by Langa Mohlala
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS.
DISCLAIMER: The plot summary will be very watered down and some important storylines, characters and pivotal moments will be omitted.
After the release of WandaVision, Marvel fans were looking forward to the release of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan reprised their roles as Sam Wilson (Falcon) and James “Bucky” Barnes (The Winter Soldier) respectively. To say that Marvel did not disappoint would be an understatement, as this series has done a phenomenal job of bringing the action and laughs while exploring serious themes and topics. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier also introduced viewers to complex characters (such as John Walker) who took them on an emotional journey and left them on the edge of their seats.
Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, Sam questions why he was given the mantle of Captain America, what it represents and what it means to him and America as a whole. He then hands Steve's shield over to the government under the assumption that it will be kept in a museum for display.
Meanwhile, Bucky Barnes is seen going to government-mandated therapy in accordance with the conditions set out in his pardon. He is trying to make amends with the people he hurt while he was brainwashed as The Winter Soldier. His psychologist encourages him to reach out to people without hurting them. Upon learning that the shield and Captain America's mantle have been given to a man named John Walker, Bucky confronts Sam and joins him on his mission to stop the Flagsmashers.
The Flagsmashers - led by Karli Morgenthau - are a group of enhanced terrorists who believe that the world was better during the Blip (the time period during which half the universe had been snapped out of existence by Thanos). They also believe that the borders should be kept open to accommodate people who have been displaced following everyone's return. John Walker and his close friend and partner, Lemar Hoskins, also set out to stop the Flagsmashers. Walker wrestles with trying to prove he is the perfect Captain America and using the mantle to do or get away with questionable things. This catches up to him when he publicly murders a member of the Flagsmashers after Karli accidentally kills Lemar during a fight. After a fight with Bucky and Sam - where the latter ends up taking the shield - John is given an other than honourable discharge and is stripped of the title of Captain America. He then goes on to be recruited by a woman named Val and don the moniker ‘US Agent’.
In the wake of heart-to-heart conversations with Bucky and his sister, Sarah, Sam is motivated to take on the mantle of Captain America. Armed with the shield and a new costume, he sets out to take down the Flagsmashers. In the final battle, Karli and a few others are killed. Sam delivers a thought-provoking speech that prompts the government to help the displaced people Karli fought for instead of relocating them. This moving monologue and a few more actions he does cement why he is (and always has been) the rightful Captain America. Bucky praises Sam and, after taking his advice, makes amends with himself and those he's hurt. The series ends with Bucky and Sam spending time with Sam's family.
With a critic approval rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is an action-packed spectacle that isn’t afraid to address or discuss serious issues. The major themes explored throughout the show include: trauma/PTSD, racism and double standards, one's moral compass (and their definition of right and wrong), self-doubt, idols and symbolism & self-acceptance. While the plot is quite rushed, especially in the finale, each character got their shining moment to make an impact on the audience. It is important to note that there are no clear villains, because every antagonistic character's beliefs were justified. Karli, for example, wanted to prove that a world free from borders meant that less people were homeless or struggling. Her approach to creating that unified world, however, is problematic, to say the least.
Throughout the series there are also very noticeable call-backs and parallels to previous MCU films and the comics. TheoriesbyTyrell on TikTok does a phenomenal job of explaining these parallels and breaking the episodes, their themes and the characters down.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was excellently executed, considering that the world is in a pandemic. It is not clear as to whether or not there will be a second season, but fans already agree that if that is the case it should focus on Bucky and his journey on becoming The White Wolf or simply James Barnes. Hopefully this hypothetical second season will not be as rushed as the first.