The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Episode 2 – The Star-Spangled Man Review
THE STAR-SPANGLED MAN sees us hopefully complete the series’ setup act as we get to know a little bit more about our new Captain America, a little bit more about the Flag-Smashers and a whole lot more about the Super Soldier Serum programme. Our two leads finally unite, brought together to bitch at each other about the fate of Cap’s shield and find themselves caught between the surprising strength of the Flag Smashers and the newly minted long arm of the US Government, Captain America – James Walker.
Once again, THE STAR-SPANGLED MAN conforms to the apparent series template for THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER which is a one-and-done approach to action sequences. This time, the set-piece sits in the centre of an episode as Sam and Bucky track the Flag Smashers to their latest raid only to find themselves overwhelmed and outgunned, even with the assistance of Captain America. The rest of the episode is taken up with a mix of introspective character moments and more revelations of the increasingly dark history of America’s Super Soldier programme.
Walker’s origins as a naturally gifted soldier with “off the charts” speed, endurance and intelligence who feels the pressure of living up to Steve Rogers’ legacy feels like it might be setting him up to make some unwise choices in the future but there’s the nagging problem that Marvel and the MCU have returned to the Corrupt Government storytelling well so often that there’s almost an expectation that we’re headed that way with Captain Fauxmerica too, especially as we get some hints of the chequered history of the role of Captain America.
The introduction of Isaiah Bradley (an intensely emotional turn by Carl Lumbly) opens the door to explore a theme that THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER seems increasingly keen to tackle: the historic and contemporary systematic racism inherent in American society. The problem seems to be that, at least for these first two episodes, it feels like the series is biting off more than it can possibly chew to a satisfactorily digestible state. THE STAR-SPANGLED MAN has some problems with pacing and seems to struggle to reconcile the ongoing super soldier storyline, Sam and Bucky’s jocular bickering and the heavier themes it seems to want to explore.
There’s yet to be a sense that the series will be able to juggle everything it’s picking up, let alone make it pay off. Will we ever see or hear of Sam’s family’s financial problems again? I’m more confident that we’ll see more of Isaiah Bradley (and especially his grandson Eli, played by Elijah Richardson) than Sam’s sister and even Bucky’s ongoing therapy is put on the back burner after investing considerable time in the first episode. Nothing in THE STAR-SPANGLED MAN helps the series feel coherent yet and while each of the ingredients is appealing in itself, they’re not (yet) mixing well.
If anything in the MCU has suffered from the COVID-enforced schedule shuffling, it may indeed be THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER which was, once upon a time, meant to inaugurate the Disney+ MCU offshoot. After the bizarre and bravura out-of-the-tesseract structural storytelling of WANDAVISION, this slightly more grounded super soldier saga feels a little, well, formulaic. Not that that makes it bad, necessarily, but it feels a lot like more of what we’ve seen and liked before. In hewing so closely to CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, the series doesn’t feel like it’s carving out an identity for itself and the six-episode series feels more and more like we’re watching a slow-paced simple three-act structure, with two episodes per act.
If the structure holds true, we can expect the next two episodes to bring us the big confrontations, including a ‘big twist’ at the end of episode three and a point of crisis/ all is lost moment at the end of episode four followed by an action-packed climax, wrap-up and conclusion. I hope I’m wrong, and while I’m perfectly content to be whelmed by the series, I do wonder if it’s going to be the first victim of the MCU’s own success where really good doesn’t feel quite good enough?