Say what you will about Disney+’s “WandaVision.”
The mercurial series felt nothing like the preceding MCU movies that made Marvel the Hollywood behemoth it is today.
It’s why “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” feels both familiar and welcome. The new series opens with the kind of big-budget, FX-heavy spectacle that forged the MCU’s bullet-proof brand.
The series finds Anthony Mackie’s Falcon soaring on a rescue mission with enemies gunning to bring him down to earth. It’s a bravura sequence, if a tad too long, but it reminds us how small screen fare can look, sound and feel exactly like the stuff that once saturated movie theaters.
You see, kids, years ago audiences would gather in darkened warehouses to watch stories on the biggest TV screen you could imagine …
“Falcon” also features the other fella trapped in ice for 70 or so years. James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), also known now as the Winter Soldier. Stan lacks Mackie’s laid-back charisma, and it doesn’t help that he’s saddled with his old partner’s shtick.
All together now, “he’s a man out of time!”
Stan is at his best when sparring with his therapist (“Bosch” regular Amy Aquino). Otherwise, this soldier remains a mystery, even when he’s attempting to court a cute restaurant worker.
Meanwhile, Mackie’s Sam Wilson is trying to reconnect with his family and save their flailing business.
It’s all taking place after both “Avengers: Endgame” and “The Blip,” the Thanos snap that erased half the world’s population for five excruciating years.
Once again an MCU story tucks neatly into the greater narrative. Still, “Falcon” is a long way from destination TV. For starters, Sam’s back story feels too pat, and at times too woke.
The first episode’s worst scene finds Sam and his sister trying to snag a loan from an unsavory bank worker. Said employee spends half his time taking selfies with an Avenger. The rest? He treats the duo like they were something he found stuck on the bottom of his show.
That kind of cartoonish storytelling, playing heavily off of the Wilsons’ skin color, suggest the MCU’s embrace of woke storytelling will continue on the small screen. Screenwriters can convey the complexities of race in modern culture without resorting to blunt tactics like this.
Still, the movie-level budget and focus on Mackie, one of Hollywood’s less heralded talents, should serve “Falcon” well in the coming weeks … assuming the lectures don’t multiply over time.
The most intriguing plot line so far? Mackie stands in the shadow of Steve Rogers and his amazing shield, now left as a museum artifact.
Or is it?
Where “Falcon” goes with that tempting storyline will show if the series is serious about bringing MCU-level excitement to Disney+ or if it’s another progressive storyline piggybacking on our love for all things Marvel.