Cube’s review published on Letterboxd:
(Reviews for individual episodes, updated weekly)
New World Order
The first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier didn't disappoint in the slightest. I've been so extremely excited for this show since the moment it was announced and I'm ecstatic it's finally here. This episode is not at all what you'd expect but it's even better than that. Rather than throwing us into the action and this big globe trotting adventure, they really just focus in on the characters of Sam and Bucky here. Of course there is some action to get us going and show what Sam has been up to, with another quick sequence in Bucky's flashback, but they were there solely to serve the characters and not whatever the big plot is gonna be. With those short sequences though, they were some of the coolest hand-to-hand action sequences in the franchise thus far, really taking it back to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is exactly what I wanted and was expecting from the action here. The title characters themselves though, really glad they're being fleshed out as much as they can. I loved seeing Sam's family and his will to help and then we got to see a lot of Bucky trying to adjust to the modern world and deal with his trauma which was amazing too. I've always really enjoyed these characters in the films but this is the deepest we've seen inside of them so far and I only hope that continues on. Henry Jackman returns to score the series which makes the music really consistent with the past Captain America films and also quite enjoyable because he's a great composer. This episode showed of how well the show will be shot because goddamn, I can't think of many MCU projects that have looked better. A lot of the MCU is shot in a very obvious way to show the big picture but this felt very intimate and close to the characters in the way the camera was placed. I have one gripe with the show so far, and it's sadly one I expected, which is that it is literally fucking military propaganda. I know this whole debate about the Marvel films has been going on for quite some time, and I kinda waved it off, but it's just too apparent here. The bad guys want a world without borders, which on paper is an understandable idea, but then the show has to make them all terrorists so that we associate that idea with bad people and think the US military being in the Middle East is good. It's just a bunch of bullshit that I have my fingers crossed will be dropped by the end of the show. Overall though, really amazing start to the show which prioritizes it's protagonists and delving deeper into them as characters over action and spectacle, which even the short amount of is incredible as well.
The Star-Spangled Man
I don't think the second episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was quite as dynamic as the first but I am still greatly enjoying this show. What I think one of the highlights of the episode was and will continue to be for the series, was Sam and Bucky's dynamic. The first episode gave us a great look into their personal lives but now to see them actually together is really fun. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan just have a really fun rapport that translates really well to the characters themselves. Sometimes the dialogue can be a bit on the nose though, especially with them. I really love how they talk about Steve and the legacy of Captain America but sometimes they'll shoehorn in a little reference or quip into their dialogue that just takes me a bit out of the show. John Walker's Captain America seems to be, at least to the public of the world, somebody who actually is trying to be a real hero. Obviously we aren't made to like him, and I very much don't, but they write him that way really well. He's an obnoxious guy who thinks that's he is absolutely right for the job and wants to be in every corner even when he doesn't belong, and the very talented Wyatt Russel portrays these sensibilities very well. He's a good opposition to the title characters and I'm intrigued going forward on what role he'll play. Another new and very interesting character we meet this episode is Isaiah Bradley, the Black Captain America. I feel they really nailed his short appearance, and I'm sure he'll turn up again, but his inclusion and what he talked about was an extremely good representation of the way Black soldiers of the American military are treated. They get forced into wars they have nothing to due with, they do what the country demands of them, and then they're cast aside while the white man takes credit. And they represent that very well within a superhero context here. All of the racism issues they decided to tackle in this episode I think really work, like with Sam's confrontation with the police and his anger at the unknown legacy of Bradley. I think once again they get a little on the nose with the dialogue sometimes in those scenarios but regardless it's really refreshing and rewarding to see these issues addressed in a superhero show. The only other complaint I seem to have is the same one I had last week, which is the Flag Smashers. I think this show is really trying to push this anti-revolutionary narrative when the goals of these people seem pretty justified in the eyes of most fans who find themselves on the left. At least Sam sees a little bit of why these guys may be doing the right thing but I'm still just a little angry they're being branded the "bad guys". The whole episode though is still very solid and I'm enjoying the show a lot so far, and even if the issues I have with it continue to persist, it looks like it can still serve as a meaningful way to explore not only these two great characters, but important issues surrounding racism in the United States.
