The first dive into television from Marvel Studios was undoubtedly a unique one; Marvel Studios’ WandaVision was a peculiar series that almost tempted one to think it was surrealist storytelling. But after a somewhat lackluster conclusion it’s hard to not look back at the WandaVision series and draw some deep comparisons between the very different creative approaches it has with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
WandaVision was constructed on the concept of gradual mystery-building, with each concurrent episode posing more questions than it ultimately answered, all in an effort to draw you in; combined with its short runtime and non-linear storytelling, it was most certainly an atypical approach for Marvel Studios, especially as their entry into television. WandaVision had what could only be described as “lots of foreplay without any sort of exciting climax”. Its disconnected storytelling kept a degree of distance from making its characters feel initially compelling and it ultimately opted out of any significant world-building, at least until the very final episodes. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is quite literally a polar opposite to that form of storytelling; it goes front-first into the state of the world and burrows deep into the mental, social, and economic circumstances of its heroes right within the first episode.
In retrospect, it is clear now why The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was pegged as the introductory series for Marvel Studios into Disney+, as the grounded tone and linear storytelling allows for a more digestible entry into such a new form of staggered storytelling. While WandaVision provided more than enough entertainment than one could reasonably expect from a mini-series, it ultimately falters in its exceedingly short episode-to-episode runtime and struggled to meet its own expectations. And frankly, it had some wishy washy character development throughout (or lack thereof).
I believe The Falcon and the Winter Soldier more closely resembles the stable formula that Marvel Studios should aim for in its future television series as it improves on multiple fronts compared to WandaVision. Character’s intentions weren’t some intricate puzzle box left unsolved by the end of each episode. Its 40+ minute episode runtime allowed for a more satisfying and substantial consumption of the storytelling, and it truly strikes gold in how it handles its more serious subject matter – diving deeper than Marvel Studios ever has before. This grounded and more true-to-reality storytelling allows the audience to feel a stronger bond with the world building and deeper connections with its characters and what they experience. Sure, its messages aren’t anything revelatory, but what it does provide is added texture to the Marvel Cinematic Universe through the means of injecting social, economic, and even philosophical ideas into the larger context of its world.
This is a series that really embodies why Marvel Studios is a masterclass in modern entertainment; as it took an admittedly bland hero (Falcon) and gave him substance through a mixture of flight-proven storytelling techniques and risky story directions. I’ll admit it, I had my doubts when it was announced that Marvel Studios were attempting to helm Sam Wilson as a leading role; but as Marvel has proven, they can make any character interesting so long as they intently focus on them. Both Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan fulfill the task of bringing these characters to the silver screen, albeit they don’t elevate them to the same league as an Avenger, there’s still a measurable improvement in how these characters feel on-screen.
Despite this series being so heavily focussed on building the characters of Sam and Bucky, the most transformative performances were felt in its supporting cast through Wyatt Russel as John Walker and Daniel Brühl as Zemo. Wyatt Russel adds a layer of unhinged emotionality that was sorely absent from the character of Bucky – serving as an ample substitute to give audiences the sensation that at any moment he could snap and carnage would ensue. Daniel Brühl’s return as Zemo adds an unexpectedly potent degree of humor to the series and aptly stands in as the show’s moral philosopher on what is right or wrong, despite his villain status.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier reaches heights of The Mandalorian in terms of the quality of VFX being incorporated in a TV series – it aligns with what you would see in the average blockbuster. While The Falcon and the Winter Soldier may not have the scope of The Mandalorian, it is incredibly well-shot and far beyond the generic camera-work that I see in most MCU films. Cinematographer, P.J Dillon, captures some compelling shots – most notably, the low angle mid-shot of John Walker’s holding the bloody Captain America shield at the end of Episode 4 and the hazy shot of Sam trying to wipe the blood of the Captain America shield in Episode 5. Dillon’s cinematography truly captures the shield and what is felt from this is the significance and meaning of the Captain America symbol within the MCU – this beautifully complements its themes inside the narrative. A further attribute of cinematography that is worth mentioning is the lighting which elevates certain shots or sequences to help them feel a little more impactful.
Costume design for Sam Wilson’s Captain America aligns nicely with the comic books and translates to the screen quite well. The choice of locations were quite interesting through the front-end of the show, especially the uniquely neon-centric look of Madripoor. However, I was quite disappointed with the finale taking place in the middle of New York as we have seen that done far too many times before and it lessens the creativity that can be used to direct action set-pieces. Henry Jackman does an amazing job with the score throughout the series, With callbacks from previous Marvel films such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. There was no need for a new theme to be created for Bucky Barnes and that’s exactly what Henry Jackman didn’t do as he kept his theme from Captain America: The Winter Soldier which still to this day gives me goosebumps. What was well established in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was creating a new and inspiring theme for Sam Wilson, his theme perfectly captures the characters persona of being a good man willing to help others no matter how good or bad they are, which is very similar to Captain America.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier succeeds in making Sam Wilson Captain America. It succeeds in reintroducing audiences to the MCU in a post-Thanos world. It succeeds in making a grounded series that doesn’t get muddled up in its quirkiness, but rather, remains focussed on telling a compelling story to expand the MCU in a more intimate way. It has its faults in its finale, but where the series ultimately ends up is a satisfying place, and in my view, significantly more so than WandaVision.