The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Episode 1 – New World Order (Review) – A Character-Heavy Debut

DIRECTOR: Kari Skogland

CAST: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Wyatt Russell, Georges St-Pierre, Don Cheadle, Erin Kellyman, Adepero Oduye, Desmond Chiam, Ken Takemoto, Miki Ishikawa, Danny Ramirez, Amy Aquino

RUNNING TIME: 49 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: Sam Wilson (Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Stan) attempt to lead their own lives in the aftermath of the “Blip”…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

After nine weeks of doing something a little different with WandaVision’s close homage to past sitcom eras, Marvel Studios’ second Disney+ miniseries The Falcon and The Winter Soldier – originally scheduled to be the first one out of the gate, until COVID-19 disrupted principal photography last year – brings back the more traditional comic-book action and suspense right from the offset, in an explosive set-piece following Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson doing what he does best.

It’s clear, even in this opening sequence during the first episode – titled New World Order – that we’re in safe hands under series director Kari Skogland, who seems to have a strong eye for visceral and crowd-pleasing action that Marvel fans have come to know and enjoy. Skogland and lead writer Malcolm Spellman are also careful not to play all their cards at once, instead adopting a slower-burn pace for this first-of-six entry that focuses a lot more on character and establishing an MCU that’s become very different since the events of both Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame.

We follow both Mackie’s Sam and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky as they separately try to live their lives some months on from Endgame, which saw former Captain America Steve Rogers finally retire and pass his shield on to Sam. However, Sam – now having partnered with the U.S. Air Force, and heavily reluctant to adopt the Captain America mantle, believing it belongs only to Rogers – passes the shield on to the Smithsonian, and instead tries to help out his struggling family in Louisiana, including his older sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) who is eager to sell the family’s fishing boat to stay on top of payments. Meanwhile, Bucky – who is still traumatised from his time as the brainwashed assassin The Winter Soldier – is attempting to make amends for his past deeds by taking down corrupt senators he helped put into power, and befriending the grieving father of a young man he killed whilst on duty.

Both Sam and Bucky’s paths do not cross in this episode – assume they butt heads once more from next week onwards – but New World Order does a solid job of setting up the very different lives that these two characters are now leading, as well as the group of enemies that they’ll undoubtedly be fighting over the rest of the series (those being the “Flag Smashers”, a gang that apparently believes the world was better when half the universe was eradicated). It’s a very character-heavy episode, focusing largely on how both our leads are contemplating their place in the world that feels very different ever since Thanos first snapped his fingers; as we see, Sam is dealing with his own absence by throwing himself back into work while also valiantly trying to use his Avenger credentials to secure his family a much-needed bank loan, while Bucky opts for a much more lonely existence, his only points of contact being his government-mandated therapist (Amy Aquino) who he’s reluctant to share intimate details with. Skogland uses tight-knit cinematography to visually show the claustrophobic psychological toll being taken on characters like Bucky, while Spellman allows us to examine new, undiscovered parts of their overall personalities through intricate dialogue exchanges that reveal some hidden frustrations.

The change of pace, especially after the completely different tone and approach of WandaVision, is welcome in this first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, as it allows for a lot more intimate character development on top of the more straight-laced – but no less entertaining – action scenes involving our two leads. It’s also a nice re-introduction to both Sam and Bucky that takes its time setting them up as the interesting, three-dimensional characters that they are, before they go on their big adventure together over the next few weeks. Some will undoubtedly feel that parts of this episode are perhaps too slow-paced, and should be focusing more on what characters like the Falcon and the Winter Soldier can do instead of what they’re feeling, but honestly that would be missing the point of this introductory episode entirely. We have five remaining episodes to be given all the high-octane action we’re expecting, while this is merely an entry designed specifically to set up the characters, make them worthy of wanting to spend more time with them, and introduce some of the new threats that they will be facing from hereon out; if anything, this will probably be the most important episode out of the lot, because if you don’t have any reason to care or be invested in either these characters or the story, then why would you want to stick around for five more weeks with them? This episode provides all of that in spades, continuing one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s greatest traits in providing us with likeable, well-rounded characters acting out a story which has occasional whiffs of formula, but through a smart and thoughtful creative team they feel fresh once more.

Of course, it shall be very interesting to see where things go from here, especially with its cliffhanger which is bound to leave more than a few people unhappy (before writing this review, I already noticed some comments that were very vocal about their disdain for said development). For now, though, this is a solid re-introduction to two very entertaining characters who have finally been upgraded to leading men status, and sets up an action-packed and very engaging miniseries that is bound to test both of them in very different, but hopefully pleasing, ways.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier: Episode 1 – New World Order is a solid character-heavy debut episode that takes us deeper into the mindset of its two lead characters, while also setting up an intriguing and action-packed miniseries to come.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier: Episode 1 is now available on Disney+. Episode 2 will be available next week.

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