Photo: ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’/Disney+
‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ – The MCU Evolves
With ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’, we finally get to see what life post-Thanos looks like for the average Avenger. Sure, ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ showed us what Peter Parker’s up to, but he’s more of a summer intern with the Avengers. One of his biggest concerns after reversing Armageddon was finding a girlfriend. ‘WandaVision’ certainly dealt with post-traumatic themes, but Wanda’s ability to create an entire ‘Truman Show’ for herself isn’t going to be super relatable for characters like Ant-Man, War Machine, and Hawkeye.
Indeed, the three MCU properties that have been released represent a divergence–each character is dealing with the fallout of concluding the narrative-consuming climactic conflict in wildly different ways, and each production team behind these three projects is approaching the future of the MCU in wildly different ways.
Spider-Man is growing up and individuating; meanwhile, his Sony handlers are crafting an entire parallel universe of villains for him to potentially interact with (The Tom Hardy-starring ‘Venom’ and the Jared Leto-starring ‘Morbius’ are likely to collide with the Disney/MCU Spider-Verse at some point). Wanda Maximoff, AKA the Scarlet Witch, has been experimenting with the outer extreme of her supernatural abilities; meanwhile, the creators of ‘WandaVision’ experimented with the outer extreme of what could be considered a story taking place in the MCU.
Now, we have ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), AKA The Falcon, and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), AKA the Winter Soldier, both lived in the shadow of Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, for the entirety of their super-hero careers. Now that Captain America is retired, the two men are looking to both the past and the future for a purpose. The showrunners are combining features from the early MCU and the canceled Netflix series like ‘Luke Cage’ and ‘Daredevil’ while also taking advantage of the new opportunity to tell a straightforward comic book story with a Disney budget and Cinema-grade effects.
The Captain’s Shadow
‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ provides an opportunity to reexamine and recontextualize what the Captain America mythos offers to audiences in 2021. Captain America himself might be out of the picture, but his psyche is very much present, now divided in two. Bucky represents Captain America’s guilt over the past–abandoning his friends and loved ones, watching friends get old and die while he remains young–but with the darker hue of PTSD from being brainwashed to kill people and execute the Illuminati-esque agenda of Hydra. Sam represents Captain America’s guilt over the future–whether the country he represents is doing the right thing and whether there should even be a Captain America at all–but without the benefit of being the originator of the admittedly-antiquated mantle.
While the ‘Captain America’ series evolved from Greatest Generation/military propaganda (the first film came out only months after the US killed Osama bin Laden) to anxiety over mass surveillance and government overreach (the second film came over in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden leaks), ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ comes as America attempts to recover from Trump and the world attempts to recover from COVID-19.
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The Earth of the MCU is recovering from a universe-wide disaster caused by a mad tyrant with a weird daughter relationship who had a woefully simplistic grasp of public policy and was surrounded by creepy yes-men (I’m not saying Trump is Thanos, but… Trump is Thanos). Thanos snapped his Infinity Gauntlet fingers to wipe out half of all life and thereby give the remaining half more ‘lebensraum’. Five years later, Thanos is defeated and every person vanished by the Gauntlet chaotically comes back to life. It’s an event known in the MCU as ‘the Blip’.
A ‘Post-Blip’ World
‘Avengers: Endgame’ came out in 2019, but it turned out to be an eerily prescient film. In its opening scenes, it showed us the world created by Thanos’s snap. Sporting events were canceled. The streets were empty. All over the world, people are mourning the loss of loved ones taken unexpectedly and too soon by a sudden unstoppable force (or rather, a force that could have been stopped, had the people whose job it was to stop it not been disbanded by petty and callously shortsighted public officials). Steve Rogers even talks about seeing whales in the Hudson River, something that actually happened during the pandemic!
‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ deals with what comes after the disaster. Sam is back to work fighting bad guys with the US military (comic book fans will be thrilled to know that his first adversary is Georges Batroc (Georges St. Pierre), AKA Batroc the Leaper, while fans of incremental progress in the media will be thrilled to know that The Falcon is blowing up anonymous French minions rather than the stereotypical Middle Easterners/Russians/North Koreans/Africans). After a thrilling dogfight that pits the winged hero against missile-launching helicopters, Sam is off to attempt a far more daunting task–securing a bank loan while Black.
Sam Wilson, it turns out, has a younger sister named Sarah (Adepero Oduye) back home in Louisiana. She’s been trying to keep the family business afloat, but her economic struggles are only worsening. Sam is convinced that his status as one of the guys who defeated a horde of Earth-invading aliens and brought billions of people back to life will be enough to secure a small business loan. Of course, the modest Sam doesn’t immediately flash his Avengers membership card. The bank manager recognizes him anyway, but first guesses that he used to play for LSU (kind of racist, and also while I understand that there are several dozen Avengers now, I find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t all be Leonardo DiCaprio-level famous).
The guess that Sam was a college football player does turn out to be apropos, though–apparently, Avengers get compensated the same way college athletes do. Their tuition (i.e. fancy gadgetry, augmentations, and intergalactic airfare) is covered, but otherwise, they are putting their bodies on the line for class credit. The banker asks about a ‘fund for heroes’–like the charities that have been popping up to support essential workers? Then he asks if (multibillionaire) Tony Stark paid them–which, apparently, he didn’t… How very Jeff Bezos of him. Maybe the lower-income Avengers should unionize.
Back to Reality?
At the end of it, the banker turns down the loan application, citing the fact that Sam Wilson has no earnings over the past five years–the five years he was snapped out of existence. A BIPOC military veteran finding himself economically disadvantaged as the result of putting himself on the frontline of a time of national crisis is quite the poignant metaphor. Is Sam wrong for not wanting to call himself Captain ‘America’? When Sam finds out about a group called the ‘Flag Smashers’, a group that could be a stand-in for QAnon or Antifa, he’s told that they think things were better before everyone came back from the Snap–back when there was a sense of common cause, a sense of world unity in crisis.
Could they have a point? The US politicians of the MCU seem totally content to return to business as usual–Sam’s noble refusal of Captain America’s shield leads to the government simply installing a more complacent Captain America in his place (Wyatt Russell). It looks like things are going to get worse before they get better. At least Bucky is in therapy.
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