Did you watch the epic denouement to Avengers: Endgame in floods of tears, distraught yet elated at arguably the most poignant superhero film finish in history?
Or did you walk out of the cinema (remember walking in and out of cinemas?!) thinking, “Wow, I wonder what Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes will get up to next?!”
If it was the latter, then The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — the first episode dropped on Disney+ on Friday – is the show for you.
The latest Marvel TV show on Disney’s streaming platform after WandaVision is a return to what should be firmer ground for its enormous fanbase, picking up from the events of Endgame and steamrollering into a fresh story featuring Captain America’s two sidekicks.
It’s disappointing then that the first of its six episodes is something of a letdown, and feels rather sluggish in WandaVision’s wake.
Still, there are enough Easter eggs and unanswered questions in its opening instalment to keep viewers on their toes. Here's a spoiler-free rundown.
If you thought Captain America was going to loom largest over The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, then you could be surprised by its opening episode.
At the end of Endgame, Steve Rogers took a trip down memory lane after tossing his shield to Wilson (Anthony Mackie), but Falcon isn’t too keen to hang on to it.
Watch: The Falcon And The Winter Soldier - Final Trailer
The show’s opening shot establishes immediately which character is its true touchstone, as Wilson stands over an ironing board (he’s an iron…. man! Geddit?!), then Tony’s old buddy Rhodey (Don Cheadle) appears, while there is a reference to ‘Stark-level tech’ and later a bank manager asks Falcon: ‘Did Stark pay you when he was around?’
At this point, the audience asks its own question: "Do we really need a scene where a superhero asks for a bank loan like he’s trapped inside some by-the-numbers 1990s melodrama?"
Unfortunately, the show’s opening action sequence, in which Falcon flutters over Tunisian airspace while backed by US Army Humvees on the ground, riffs the beginning of the first Iron Man film, yet somehow fails to match it for intensity despite a 13-year time gap.
Don’t forget your Helmut
One of the most exciting prospects about The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the return of baddie Helmut Zemo, played by Daniel Brühl.
He and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) have some serious past issues, given that Zemo framed the Winter Soldier for a bombing in Captain America: Civil War.
Although Zemo has been all over the show’s trailers and poster artwork, we get a nice little nod in the season opener to his upcoming appearance when Barnes looks through his little black book of the names of people with whom he wishes to “make amends” for his own murderous past misdeeds while under the control of HYDRA.
There’s another hint at the pair’s past relationship during the episode’s rather informative end credits, when we see some of the codewords - “seventeen”, “rusted”, “daybreak”, “furnace” – that Zemo used in Civil War to activate the Winter Soldier.
The big question is what role Zemo will play in the show – will he continue his pursuit to out-avenge the Avengers for what happened to his family in Sokovia, or will Sam and Bucky be forced to enlist his help to fight an even scarier foe?
Batroc and the Flag-Smashers
“Bad guys give themselves bad names”, says Wilson - and he ain’t kidding.
While Zemo’s imminent return is only hinted at, we do get a look at some of the other adversaries of our titular heroes.
More eagle-eyed Marvel fanboys and fangirls will spot Batroc the Leaper slipping into a wingsuit in the show’s opening action scene, with Georges St-Pierre reprising his role from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
However, the main threat looks like it will come from the Flag-Smashers, an emerging worldwide shady network with a penchant for red hand symbols.
Flag-Smasher was a lone villain in the Captain America comics, but has been expanded into some kind of anti-patriotic group here.
Might this organisation be linked to the Winter Soldier’s past? One of their number has the capacity for some powerful kicks, after all.
The first episode goes to great — perhaps too great — lengths to establish that the show deals with the fallout from Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame.
“The world has been forever changed,” says Wilson. “A few months ago billions of people reappeared after five years away, sending the world into turmoil.”
He is, of course, referring to The Snap, the flick of Thanos's stubby purple fingers that wiped out half of humanity, only for the Avengers to travel back in time to make everything okay again.
Except, everything appears far from okay. “The world’s broken,” says Rhodey, and you cannot forget this is a show produced during a global pandemic.
And Sam and Bucky are broken too. Both of them were turned to dust — in fact, Bucky was the first person we saw disappear into thin air after Thanos’s Infinity War snap.
“I’ve been gone like several billion other people,” Wilson says, and if the show finds time in its quieter, less explosive moments to address the impact on these characters of reappearing after five years, it will be a lot deeper than expected.
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