Courtesy of Disney +

May 5, 2021

‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’: Complex Characters Amongst Exciting Action

Print More

Warning: This review contains major spoilers. 

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Marvel’s latest six-episode series, recently concluded after its final episode was released April 23 on Disney+. This series follows Sam Wilson and James “Bucky” Barnes six months after the events of Avengers: Endgame as they navigate the consequences of half of the world’s population returning. Facing the Flag Smashers, a group of rebels who fight to obtain resources for those in need, and John Walker, the new, government appointed Captain America, Sam and Bucky face violent external conflicts along with personal conflicts. The show’s reception was mostly positive, earning praise for the actors’ performance, character development and inclusion of relevant themes. Still, there has also been criticism regarding the pacing and convoluted narrative.

After watching the series, I think that it balanced thematic development and plot advancement well before arriving at a gratifying conclusion. Sam’s consistent determination in the face of adversity and Bucky’s journey to overcome his trauma and find himself again are both inspiring in their own way. Something I really enjoyed while watching this show was seeing Sam and Bucky’s friendship develop. Although they begin the series frequently arguing and failing to understand each other, they move towards a strong partnership and friendship that makes the conclusion of their story more satisfying.

Unlike many of the films produced by Marvel, this series importantly chooses not to shy away from discussing racism. From the more obvious examples in Sam’s story to the more subtle hints, we see how heavily ingrained the effects of racism are in Sam’s life. Similarly, the inclusion of Isaiah Bradley, a Black super soldier, makes a powerful statement. The double standards drawn between Isaiah and Steve Rogers are a stark reflection of racial disparities in the U.S.. Isaiah mentions in Episode 5 that he was imprisoned for freeing a POW camp without having orders to do so — in other words, he did the exact same thing that made Steve a hero in the eyes of the US military — and was subject to experimentation without his consent as a result (which evokes the Tuskegee syphilis study).

Sam is able to understand Isaiah’s disillusionment with the U.S. and disbelief that a Black man could be Captain America, but Sam ultimately decides to take on the mantle anyways by the series finale. As he mentions to his sister Sarah in Episode 5, “What would be the point of all that pain and sacrifice if I wasn’t willing to stand up and keep fighting?” 

As opposed to the Red Skull, the unreedemable and clearly evil Nazi from Captain America: The First Avenger, I appreciated how the antagonists in this show were more complex, especially Karli. Sam empathizes with Karli Morgenthau, the main antagonist, throughout the series. He understands that at the end of the day, Karli is simply trying to help people who, like her, have been left feeling helpless. Even during the finale, Sam honors Karli after her death rather than villainizing her, choosing to work towards the meaningful change that was the root of her mission all along. 

John Walker, another antagonist, also emerges from a complex narrative. Though nothing excuses his violent murder of someone proclaiming their innocence, seeing John discuss his regrets of what he did in the military and his relationships with his wife and Lemar remind us that evil does not exist in a vaccuum. Furthermore, with the reveal in the finale that Sharon Carter is the Power Broker, audiences are left stunned that a character formerly aligned with the heroes shifted her allegiances so drastically. Overall, this show challenges the traditional hero-villain dichotomy, presenting a more intriguing mix of clashing values and motivations that drives the main conflict.

While I’ve seen others criticize the finale for being a let down, I enjoyed how Sam’s speech to the Global Repatriation Council felt like the culmination of the plot rather than any of the major fight scenes. In my opinion, this was the ideal ending for a series whose titular characters repeatedly express their aversion to fighting. The finale also showed us that Sam is honoring Isaiah’s legacy by including his story in the Captain America museum exhibit, reminding me that while we can’t change the past, we can always make sure that others learn from it so the past doesn’t repeat itself.

Overall, I thought The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was an outstanding series. Viewers are able to enjoy its episodes while also watching a narrative that presents important themes relevant to our own lives. As the end of the show leaves the potential for more storylines, I’m looking forward to seeing how these characters appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the future. 

Aditi Hukerikar is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at adh247@cornell.edu