The Falcon and The Winter Soldier: Episode 2 – The Star-Spangled Man (Review) – Do They Have A Plan?

DIRECTOR: Kari Skogland

CAST: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Wyatt Russell, Clé Bennett, Erin Kellyman, Desmond Chiam, Dani Deetté, Indya Bussey, Amy Aquino, Noah Mills, Carl Lumbly, Elijah Richardson, Danny Ramirez

RUNNING TIME: 50 mins

PREVIOUSLY, ON THE FALCOLN AND THE WINTER SOLDIER (MILD SPOILERS): Six months on from returning to life following the “Blip”, Sam Wilson (Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Stan) are struggling to cope with their responsibilities and past traumas, especially after their friend Steve Rogers retires from being Captain America. Sam, who has refused to carry on Steve’s legacy, tracks an anti-government group called the Flag-Smashers, while Bucky reluctantly attends court-mandated therapy. Both are shocked and angered by the unexpected announcement of a new Captain America: John Walker (Russell).

IN THIS EPISODE: Sam and Bucky team up to track the Flag-Smashers in Germany, and butt heads with Walker who makes his introduction on the battlefield…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

As quickly as Disney+ viewers fell in love with Baby Yoda during the first episode of The Mandalorian, they also knew from the very moment he first appeared, right at the very end of last week’s debut entry for The Falcon and The Winter Soldier miniseries, that the new Captain America, John Walker (played by Wyatt Russell), was someone to hate. Although Walker did indeed adopt the mantle for a short while in the original Marvel comics, his on-screen incarnation perhaps faces a lot more scrutiny from fans so used to seeing nobody but Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers with the suit and shield, and his flimsy grimace and obnoxious wink to the camera in last week’s final shot was just too much to handle for many.

The second episode of the miniseries – titled The Star-Spangled Man, after the catchy Alan Menken-composed theme song from Captain America: The First Avenger – puts Walker in the spotlight almost right away, giving us some time to get to know him and his approach to being the new Captain America, and while it’ll be some time before we know the true intentions of this incarnation of John Walker, we now know enough about the guy to decide that he is, indeed, kind of a git. The character obviously doesn’t appear to have much of the humanity or charisma that his predecessor had, and he sometimes acts like he’s Captain America by way of Homelander from The Boys, which will undoubtedly make for an interesting dynamic as this series get more and more underway.

However, the title for this series isn’t That Git John Walker, but rather The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and there’s already some enjoyable banter between the two as they reunite for the first hurdle of their mission together. Following on from last week, beyond their shock and anger at someone else filling in for their good friend Steve, Sam and Bucky (Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan) team up for a skirmish against the anarchy group known as the Flag-Smashers, who they’ve tracked to a warehouse somewhere in Germany, but quickly discover that not only are the team members more than a match for the two, but they also appear to possess super-soldier strength as Steve Rogers once did. It’s here that we also see Wyatt Russell’s John Walker make his combative debut after big publicity interviews, and he’s about as useful as you would imagine a second-rate Captain America would be on the battlefield.

The episode itself is okay, but it’s starting to become clearer that The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is much more of a traditional Marvel Studios outing than WandaVision was. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the Marvel formula is one that does work when executed well (and with some heavy action sequences, as well as brief stabs at political and social commentary surrounding marketable patriotism and even race relations, series director Kari Skogland is certainly capable of delivering the goods), but after WandaVision really went out of its way to look and feel so different to what Marvel Studios has done before, this feels like a return to safer territory, which again isn’t bad but still not as ambitious as it could have been. It’s obviously still too early to judge The Falcon and The Winter Soldier as a whole, but since we’re now nearly halfway through this six-episode miniseries, it’s getting to a point where it’s starting to become worrying that there isn’t as much on display here for it to really stand out; hopefully the remaining four episodes pick up the pace, because so far there’s no indication that this is anything beyond another Marvel Studios entry that’s only merely enjoyable.

I do want to repeatedly stress that I am not writing off this series or even this episode as a whole, but rather just pointing out some of my concerns going forward. Truth be told, despite the obvious sticking to formula, there’s some good stuff to pick apart here, namely the main dynamic between the two titular leads which is obviously going for an odd-couple buddy action romp where one’s a wisecracking Avenger with wings and the other’s a moody and formerly-brainwashed assassin, and there are parts of their banter which really shine, particularly during a humorous double-therapy session later in the episode. The Star-Spangled Man also gives us a bit of time with the Flag-Smashers and their apparent leader Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), and we see they are something of a close family-like unit that may paint them as more than just mask-wearing antagonists in future episodes, while it also introduces us to some intriguing new details that uncover a lot of past discrimination and unfair treatment of people who were once regarded as heroes, only to then be completely screwed over by the system. Could a similar fate fall upon someone like Sam Wilson, who both last week and this week is treated like someone else entirely before being revealed as an Avenger? It certainly looks like it’s going to be leading somewhere vital, and once again it makes for some intriguing subject matter for a Marvel Studios property to tackle.

Even if The Falcon and The Winter Soldier remains a generic Marvel outing all the way through this miniseries, I’m sure it’ll still be a good ride, but so far the evidence suggests that there isn’t as much of a hook this time round as there was with WandaVision, which leaves me a little concerned that there won’t be as much to bite into as there was with the sitcom-inspired antics of that Marvel Studios show.

But at least we can all now agree that John Walker is kind of a git, right?

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier: Episode 2 – The Star-Spangled Man delivers some more entertaining action and a fun dynamic between the two leads, as well as touching upon some intriguing themes, though it’s clear that the Marvel formula is starting to seep in, which makes it less ambitious than WandaVision recently was.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier: Episodes 1-2 are now available on Disney+. Episode 3 will be available next week.

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