'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' Review: The series that strikes strong dialogue with Black Lives Matter movement and refugee crisis

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review 

By Murtaza Ali Khan 

The new Disney+ series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” based on the Marvel Comics characters Sam Wilson / Falcon and Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier is a proof that the small screen is going to be an important avenue for the further expansion of the major superhero franchises as we have already seen with WandaVision and Zack Snyder's Justice League. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which is available in India on Disney+ Hotstar Premium, is set after the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019) with Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan reprising their roles as Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (aka The Winter Soldier). Directed by Kari Skogland, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier also stars Daniel Brühl, Emily VanCamp, Wyatt Russell, and Erin Kellyman in pivotal roles.

When at the end of Endgame an aging Steve Rogers had passed his shield to Sam Wilson, it had opened up the exciting possibility of a Black Captain America. Wilson, however, is quick to dash all our hopes when at the beginning of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier he hands over Rogers' shield to the U.S. government for a museum display. To everyone’s great shock the government soon announces John Walker, a decorated member of the U.S. Army, as the new Captain America and so Steve Rogers’ dream of a Black Captain America goes for a toss.

To make the matters worse, Rogers’ shield is also handed over to Walker. Bucky Barnes, who got recently pardoned, is furious to learn about the new Captain America. Also, he is mad at Wilson for not honoring Rogers’ wish and giving away the shield to the government. Meanwhile, Wilson learns about a terrorist group called the “Flag Smashers” that’s fighting for open national borders, believing that life was better during the Blip when Thanos had wiped out half of the human population. Wilson and Barnes team up to stop the terrorist group but quickly learn that the terrorists are all super soldiers headed by a girl named Karli Morgenthau. Alarmed that someone has recreated the Super Soldier Serum, they embark upon a mission to get to the roots of the conspiracy. When Barnes fails to attend a session of the government-mandated therapy as part of the pardon granted to him, he gets arrested. But Walker has him released. Walker desperately wants to get Wilson and Barnes onboard but the duo considers him unworthy of the Captain America title and refuses to work with him.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier raises some very pertinent issues about the times we live in. It succeeds in establishing a strong dialogue with the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread conversations about racism. It constantly reminds us about the white privilege through its various characters. How John Walker gets offered the coveted title of Captain America on a platter. How difficult it is for the authorities to choose a Black Captain America. Through the story of Isaiah Bradley, a black super soldier who fought the Winter Soldier in the Korean War, we learn how he was imprisoned and experimented on by the U.S. government for 30 years for his super-abilities when he should have been hailed as a hero just a white man like Steve Rogers was. Wilson’s reluctance to carry Rogers’ shield somewhere also stems from his insecurities as a black man living in the US.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is also not hesitant to deal with the issue of refugees. It constantly puts the government under the scanner for its decision-making. Five years after the Blip when the disappeared half of the population suddenly began to reappear it created a major issue for the governments of the world. There is a scene wherein Wilson confronts the politicians and reminds them of their powers and what they are truly capable of doing if they really take it upon themselves to serve the humanity. Living through the pandemic, one does get a similar feeling about the governments and the authorities the world over. Yes, they are increasingly incapacitated by the pressures they are constantly facing but they are still capable of doing a lot more for the people.     

Despite all its merits, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier does suffer from occasional ramblings when the plot tends to take a few unwanted turns. Also, the constant total shifts can be a little annoying at times. Some of the scenes set on the fictional island of Madripoor feel like an extension of Blade Runner / Blade Runner 2049 and add little to the story of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. But even during its weak moments the series is saved by its performances. While Mackie and Stan (good to see more of him with newer layers unfolding now that the part is not just that of a killing machine anymore) are solid in their roles, the biggest surprise comes from Wyatt Russell as John Walker. In Walker’s constant efforts to fill in Rogers’ shoes we finally realize the herculean nature of carrying the Captain America title which Steve Rogers made look like a cinch. Another memorable performance comes from Daniel Brühl who is brilliant to watch as the duplicitous Helmut Zemo.

A version of this article was first published in The Daily Guardian.

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