Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the second series in the line of the renewed Marvel cinematic universe that has found its way to the Disney + Hotstar platform. I loved WandaVision that came before this series and had high hopes from this series. For me, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was one of the most conflicting contents to have ever come out of the Marvel stable and it is so for a plethora of reasons.

The Plot:

The plot of the series can be broadly divided into two tracks. After the events of the Avengers: Endgame, people who were obliterated by the Thanos snap suddenly reappear and lay claim to what they had owned before they were reduced to dust. This creates a major refugee crisis as most of their properties and livelihoods were distributed among the surviving population. Among the ones who are now forced to vacate properties and shun lives that they had enjoyed for five years, rises a group known as the Flag Smashers. This group comprises individuals who have been injected with the same serum that Captain America derived his powers from. The leader of the group is an enhanced, Karli (Erin Kellyman) who is hell-bent on stopping the governments from handing over the properties and livelihood of the existing people to those who reanimated from obliteration. She finds herself challenged by Sam aka the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Bucky aka the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), and John Walker (Wyatt Russell), the newly appointed Captain America who now wields the shield that Steve Rodgers had handed over to Sam but one that Sam handed back to the government as he didn’t feel up to the task.

The second track of the story involves the personal lives of Sam and Bucky. Sam returned after five years to find his personal life in disarray. His sister is about to sell their fishing boat that happens to be a connection to his past that he cherishes dearly. She is awfully pissed at him for not being around when she needed him the most. Sam tries to get a loan from the banks but is unable to find one. He is also regularly called in by the government to deal with different problems and that makes him an unreliable feature at home. Bucky is dealing with PTSD and is also trying to undo some of the horrible wrongs that he had committed as the Winter Soldier. He is also annoyed with Sam for him returning the shield and John Walker becoming Captain America. He feels that Sam has insulted Steve Rodger’s legacy by giving away something that was not for him to give in the first place. Interestingly, situations keep bringing them together to solve issues and conflicts. This leads to some interesting drama.

Sensational action sequences:

The series begins with an action sequence that I feel will hold up strong against any top-notch action sequences from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only is it well done and exceptionally photographed, but there is also a raw physicality and vigor about it that I found sensational. This sequence only sets up the tempo for what is about to come. The series is peppered with many such outstanding action sequences that challenge each other for being rated the best in the series. Apart from the first action sequences, I also loved the one involving the Dora milage from Wakanda and the entire gamut of protagonists involved in the series.

The only letdown in terms of the action sequences was the climactic battle that took place at night, was hyper-edited and shot with the usage of too many close-ups spoiling the fun of watching a fight unfold the way it should be allowed to. The putting on and off of the masks by the Flag Smashers was also very meddling as it underlined the usage of body doubles.

Mature and well-enacted drama:

The problems addressed through the characters were genuine and had very little to do with superheroes. These are issues faced by common people and hence it was easy for the audiences to relate to the kind of issues that the characters were shown facing. That made the drama work better. Karli wants to hold on to what she and the people she stands for have been given.

Sam wants to do the right thing, wants to mean something to his sister, and at the same time is conflicted with whether he is capable of being the next Captain America or not.

Bucky is horrified by his past and has to face a man whose son he murdered when he was the Winter Soldier every day. He is incapable of telling him the truth. He has to live with this weight and no matter how much good he does; he is unable to rise from the abyss of his past wrongdoings.

John Walker is made the new Captain America and has the entire country transfixed on his every move. Interestingly, he has no super serum and is dependent on his human strength, abilities, and training and is expected to perform at par with Steve Rodgers who had super strength and had no predefined benchmarks to own up to in the first place. Evidently, all this makes for compelling drama and the makers successfully milked every ounce of it.

Superb performances by the ensemble cast:

One has to agree that the performances by the ensemble cast are terrific. One could argue that they gave better performances than what the series deserved. Apart from Mackie and Stan, I thoroughly enjoyed Erin Kellyman’s performance as Karli. She evoked so much hate for her character that I couldn’t wait to see her face pummeled. Wyatt Russell as the new Captain America is terrific in a role that demanded a lot of range and versatility.

Muddled messaging and a horrible finale:

Portraying the Flag Smashers as the wronged was problematic from the beginning and this issue was only aggravated by how the series culminated. Sam giving a moral lecture to the head of the states made as little sense as the unending efforts to portray the new Captain America as a bad guy. He was doing what he was asked to do and the only time he kills a man is at the heat of the battle and anyone would have reacted similarly. On the other hand, Karli and her cronies killed hundred without remorse, and still, they were handed the victim card on a platter. This didn’t make any sense in terms of the narrative. This aspect of the series brought down its believability and liquidated a lot of the drama that is built up efficiently through the first 4 episodes.

Some superhero dresses are only made to be worn in comics:

The costume that Sam wears when he finally takes up the mantle of Captain America looks like a dress that someone would wear in a Gay Pride parade in Guwahati. It looked so laughably bad and offensive that I just couldn’t take anything about his character seriously in the episode. He was just outrageously funny and laughable to look at. When he started lecturing the head of the states in that same dress, I fell off my chair laughing. Then a character says, “You look good in that dress”. “No! ..sorry..No! Not even his mother would agree that her son looks good in that dress. I could never believe that a dress could spoil an entire experience until now.

Final Thoughts:The Falcon and the Winter Soldier starts off strong, maintains the momentum until the 4th episode, and then everything comes undone in the final 2 episodes. The lackluster writing is not only unable to sign off with a bang but evokes “meh” responses to the path that the story takes, the way the characters behave, and also what the messaging and ethos of the series lead to.

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