The Falcon and the Winter Soldier TV Review
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
"If you are alone, that is the quietest most personal hell."
Disclaimer: Spoiler-free review based on the first episode only.
Addendum included following series finale.
From showrunner Malcolm Spellman, director Kari Skogland, and executive producer Kevin Feige, comes Marvel Studios' newest outing, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Arriving on the heels of WandaVision's rousing finale, the show glides onto Disney+ with big shoes to fill. How could the seemingly normal follow-up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe's most wild and unique adventure not fall flat in comparison? It's simple: by not following it up at all.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier manages to be unique and unprecedented in its own way, by detailing the daily struggles that heroes go through. The show seamlessly weaves relevant political topics into a story about superheroes in a way that feels fleshed out and real. As the great Stan Lee once said, "I don’t think superpowers automatically means there won’t be any personality problems, family problems, or even money problems."The Falcon and the Winter Soldier echoes precisely this sentiment. In this series, character development is the name of the game.
Anthony Mackie gets to show off his acting chops more than ever before as Sam Wilson. He has great chemistry with everyone around him, especially Adepero Oduye, who plays his sister Sarah. After being given the mantle of Captain America, Wilson copes with a sense that he can't live up to who came before him, while also dealing with racism afflicting his family in their day-to-day lives. On the other hand, Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes has become a social recluse, coping with severe PTSD from his past as a sleeper soldier. We see him vulnerable as he slowly tries to open up to his therapist, as well as coming out of his shell while trying to date. Stan excels in acting with his body language, so he's able to show his discomfort and pain without explicitly speaking about it. The result of Marvel's fearless ability to cover serious and prevalent issues in this way is that their heroes feel relatable and human, which is an immense achievement for a comic book series.
However, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier isn't just a slice-of-life starring two heroes, for the world is full of evil. While it's unclear who exactly the enemy is from just the first episode, there's immediately the sense that a mastermind looms in the background. The fight scenes are all large-scale and grandiose, and feature visual effects that are jaw-dropping by film standards, and completely unheard of in the realm of television. It's the perfect combination of action and conversation that makes the show shine.
That said, this series is definitely not without its faults. Unfortunately, the weakest aspect is
Kari Skogland's direction. The cinematography is jarring, with a mix of extreme close-ups and bad framing. Even the action sequences suffer from this, due to the constant use of a first-person camera with a fish-eye lens, dim lighting, and far too many cuts. Skogland went for a unique style to differentiate from other shows but instead ended up ruining the immersion. Henry Jackman's score also feels fairly standard, and far from the quality of the meticulously crafted soundtrack of WandaVision. It's not offensively bad, but it isn't anything special either.
Addendum: As the series progressed, it became clear that Marvel wanted to highlight the show's core theme of equality through multiple plot lines. By weaving these plot threads together, Spellman was able to craft a suspenseful political thriller with incredible heart. Unfortunately, the result of including such a wide range of characters and motivations into a limited series such as this is that some, if not all character arcs feel rushed. The finale makes this sentiment abundantly clear. Take John Walker for instance; Walker undoubtedly has the most developed arc in the series, but he ends up sidelined to make room for more action. In a comic book show taking on the colossal task of tackling a relevant political issue, balance is key. The inability to maintain that balance, in the end, does not take away from the mastery that came before but holds the show back from achieving perfection.