‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Takes Flight

I’d like to think that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier started in this cramped Volkswagen. Kevin Feige watched the playback footage, saw the goldmine, and here we are.

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.

This man was born to play Bucky huh

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.

Dr. Raynor’s got competition but she just might be my favorite MCU character ever???

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.

WandaVision – Postmortem

Hehehe, Bohner.

Coming from an admitted X-Men timeline-truther, I dug the Evan Peters fake out.

Entertainment blogs and channels are raging holy hell over WandaVision’s cops and fake outs, and rest assured this is not that place. This is a Ralph Bohner fanpage now.

Way back in January, I had no idea what to expect with WandaVision. I didn’t know what Kevin Feige’s end goal was with this series, though I did know Disney’s (more content). I wasn’t sure until the penultimate episode – the emotionally pivotal chapter that pulls triple duty as a mini-origin movie for Wanda, pulls the curtain on the whole show, AND reveals the waypoint for Phase Four. That Wanda is the way forward for the MCU.

There have been nods since Age of Ultron that Wanda is low-key the most powerful character on the roster. She tore through 4 out of the 6 core Avengers without so much as throwing a punch. Then in Civil War, when Wanda goes full Palpatine on Vision, the Russo Brothers threw us a bone in the film’s extras.

Doctor Strange seemed primed to be the new lead of the MCU post-Endgame, an obvious choice as the character is routinely mythologized as the most powerful being. Agatha Harkness states it outright in the finale that Scarlet Witch is, in fact, more powerful than the Sorcerer Supreme.

Feige, the super-producer who’s been hard at work through Marvel Studios’ last 10 years, isn’t letting up. In shaping the next core cast, Feige’s had an ace in the hole this whole time, and Scarlet Witch is his number one pick. Sorry Thor and Hulk, y’all have been around before Wanda but she spun you two with one hallucination so you guys are benched, for now. (And though the MCU built up Captain Marvel as a bright beacon, it remains to be seen how she’ll push the cosmic end when Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the upcoming Eternals seem to have that covered.)

This appears to be the end goal for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, too, allowing for new leader roles to emerge front and center. If Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange are set to build out the mystical, mind-trippy corners of the MCU, then Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes are in line to explore or re-explore a political landscape in shambles.

So while I didn’t care for the witch on witch battle or the Hocus Pocus spectacle, I am pumped that Wanda finally owns the Scarlet Witch in both name and appearance. Heck, them Disney channel original movie ass effects were worth it for this alone.

The thing about Marvel Studios’ formula is that they can dabble in different genres all they want, but each media has to bottom-line achieve three things: move the needle forward for the main characters, expand the universe in some way, AND point to future movies. (As if any of us forgot Marvel’s burgeoning film slate.) WandaVision’s finale was no different and bore some casualties to this. The series snuck in a Monica Rambeau chapter which ended with a signpost to Captain Marvel 2. I’m stoked at Monica and Carol Danvers reuniting, but Monica’s post-credits scene sticks out like a sore thumb.

The MCU’s overriding formula comes at tremendous cost of someone like Darcy Lewis, whom the series went out of their way to reintroduce. All she gets in the finale is a bit stunt, one-liner, then peaces out in 5 seconds. Or the town of Westview for that matter. We get a brief reckoning with what Wanda has done to a whole population, but aside from servicing the show’s scale, the inhabitants of Westview didn’t have much else to do in the back end of the series. Like, y’all really brought in sitcom queen Debra Jo Rupp… and…… only use her in the pilot??? How ‘bout my boy Norm? Or my girl Bev? 😤

“Given the chance, I’d bring my mom back.” The series could’ve easily delved into Monica’s own grief story, having lost a mother in the five years she was blipped. And yet, I got what I wanted out of Wanda and Monica’s unspoken kinship with that line alone. Marvel still needs work juggling its B-plots and larger ensembles, but I do think worldbuilding as a whole works better on the television end. The Marvel films bear a 2hr runtime with too many boxes to check off. WandaVision clocks in at nearly 6hrs spread across 9 weeks. That afforded plenty of time aided by weeklong watercooler discussions, long-form threads, and YouTube breakdowns to digest all this. There’s lots to chew on, and lots of places to chew your food for you.