We're now half way through The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and so far it's just been so consistent in it's quality and engagement. Zero is one of my favourite villains of the franchise and I enjoyed to see so much of him this episode. It was interesting to see some of the life and connections he had before Civil War and to see some of his actual combat skills seeing as he was a soldier after all. Sharon's return was also a lot better than I was expecting it to be. She never really felt like a fully fleged character to me before now but she was just unapologetically unsorry for everything that's happened since Civil War now and I found that really compelling. The plot is really picking up with the further introduction of connections to Power Broaker, who I think will likely show up in the 5th episode. It seems everyone in the universe knows this guy is a big deal and while it's clear to those of us who know of him in the comics, I'm excited for his motives and goals to come forward. Sam and Bucky are further getting developed and becoming even more compelling as characters. Sam is continually a really good vessel to talk about the struggle of Black people in America and Bucky's struggle with his past as the Winter Soldier is very interesting to see play out, especially with the little game of dress up Zemo makes him play in this episode. Another character who is being used as a very compelling vessel to talk about politics is John Walker's Captain America. His insistence on following leads that go nowhere and stepping over the line is a really good way to talk about the authoritarianism of the American military. The ending of this episode reintroduced a character I'd almost entirely forgot, Ayo, but it opens up this show to the world of Wakanda even further and I'm very excited to see where that takes The Falcon and The Winter Soldier next week.
The Whole World Is Watching
This week's installment of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is one of the best and most different things Marvel ever have produced, and I just adored it. This episode finally brought some needed depth to Karli Morgenthau, as her and the Flag-Smashers' subplot in this show has felt somewhat uninteresting until this point. But, with the way Sam sees her point of view and genuinely wants to hear her out, she's actually a compelling character to watch now. I'm very glad that they went this route, because taking a character with a fairly understandable goal, one that is a common ideal of the left, and making her the absolute true evil of the show would've really been in poor taste. John Walker and Lamar Hoskins being more present in this episode was quite interesting, as we got both a look into them as people as well as more fairly subtle commentary on the US military and their boundaries, or lack thereof. Of course the two have their conversation about their time in Afghanistan and how it's effected them, which was super interesting to hear, but the overall rush to conclusions and charge to action nature of John Walker is just continually a pretty smart way to criticize the foreign affairs of the United States. I couldn't believe my eyes when THAT happened, Lamar is killed and John Walker quite literally performed a public execution. The way he's come from a guy who perhaps just wanted to truly try his best for his country to a guy so desperate to prove himself he's taken the super-soldier serum out of rage has actually felt quite natural under the circumstances he's dealt with in the show, and the ending of this episode was an incredibly visceral and poignant way of his character to come to a point. This episode also had what is probably the best action in the show, which surprisingly and incredibly luckily might be the weakest component of the show. I'm very glad The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has prioritized it's characters and ideals more than it's spectacle, yet it still continues to impress me in all categories week after week, especially with it's best episode yet this time around.
