Reviewed by Tim Robins
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is the latest TV series from Marvel Studios and not to be confused with The Falcon and The Snowman, the 1985 true spy drama from director John Schlesinger. The two leads, Anthony MacKie and Sebastian Stan, reprise their cinema roles as, respectively, Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (aka The Winter Soldier).
The idea for the series was pitched by writer Malcolm Spellman, although the characters have been long term residents of Marvel Comics. When I started reading imported American comics in the 1970s, the Falcon had already teamed up with Captain America and acknowledged as a co-star in the comic’s title, having been introduced in #117 September 1969. Originally, the Falcon was aided by Redwing, an actual falcon, over which he had some telepathic control. The TV series replaces Redwing with a missile loaded drone and shifts Sam’s home from Harlem to Delacroix, a picturesque fishing community in Louisiana
The Falcon was a new sidekick for Captain America and replaced Rick Jones, the perennial partner of The Hulk, Captain Marvel and, in The Avengers, Bucky Barnes who, in the comic universe, was long dead after falling from the rocket that deposited Captain America in the ice to lie in suspended animation until revived in The Avengers #4 (March, 1964). But Bucky was resurrected in 2005 by writer Ed Brubaker, the character now a Russian agent, codenamed The Winter Soldier. Again under Brubaker, Bucky became a new Captain America and teamed up with Wilson/The Falcon.
Some of their stories as a team are currently reprinted as a Panini comic, Falcon & Winter Soldier, lovingly hidden at the back of WH Smith.
The first TV episode sees the two heroes apart, yet facing similar situations, coming to terms with personal loss, including the loss of their own lives during Avengers: Infinity War. We follow Sam and Bucky as they try to patch up previous relationships or atone for past wrongs, This provides some unexpected humour as Bucky fumbles his way through a kind of twelve step (or three rule) programme with his therapist Dr Raynor (Amy Aquino).
The scenes of Bucky in therapy are nicely observed by Director Kari Skogland, who uses an absurdly, austerly designed sofa to seat the traumatised hero against a large forest print while the therapist, seated across the room, wields a threatening pen to take notes, a bit of a no no in person-centred therapy.
The show is another example of how American writers seem to effortlessly weave sci-fi with personal issues perhaps because endlessly self reflective psycho-babble has a central place in Hollywood.
Wilson’s homecoming is touching as he tries to use his Avenger status to parlay a business loan. He is refused, which only adds to his tense relationship to his family. Adepero Oduye, who plays Sam’s sister Sarah, tugs at the heart strings while trying to bring up her family and honour the family fishing business now metaphorically on the rocks while Sam is away fighting terrorists.
The villains have the usual vaguely silly motives. One group is called the Flag Smashers, who are dedicated to a world without nations (sounds good to me) and another as yet known only as L.A.F.
It’s not clear how The Falcon and The Winter Soldier will develop, particularly the balance between action and relationship drama. The first episode opens with a breathtaking aerial battle between Falcon and a group of terrorists led by Batroc the Leaper (a welcome return for this bonkers Lee-Kirby creation), and exemplifies the merger of television and cinema aesthetics.
The show is, at times, fairly violent. There’s a lot of gun play, although we follow up on the emotional and personal consequences of this.
In other words, the series is the now expected, deftly written mix of action, comedy and relationship drama that is rooted in Marvel continuity established in previous films. There are nods to Captain America’s past, exhibited at the Smithsonian, including a cover of Captain America’s first comic book appearance. There are also some innovative touches – I particularly liked the terrorists’ orchestrated flash mob to help them escape from a robbery.
The series promises to deal with heavy real-world issues facing America, although these may not jar with a country now struggling to restore some semblance of decency to its public life. Pre-publicity suggests that the main thrust of the series is to have Sam Wilson accept the role of the first Black Captain America. A lot is going to depend on whether you are prepared to buy into the character drama as much as the action. I am. For now.
• Falcon and Winter Soldier: Cut Off One Headis available from WHSmith, supermarkets and the Panini Comics UK online store here
As we previously reported, this special reprints the Marvel US titles Falcon & Winter Soldier #1-5, written by Derek Landy with art by Federico Vicentini, Captain America (1968) #117 & Captain America (2004) #14