Yes, Evan Peters was a bait and switch – a diabolical play on expectations that, judging by the reactions to the switcheroo, will only get better over time 👌. Because nothing beforehand (nor afterward, for that matter) did the recasting of Pietro signal the dawn of the X-Men timeline. It DID, however, play on Wanda’s confusion of her own power, her spiraling grief manifested via sitcom trope of the long-lost brother coming into town and stirring things up.

I admit to jumping on the hype train. (I, too, played the guessing game of that “mind-blowing” cameo.) I didn’t bother with the logistics of it all because the opportunity was too juicy. Peters’ Pietro meant Wanda’s technically a mutant now, which pointed to a possible Ian McKellen cameo; continuity in the MCU seemed like it was up for grabs, and who else from the prior X-Men universe would make an appearance, etc. It seemed too good to be true and it was.

I don’t mind my expectations being subverted because subversion – when earned and done well – can be its own joyous surprise. For others, the joy is watching their proposed reddit theories followed to a tee, like the Jon Snow parentage reveal in Game of Thrones. Subversion can feel like a Shakespearean betrayal when fans have invested years of their being into a theory. (See also: Game of Thrones.) WandaVision was this year, so I for one don’t understand the head-spinning rage its spun in the three weeks since it ended.

Like, were you really that invested in Mephisto when he’s yet to be teased in the MCU? Was an appearance by Doctor Strange ever in the cards when he himself hadn’t been mentioned until the finale? And were so many of us (myself included) really that stoked about the X-Men timeline joining the fray when we agreed that most of Fox’s X-Men movies were dogshit anyway?

I don’t think we know how to read stories anymore; we’re a culture that feeds off endless hype. This results in fandoms throwing fits over things that were never promised to begin with.

WandaVision might not have been hype to some, but as a superhero fan who grew up around the campfire of nightly sitcoms long before I picked up a comic book, WandaVision was absolutely my shit; it met at the perfect cross-section of past and current obsessions that it’s no wonder I can’t get enough of it. I don’t know which recreated sitcom era I liked better, but I do know that Episode 5 has my favorite theme.

The stylistic choice is more rewarding on a re-watch because it runs deeper than referencing or imitation. Once Episode 8 pulls the curtain, you can start to identify what’s being expressed in each sitcom era—the little routines that Wanda is mourning, what she’s denying, and what she wishes were true instead. The Shimmer Hex is one giant crucible for Wanda to deal (or not deal) with her grief. We’ve seen Thor drown himself in beer and Fortnite, Cap leading group therapy, and Hawkeye mowing down the Yakuza to cope with loss, but we’ve never seen grief on this scale. Grief, for the first time ever, is imagined as a literal superpower—a destructive, life-altering, and ultimately entrapping force.

This line fucking kills me

WandaVision is Wanda’s own sleek origin story because in becoming the Scarlet Witch, she’s forced to confront her past. (“I don’t wanna go back there,” Wanda says, and Agnes replies, “The only way forward is back.”) This charts growth and a destiny fulfilled that would’ve been less interesting in a prequel. Going into this, I knew little of Wanda other than that she was Sokovian, got her powers from an infinity stone, and lost her family and Vision. Her origins have been defined, deepened through this saga.

What’s left at the end is a whole new territory to explore with Wanda. Not only has she come fully into the moniker of Scarlet Witch, she now has a major hand on the steering wheel in the MCU’s rapid expansion this time around. Despite my nitpicks, this makes WandaVision an absolute win in my book.

The show’s bold tagline, “a new era of television,” might’ve been too bold even for a series backed by a Disney budget. WandaVision didn’t evolve TV so much as remix past golden eras for its own purposes. But I will say that the MCU certainly felt new again.

I loved the reintroduction to Monica Rambeau. I loved getting reacquainted with Jimmy Woo and my girl Darcy Lewis. I loved how batshit crazy Agnes’ role wound up being. I loved the earnest sitcom banter between Wanda and Vision, and I especially loved their harrowing love story. I was singing the theme song after the first two episodes and I sure as hex am singing the praise weeks later.

The show might’ve ended, but the deep dive for me has only just begun.