of the bullets ricochets off his wings and kills the pilot and the plane starts going down. The remaining terrorists lay down covering fire while they get into wingsuits and jump out of the plane, with their captive strapped to one guy’s back.
Falcon dives out after them. One of the terrorists turns around in midair and fires a handgun at him, Newton’s laws of motion be damned, but Falcon zooms by and activates the guy’s parachute, leaving him in the air far above. The wingsuit crew dip into a canyon and Falcon follows them in for a little Independence Day action. He has Red Wing blow up a pursuing helicopter and uses a grappling hook to pull a machine-gunner out of another helicopter and drop him to his death. He catches up with the wingsuit squad and the captive, now safely ensconced in another helicopter, but they shoot at him, damaging his thrusters, and throw him back out.
Now Falcon’s thrusters don’t work, but that doesn’t seem to be affecting his ability to swoop and glide gracefully and avoid the several dozen missiles locked on him. His spotter on the ground informs him that he’s about to cross into Libyan airspace, Libya being a Bad Guy country and even less inclined to tolerate the presence of Americans than Tunisia. Luckily, Falcon’s thruster power has been “rerouted” and he speeds off, snatching the captive out of the helicopter. He leads one of the missiles locked on him into the helicopter, blowing it up (with Batroc noticeably diving out in a wingsuit before the explosion) and veers off just in time not to cross the Libyan border.
Back in a cafe in Tunisia, the guy on the ground is revealed to be Lt. Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez)—in the comics, Torres becomes the new Falcon after Sam takes over being Captain America. Lt. Torres is giving Falcon some exposition about the new terrorist threats that have emerged in the five years that he was snapped away, like LAF, and the “Flag-Smashers”. The latter have been active ever since everyone came back from the dead in the un-snappening, and they’ve been recruiting on the Internet, and leaving secret graffiti all over that you need a special filter on your phone to see. According to Torres, they think the world was better with half the people, and want to make a new world without any borders. I don’t see how those two ideas are logically connected; were there no borders during the Blip? In return for keeping an eye on the Flag-Smashers’ online activities, Torres asks Falcon to confirm or deny some of the crazier Captain America conspiracy theories he’s read. Falcon refuses.
After coming back from Tunisia, Falcon goes to inaugurate the new Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian, which you may recall was already used as a plot device in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He gives a speech about Captain America and makes a show of donating Cap’s vibranium shield. Afterwards, Col. Rhodes AKA War Machine strolls with him through the exhibit (with the camera lingering on the portrait of Bucky Barnes—gosh, but isn’t this familiar?), asking why he didn’t become Captain America like Steve Rogers wanted. Sam says he just doesn’t think he could fill Steve’s shoes. Rhodey is much disappoint but leaves him be.
Cut to a fancy old hotel. A group of nerds are talking about work when Bucky Barnes AKA the Winter Soldier bursts through a mural on the wall and attacks a group of vaguely Slavic mooks.
He slaughters them all with guns and throwing knives, and strangles the last one with an admonition of “Hail HYDRA”. A nerd who’s just trying to get to his hotel room is killed so as not to leave any witnesses. As we hear the gunshot, Bucky wakes up in his apartment, having suffered a flashback to his brainwashed Winter Soldier days. Now he’s sitting sullenly in a therapy session while lying to his unfriendly therapist (Amy Aquino) about having a flashback. The therapist reminds him that therapy is a condition of his pardon.
Bucky tells her about the recent “amends” he’s been making, kind of like a twelve-step program, but for murder. He mentions that while he worked for HYDRA, he put a corrupt senator in office. He tells his therapist that he made amends by leaking intel that got the senator arrested. What really happened is that he attached a science box to the senator’s car, locked her inside with an aide, and drove the car all around and most of the way into a wall, and broke her bodyguard’s hand when he tried to retaliate. Bucky tells the therapist all this, evincing a flippant and sarcastic new personality pumped into him by Wakandan brain engineers as seen in the post-credits scene of Black Panther.
After his gab sesh, Bucky meets up with an old Japanese man he’s friends with for some reason, and they go out for a sushi lunch. The man, Yori (Ken Takemoto), nabs Bucky a date with their waitress, which Bucky is apprehensive about, musing that he hasn’t dated in 78 years. Meanwhile, Sam’s gone back home to Louisiana to meet up with his sister Sarah (Adepoyo Oduye) and his nephews. The sister has been keeping the family business together during the Blip: a fishing boat. (How much you wanna bet they were thisclose to making it a shrimping boat?) Now Sarah wants to sell it, and Sam isn’t a fan of that idea, but Sarah basically says it’s none of his damn business since he’s always off doing Avenger shit.
We then go to Bucky trying his best to ruin his date with the sushi waitress, but his bad-boy charm just won’t quit. The waitress thinks it’s sweet that he’s spending time with Yori, because he’s been all broken up since his son died mysteriously. This causes Bucky to ditch her unexpectedly because (dun dun dunnn!) he’s wracked with guilt over killing Yori’s son, as we see when Bucky opens his “amends” book to find his name.
Cut to Switzerland, where Lt. Torres looks to be infiltrating the Flag-Smashers. A bunch are parked outside a bank awaiting text-message instructions while wearing identical masks. A superpowered gentleman in a mask jumps out of a third-story window with two bags of money. Everyone starts running and handing off the duffels like footballs. Torres tries to arrest the person holding one of the bags, but is kicked into a lightpole and stomped on for his efforts. Luckily, Torres caught the crooks on a Candid Camera tucked in his pocket.
In Louisiana, Sam accompanies his sister to a bank so she can refinance her loans. He’s disappointed to find that, in the wake of billions of people reappearing from nonexistence, reserves are light, and not even Sam’s Avengers cred can keep his sister’s business afloat. Sam wants to soldier ahead, and go to more banks, but Sarah says she was prepared for this, and he would be too if he weren’t always trying to escape his family troubles to go fight aliens.
While trying to fix the boat later that night, Sam gets a text from Torres. He tells Sam all about his run-in with the Flag-Smashers in Switzerland. Sam has to duck out because Sarah has turned on the TV to an important news broadcast. Thanks to Sam turning down the mantle of Captain America, the government has selected a different guy to be the new Captain America. Using language with eerily nationalistic undertones, the guy doing the introduction says that while they’ve counted on the Avengers to protect the Earth, they need a new hero to protect their own country. He brings out the new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell)—an adaptation of the comics character U.S. Agent—sporting jug ears and a big boyish grin, and big homeschooled energy.
Next week: The Flag-Smashers rethink their name after someone points out that you can’t really smash a flag. Bucky gets anisakiasis from his sushi and it reactivates his brainwashing.