Captain America and the Winter Soldier is my favorite Marvel movie, both on its own merits and for its role in creating excellent fanfic (Ain’t No Grave by spitandvinegar is one of my all-time favorites), and I adored Marvel’s first foray into episodic storytelling with WandaVision, so there was no way I was going to miss Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson sniping at each other in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Of course, in episode 1, Sam and Bucky aren’t even in the same city. This feels like a real misfire to me, especially because their chemistry is what the trailers have been advertising. It’s not that there aren’t interesting things happening in the show; it’s just fairly underwhelming so far.
We start with Sam Wilson on an Air Force mission in Tunisia. There are a lot of aerial escapades that are entertaining to watch, and I loved seeing Baltroc “the ballet fighter” again. After he saves the day in the knick of time, Sam enjoys some tea with his military contact Joaquin. All of this was action movie heavy and not really what I was here for.
Things get a little better when we shift to the Winter Soldier, and I know it’s horrific, but rank-haired murder goblin efficiently massacring people and grabbing someone through a wall is EXACTLY what I am interested in. It’s just a nightmare, though, and Bucky awakes after murdering a civilian who happened to witness the violence. Bucky goes to therapy, which would be much better without the INTENSE close up shots. This lays the groundwork for his arc: Bucky has no friends and is trying to make amends in the most awkward, semi-violent, horrific smiling way possible. It’s good.
After giving up Captain America’s shield to the Smithsonian, Sam heads to his hometown in Louisiana, where I become a lot more interested in his story. I love his sister, who needs his help and resents her savior-brother who thinks he can swoop in and take control after she held things together for the five year Snap. It feels really great to focus on a working class black family and how superheroes and missing people have effected their lives: hint, it’s not good.
Bucky meets up with his closest friend, an adorably cranky Japanese man. They bond over obituaries, warming my fanfic-loving heart. The man asks out the cute Japanese-American waitress for Bucky, and Leah accepts. She is an excellent human being who saves their painfully awkward date (“How old are you?” “106.” “Why are you wearing those gloves?” “….Poor circulation.”) with the board game Battleship and beer. Unfortunately, the topic shifts to the old man Bucky was hanging out with, and Leah sympathizes that it is uniquely terrible to not only lose your son, but to not know how he died. Bucky abruptly leaves and heads to the old man’s house…where we see a memorial shrine set up to his son: the civilian who Bucky murdered in his Winter Soldier nightmare. Ouch.
Sam takes his sister to the bank, thinking his Avengers status will help her get a loan so that they can keep their parents’ sweet houseboat. In a devastatingly accurate scene, even a superhero can’t get a loan if he’s black. Even worse, he heads home to watch the news only to see that Captain America’s shield has been passed on to some random who winks at the screen. Sam! You should have kept it!
There is also a whole thing with the Flag Smashers (dumb name) that I do not yet have any interest in. Honestly, I wish this show were just character studies of Sam and Bucky, hanging out with people and getting on with life. And together! I hope their paths cross in the next episode.
Overall, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier lacks the hook that WandaVision had. It feels a lot more traditionally Marvel, which is fine but not fascinating. I’m definitely interested to know what will happen next, and I’m loving Sam breaking out of the token black person role. But I do kind of wish that Sam and Bucky had found themselves in a 1950s sitcom…