Review: ‘The Falcon And The Winter Soldier’ Ep.2

by Olly MacNamee

With the startling introduction of a new Captain America at the end of the first episode – John Walker – we open up this episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier with a more meaty introduction of the man behind the mask. And while the opening does play on his military service, heroism and a quaint, albeit it purposefully staged, folksy homecoming, no-one is in any doubt that this recasting of an American legend is not going to end well. 

Personally I feel it’s a great piece of casting as actor Wyatt Russell just seems slightly off. Stubble may work well on the brooding, grieving Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), but on Captain America, it isn’t a good look. And that jaw… it just sticks out just a bit too much. And I am sure that was the intention. Overall, John Walker looks like something of a caricature of Steve Rogers, and projecting the right kind of wrongness from the get go. Knowing that most viewers will have no prior knowledge of US Agent, this was an inspiring piece of casting. 

Furthermore, his staged entrance has echoes of Steve Rogers own role in wartime propaganda as a travelling spectacle, as seen in the first Captain America film. It may not be the opening scene viewers were expecting, but it was certainly the right one to lead with. 

From there on in the same adrenaline, high-speed action flitting from country to country of the first episode is the order of the day as we get the team up the whole show is built upon, as Bucky and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) forge an uneasy alliance while taking on the Flag-Smashers. The intense truck-top battle early on in this episode is not only well filmed, but surprisingly very clear and crisp on screen. Such scenes can often be lost in a blur, even on the big screen, but director Kari Skogland does a remarkable job in keeping everything in focus and easy to follow.

But, it’s not all action. The theme of institutional racism that was set in motion in the first episode rears its ugly head again here in a scene that only a Marvel fan will fully appreciate. Having realised that somehow, some way the super soldier serum that gave Steve and Bucky their heightened strength and agility in the first place was fuelling the would-be enemy, Bucky takes Sam to visit an old acquaintance that even Steve didn’t know about. That old acquaintance being none other than Isiah Bradley (Carl Lumby). An early victim of institutional racism who’s story was depicted in the 2003 Marvel mini-series, Truth: Red, White and Black by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker (and unsurprisingly already building in value on eBay). A man experimented on long before Steve received his dose. Human guinea pigs at a time when African-Americans  didn’t even have the right to vote and had to fight separately from their fellow white Americans during World War II. And other reference that rewards comic book fans, while offering a mystery for Marvel film buffs. It’s one of the more powerful scenes in the show, given Isiah’s treatment over the years by his very own country, that locked him up for three decades. Experimented on, sent out to fight for a country that didn’t love him, only to be rewarded with a prison sentence. Although, eagle-eyed comic fans may have spotted Isiah’s grandsons Eli (Elijah Richardson) make a very brief cameo, Y’know, the kid who goes on to become the Patriot of the Young Avengers. Another fanboy reward included!

And this integral theme does not end there. In leaving the building Sam and Bucky are met with a cop car. And, surprise, surprise, the two white cops are more concerned with Sam than they are with Bucky. It certainly has echoes of recent events in America, but never takes on the ugly tone of police brutality. This is not that kind of show. Unfortunately the moment was spoilt when Bucky is arrested instead, for breaking the conditions of his parole, and so the focus shifts ways from this subtle scene and onto him instead. I worry that because of this, the subtle intention of this scene may well have been lost on many viewers. 

It’s a theme that will not go away, and none should it. And for now, it is incorporated into the script wonderfully. Rather than rammed unsubtle down viewers throats, it’s integrated into the story as a theme to be revised, but not to dominate the main event. The weariness on Sam’s eyes when confronted by the two cops speaks volumes of a life filled with such moments. 

As well as all this action and socially relevant themes, it’s good to see this balanced out with a good dose of humour. More so than the first episode. Of course, it stems from the Falcon and the Winter Soldier who at one point even try to stare each other out in some kind of childish one-upmanship. That, and the already unforgettable exchange in which Salma and Bucky argue over semantics, with Sam winning with the killer line, “A sorcerer is a wizard without a hat.” You know the scene I mean. 

With yet another interesting cliff-hanger and the unveiling of Walker’s more darker side, after two episodes things are really hotting up for all involved. This episode has it all: fight scenes on high speed vehicles, the welcome bickering between Sam and Bucky (although we do at least get a reason behind Bucky’s moodiness towards Sam) and a socially relevant subplot that is, sadly, as relevant today as it was back the first half of the twentieth century. African-Americans may well have the vote, but as we have seen more and more recently, racism and inequality, both overt and covert, seem inherently tied into America still. 

This and The Mandalorian was the reason I finally succumbed to Disney +, and I’m glad I did. Bucky and Sam may well be the bets bromance since Banner and Stark If only they knew that yet for themselves.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is streaming on Disney + now, with a new episode each Friday and you can read my review for the first episode here now.

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