The series wastes no time, picking up immediately after the shield handoff from Steve Rogers to Sam Wilson. And Sam does a very Sam thing by hanging up the mantle in Steve’s honor. His speech at the museum demonstrates exactly why I love Anthony Mackie as an actor. It’s easy to imagine Mackie’s sheer force of swagger saying to hell with it, dropping the mic and owning the shield, fist raised. As the character of Sam, Mackie’s gunning for something decidedly more nuanced, restrained.
By hanging up the shield, Sam has proven exactly why he’s destined to be the next Captain America.
Sam’s heart weighs heavy at the prospect AS IT SHOULD. The shield isn’t a toy or a new gadget. It’s a role, a symbol, an ideal. I think a lot of us could’ve easily walked into the next Captain America movie with Mackie sporting the new costume and not a thing would be lost on the fandom. But I LOVE that there’s hesitance, trepidation in taking on the role—even a bit of frustration at having to deal with such a responsibility; that Sam ultimately backs away, and the journey, then, is not about proving to others why he’s worthy, but proving it to himself.
Then again, perhaps it’s expected of a black man to turn down the role of America’s flagship hero. That this would be celebrated, applauded unanimously feels exactly like what would be the case, sadly. And how nonchalant it would be to pass the shield onto another white man. The government spokesperson at the Smithsonian, who has the gall to tell Sam he made the right decision, is the same one that introduces the new Captain America.
No offense to Wyatt Russell (the actor who plays John Walker) but congrats on the being the most hated character of the moment. Not even Joffrey from Game of Thrones was hated so instantaneously.
Ever since Sam met Steve Rogers, he’s spent a great deal of time with his head in the clouds. On missions, in skirmishes different countries, on the opposing side of larger and larger battles, etc. Feet planted firmly in his Louisiana roots, Sam is rediscovering what it’s like to be a black man in America—though I don’t think this took much imagination or effort.
Consider his stunning heroics in the series’ opening action scene, his willingness to dive out of a plane and soar through missiles and gunfire, contrasted by the mundaneness of being denied a bank loan. Sam even humble-brags about himself to the loan officer – a thing he’s definitely earned after putting his life on the line in various sagas – and he and his sister are still shown the door. The sheer powerlessness weighs a hundredfold. Sam can come to the rescue for his fellow Avengers in the heat of battle, but he can’t save his family’s boat.
I don’t know whether Marvel Studios will be bold enough to tackle race sufficiently while dealing with overtly American symbols (the same symbols of policing, militarization, and oppression). But considering how Black Panther deftly tackled the subject, there’s no reason for Falcon and the Winter Soldier not to try.
The most surprising thing about the premiere was seeing Sam and Bucky Barnes NOT together right off the bat. I kind of assumed that the only way they could grapple with Steve’s loss was by dealing with it together. The series is eyeing some noteworthy restraint with the promise made in its own title. We’re not getting the buddy banter just yet. They’re making us earn its center fan-favorite duo.
And yet this is hardly a tradeoff because we get to rediscover Sam and Bucky individually. This works especially well for Bucky because the dude has 90 years of backstory to sort through. We get some stellar Winter Soldier action told through flashback. (Remember when Sebastian Stan freakin’ RULED as a villain that one time?) But that past has lingering repercussions in the present day.
The first time we meet Bucky in The First Avenger, he’s suave, confident, maybe a little arrogant. He comes to Steve’s aid against a bully in that alleyway then treats his scrawny pal to a double date, except both women had eyes for Barnes. Bucky even tries to put the moves on Peggy later in the movie. Now, Bucky can’t be in the presence of a woman longer than 5 seconds without feeling uncomfortable.
There’s really not much we’ve known about Bucky across five films (if you can count the two Avengers movies) other than that he’s Steve’s brother-in-arms. Bucky was a brainwashed assassin at Hydra’s bidding until the events of The Winter Soldier, meaning he never quite confronted what Steve had to in coming out of the ice… until now. That he’s an entire century ahead. That the world changed drastically as much as he did, only who knows which one of them outpaced the other. That perhaps the old Bucky is gone for good.
We now find Bucky attempting to make amends, and a stern therapist (a ferociously funny Amy Aquino) beckoning him to put one foot in front of the other instead of swimming in moody despair. Steve made his peace with starting over in a new century. Bucky feels like he can’t, and this time Steve isn’t there to call to him.
On one hand you have a hero proving something to himself, on the other is a man wondering if the Winter Soldier is all that’s left of him. Steve was the common denominator between the two. We never would’ve met either until Cap needed them both. With Steve gone, the MCU starts asking the proper questions that just may help Sam and Bucky find what they’re looking for: who are they without Captain America? Are they just sidekicks, or can they be more?
Let’s find out.