The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Returns to Dependable MCU Storytelling
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 1: “New World Order” Review
Vanishing from existence for five years can wreak havoc on your life.
A few weeks after blipping back into their already highly irregular routines, Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) are coming to terms with returning to a very different world in which they previously lived. Sam, working with the Air Force still as the Falcon, despite being given the Captain America shield at the end of Endgame, feels unqualified to take up the mantle, whilst Bucky, suffering from PTSD and recurring nightmares, is making up for his crimes as a brainwashed assassin and struggling to open up to anyone.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s first episode is primarily focused on catching up with two characters whose only common denominator is a best friend and retired superhero, a presence now missing in both of their lives; the loss the two titular characters, separated for the entirety for the first of six episodes, is keenly felt as Sam debates how to handle the passing of the torch and Bucky’s stark (no pun intended) loneliness is made evident by his barren apartment and contact-light phone.
It is a slight shame, then, that this first outing for the duo consists mostly of set-up for the rest of the series, made all the more prominent by the fact that the innovative WandaVision’s first two episodes (originally set to air after this show until the pandemic hit) refused to explain just what the hell was going on, throwing us into the deep end of sitcom history. Showrunner and writer Malcolm Spellman understands that this episode is a highly expository experience, and does the most he can to catch us up without becoming perfunctory, to mixed results; there is much joy to be had in seeing Bucky’s interactions with his therapist, but Sam’s attempts to help his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) with the family business weigh down the proceedings considerably.
It’s not without merit, however. Early action involving the Falcon is beautifully directed by Kari Skogland, an elegant, fluid, and visceral scene in which the underutilized superhero really gets to show off his skills deftly continues the style of action the Russos developed in both The Winter Soldier and Civil War, well-choreographed, exhilarating, and, most importantly, coherent and enjoyable.
The talent on the show also lends a hand to proceedings. Wearing their roles like second skin by now, both Mackie and Stan have never been better as these characters than they are here. With a simple look, Mackie clearly conveys Wilson’s hesitancy to follow in his friend’s footsteps (exploration of not only what it means to be a Black man in America but to be a Black man representing the entire country). Stan, on the other hand, expresses guilt as a palpable and gut-wrenching feeling that he is unable to vocalize, suppressing as much as he can behind the eyes.
As suggested by the title, “New World Order”, this introductory episode seeks to explain how this new MCU world works after the devastation in Infinity War has been reversed, and half of the entire universe’s living beings are brought back to a world that had tried to move on without them. Whilst promising (villains and the anti-patriotism group The Flag-Smashers only make a brief appearance) and enjoyable, it’s a slow start to the new series – solid, but you can’t quite shake the feeling of wanting more.