After the success of 'WandaVision' and its bold, experimental moments in the early part of the series, 'The Falcon and The Winter Soldier' zooms in with its feet firmly planted in Marvel's past.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, sure, but it's clearly a choice. After all, 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' was one of the most critically-acclaimed movies in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, and was equally beloved by its most ardent fans. But where it had light shades of '70s conspiracy thrillers like 'Three Days of the Condor', the first episode of 'The Falcon and The Winter Soldier' doesn't quite get that far. At least, not now.
The episode opens with a CGI-heavy battle over Tunisia, with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) attempting to take down an international terrorist once again. Some eagle-eyed viewers will recognise him from the aforementioned movie, or failing that, his UFC career. Either way, the battle's over, Sam zooms off into the clear blue sky, and you'd be forgiven for thinking this is going to be it for six more episodes.
Instead, the gears shift and we go to Bucky Barnes, AKA James Buchanan Barnes, AKA The Winter Soldier - who's in therapy and trying to make amends for his crimes while he was a brainwashed assassin for Hydra, the all-powerful, neo-fascist terrorist organisation that was basically behind all acts of conventional evil in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the past few decades.
In both cases, Falcon and Winter Soldier are struggling to come to terms with life after they've had their day in the sun. Barnes, for example, is failing terribly at therapy because he won't discuss his innner trauma while Wilson is trying to save his family's failing shrimp business. Even in this early stage of the series, it's trying to dissect and demythologise the idea of superheroes. Granted, it's not going to go anywhere the levels of, say, 'The Boys', but it's fascinating nonetheless.
Indeed, the final shot of the first episode really tells you where the rest of the series is going. Bringing in US Agent / John Walker is an intriguing choice, as so much of the character is wrapped up in not just the legacy of Captain America, but also comic-books in general. Essentially, US Agent was like the real Captain America's misfit, misanthropic cousin.
At the end of 'Avengers: Endgame', Captain America specifically passed the shield to Falcon, intending him to become the next Captain America. At that time, however, he specifically said that it felt like it was someone else's. One of the major complaints about comic-book stories and superheroes in general is that it idolises the belief that one person can solve every single problem and, in doing so, circumvents the established democratic order of checks and balance, as well as government by people rather than by strength.
The character US Agent - who appears in the final scene of the first episode - was about how the generations that followed Captain America were constantly being made to live up to the 'Greatest Generation' and in doing so, often came up short and often had to overcompensate for it. In fact, US Agent's first name in the comics was Super-Patriot, before he became the corporate-sponsored successor to Captain America.
Is 'The Falcon and The Winter Soldier' going to go that far with it, and dig that deeply into it all? It's hard to say. Certainly 'WandaVision' went to a lot of places that people didn't expect, and while its ending might have been a bit rote and obvious, there was a lot of interesting themes and ideas explored.
Who's to say it can't happen here?
'The Falcon and The Winter Soldier' begins streaming on Disney+ from March 19th with new episodes until April 23rd.