With this episode and last week's being the height of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier thus far, this show is shaping up to be one of the landmark achievements for Marvel's storytelling leading up to the finale. They have so many characters and plots to balance yet I think they do a phenomenal job on this show of gracefully bringing them all together. To start with John Walker, it's very impressive how well they were able to bring him to the place he is now. He started as a man who really did just want to follow the orders of his country to do what he thought was right, but under the circumstances he's been put in has been pushed so far as to become a hateful man, who still thinks what he's doing is for his country, but is also on his own personal path of vengeance. His fight with Sam and Bucky as the beginning of the episode, which on it's own was really awesome, sets both him and Sam on their stories for the episode. Sam gets so much in this episode too and it's been the best episode so far in terms of handling the race politics of the show. His conversation with Isaiah and then his conversation with Sarah about the previous conversation were both incredibly insightful in to what it could possibly mean for a Black man, a Black man who's the descendant of so many Black people who were diminished and oppressed under the United States, to take up a mantle that encompasses that said country. And then Isaiah himself had an equally relevant and valid point in opposition to Sam, in that Black people still are oppressed in the United States, which is very true and clearly impacted Sam a lot and his decision to take on such a challenging mantle. It was also very nice to see Sam resolve the conflict with his sister and the family boat, which I honestly didn't even think they'd come back to in any large capacity, as well as a the really heartfelt mending of his and Bucky's relationship in relation to the legacy of Captain America. Bucky did get a tad sidelined in this episode but his storyline gave us closure with Zemo and the Wakandans, as well as more insight into his thoughts on the shield and his time as Winter Soldier as I said in his conversation with Sam at the end of the episode. One thing that is getting a little tiresome now is the Flagsmashers. They're just terrorists now, with Karli kind of abandoning any kind of good will. It feels like they tried to do with her what they did with John, pushing her further and further under her circumstances, but just kind of failed at it since her motives and ideals are actually what I would consider good. They gave one of the villains a left ideology that develops further left and one a right ideology that develops further right and expected us to equate those as equal with each other when most who are paying attention, especially since the show does so well with it's race politics, see those as clearly not the same with. Besides that unpleasant detail, with Sam Wilson now taking on the mantle of Captain America, Bucky Barnes coming to terms with his time as the Winter Soldier and John Walker teaming up with Elaine from Seinfeld to become his own Captain America, next week's finale is shaping up to be an event of epic proportions following such another stellar episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
One World, One People
I'm sure many people were worried as to how the finale of "The Falcon" and the Winter Soldier would turn out following the somewhat divisive ending of WandaVision, but luckily I thoroughly enjoyed the final episode as I thought the show really stuck the landing well. Just to get it out of the way, I think the least interesting part of this episode and the show as a whole is the Flagsmashers. I really wish I had more to care about with them as I agree with their cause and I think the ideas behind Sam agreeing with them as well and trying to lead them in a positive direction were super interesting but Karli just didn't quite grab me as a character still. Most of the "villains" in this episode were actually quite dull I suppose, because while most of them are somewhat anti-heroes now with certain understandable motives into their actions, we didn't get all that much time with them. Sharon being Power Broker was quite a popular theory that turned true and seems to just be a set up for something else, Batroc was there, and John Walker showed up to try to be a hero again. His inclusion was the only one I'd consider great here and I'm excited to see where they take this whole American fascist liaison role he has now as US Agent. Now for the good, everything else. Sam Wilson is absolutely incredible in this episode, not a single dull moment with him. Aside from the kick-ass suit, he's perfectly embodying what Captain America is and should be. He's fighting for the underdog and trying to understand all sides of the situation, which is incredibly admirable for somebody trying to represent the best in a very flawed country. I absolutely loved the speech he had in front of the crowd and the GRC, his unwillingness to fight Karli and hope to still be able to turn her to a better side of herself, of course everything phenomenally insightful he talked about regarding the fact that he's a Black man wearing the stars and stripes and even just his more defensive fighting style with the shield. Everything about him was just so perfectly done and built up to over the course of the series and I couldn't be happier about where his character was brought to now. Bucky again got a little less to do than maybe he should've here but what we did get with him was all still a fitting conclusion to the road he set out on in this show, finally crossing the names of his book and letting go of what he needed to of his Winter Soldier baggage. The one new character in the show I was excited to see the most was undoubtedly Isaiah Bradley and his conclusion here sure as hell didn't disappoint. I was so happy to finally see him get the recognition he deserved in the Captain America museum as the first Black super soldier and how proud he was of Sam's courageous taking of the mantle. This show has had so much important and meaningful political commentary, phenomenal character work for two of Marvel's "sidekicks" turned full fledged heroes and engaging and thrilling action and story, and while perhaps the ball was dropped with some of the heroes' adversaries, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier's finale still stuck the landing of everything this show set out to be and provided a fulfilling conclusion to what I think was easily one of Marvel's best projects yet.