The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier kicks off a new interpretation of a Marvel Cinematic Universe series that feels an awful lot like coming home. The show is dramatically different from WandaVision, which we only left two weeks ago, but still brings a solid cinematic-quality experience that surely will keep the hype and attention on MCU’s Disney+ projects.

The overall theme of the episode is captured in the phrase used throughout: “We need new heroes.” While clearly a theme for the storyline of the series, the phrase also aptly describes the episode from an external perspective, as the series is undoubtedly bringing viewers an opportunity to watch two heroes previously delegated to sidekick grow into genuine A-list heroes. The time spent on the two titular characters and the depth that is able to be explored in the 6-hour format will almost certainly let us see the Falcon and the Winter Soldier both in a new, brighter light.

The episode makes clear that we are back into familiar MCU territory—it feels like an extension of Captain America: The Winter Soldier or even Captain America: Civil War, which is heightened by the return of Henry Jackman as the score composer for the series. The episode starts off immediately with a movie-worthy action sequence with Sam Wilson as Falcon, and he gets to strut here in a way that he never got to in the film, conveniently aided by airborne foes. We dive further into Winter Soldier territory with a cameo from Batroc the Leaper. While the rest of the episode is generally devoid of action, this sequence clearly intends to set the tone for the series and highlight its potential as an action-heavy superhero experience.

We arguably learn more about Sam and Bucky in this first episode than we did in the totality of the existing MCU. Honestly, it flirts with the idea that viewers might grow closer to these two characters over the course of the series than they were able to with virtually any other major MCU character, save perhaps the “Tres Amigos” (Stark, Rogers, and Thor) and now Wanda.

The episode gives us our first genuine sense of a post-Endgame reality and the consequences of the Blip. It highlights a world trying to pick up the pieces of global catastrophe not just in the superhero context, but with individuals and families. Sam and Bucky—who never meet up in the episode—are also picking up the piece of their lives. Because both were dusted and gone for the 5-year stretch, we will likely see the Blip mainly through the lens of those who weren’t around, though the notion that the world was a cruel, tough place for 5 years is echoed throughout the episode.

We see Sam and Bucky mostly as “ordinary” individuals whose status as superpowered individuals really doesn’t help them out. Sam rejects the shield and Captain America mantle gifted to him at the end of Endgame. He believes we need new heroes, but that what Steve Rogers represented as Captain America could not be replaced. He donates the shield to the National Archives, and we have another great cameo from James Rhoades or War Machine. Otherwise, Sam’s storyline shows him trying to keep his family’s boat and business afloat with his sister in Louisiana.

Bucky’s story is slower and a bit more intimate. We are reminded that this man has been fighting one battle after another since the 1940s save the precious calm he found briefly in Wakanda. Now, he is a newly un-brainwashed 106-year-old man with a metal arm trying to both exist in this new world and not-so-delicately comes to terms with his actions as a HYDRA assassin. While being uncooperative in government-mandated therapy, we learn that as a condition of his pardon he has a set of three rules he must follow while crossing off his list of names that represent the amends he is trying to make: (1) doing nothing illegal, (2) not hurting anyone, and (3) stating his name and telling his victim that they are part of his amends. He seems to have no problem breaking the first two rules. The most heartbreaking moment of the whole episode is in Bucky’s arc as well. Bucky seems to wholesomely befriend an elderly man, it is revealed that Bucky killed the man’s innocent son after he witnessed the Winter Soldier’s past violent assassination of numerous people in a hotel.

The episode also reveals the antagonists that are lurking in the background. A mysterious and destructive group known as the Flag Smashers are violently advocating for a world without borders. After Sam rids himself of Captain America’s shield, the U.S. government creates a knock-off Captain America. Both of these things represent groups trying to either be or create “new heroes”, and the question of what makes a hero will likely permeate the series.

VERDICT

4 Buckys Playing Battleship out of 5

The first episode of the series sets a strong tone for the rest of the series. Even though it is undeniably setting up an action-packed series more akin to a classic MCU flick, the episode was not afraid to give us a more personal and thoughtful look at the two titular heroes, which will likely be an emotional anchor—and it has the potential to be a strong one at that—in the series, which is not always achieved in standard superhero movies.

ONE-SHOTS

  • The Winter Soldier in therapy, finding it passive-aggressive when the therapist starts taking notes.
  • Falcon and Redwing have never been so impressive and fun to watch in action, and I’m excited to see the rest of the action that’s in store.
  • The bank employee asking what we’ve all been wondering—where do superheroes get their money?