Warning: Review contains spoilers!
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is back this week with The Star-Spangled Man. Episode 2 of the Disney+ series reunites Sam and Bucky, picks up where New World Order left off and is loaded with action, humor and enough easter eggs to crush the Easter bunny. The Star-Spangled Man also uses Cap’s rich comic book history touching on a couple of comic book runs, introduces some new characters all while delving into race relations and the injustices that have touched far too many people.
John Walker is the new Captain America and from the jump, the weight of his new moniker seems as though it will be too much to bear. With a couple of global menaces threatening liberty around the world, the U.S. government has decided to take Steve Rogers’ famous shield and bestow it upon someone new. Now Steve’s crimson boots are difficult enough to fill, just ask Sam Wilson, and the butterflies in Walker’s belly must be the size of footballs. To ease him into the role the government organizes a PR event to unveil war hero Walker as the new Cap. To do so he appears on Good Morning America, kudos to Disney for keeping things in house, at his old high school. Watching Walker’s interview brings back memories of Steve Rogers’ stints on stage pumping the war effort and promoting war bonds before he hit the battlefield to fight the Nazi’s with the allies. Even with aliens, time travel and sentient androids on the scene, things haven’t changed much since WWII and the public needs a boost and someone to rally around in times of uncertainty.
Walker’s presser stirs up some spicy feelings between Cap’s two besties. Bucky blames Walker taking over the title as Captain America on Sam’s refusal to hang onto the shield. Sam has his own regrets but doesn’t have time to process Bucky’s concerns. Both are dealing with varying degrees of loss and regret and their first scene together in the series establishes one of the main ingredients of any good buddy cop dynamic: conflict. One of the pillars of the conflict between Sam and Bucky is the sullying of Steve’s legacy. Their reverence for their friend made Sam feel unworthy to take his place and Bucky upset that he didn’t honor Steve’s wish. The conflict between the two also establishes one of the key ingredients of the series and that is chemistry. Watching Bucky and Sam banter about red wing, tactics and villains only adds to the entertainment value.
The Star-Spangled Man really gets going once things shift to Germany. Bucky tags along with Sam who is hot on the trail of the leader of the Flag Smashers. After tracking down the Flag Smashers, Sam and Bucky spring into action and take on the super soldier enhanced terrorists in a thrilling set piece on top of two semi trucks barrelling down a highway. Walker and his partner, Lemar Hoskins codenamed Battelstar, soon join the melee and two things soon become apparent. The Flag Smashers are well trained and just as formidable as Bucky and that Walker, while talented is no Steve Rogers. The relationship between Sam, Bucky and Walker is a frosty one as the rookie Cap is literally a third wheel for the former Avengers.
As devastating as the Blip was, it appears that having people return from it was just as chaotic. For some the world was an ideal place after Thanos’ finger snap and the Flag Smashers are among those who want to take things back to that time. The Flag Smashers are seen as heroes of the resistance and one of their members is of note to long time Captain America fans. Their leader, Karli Morgenthau may not ring a bell, but her last name and her groups’ moniker should. Karl Morgenthau is the Captain America villain Flag-Smasher in the comics, and Karli is the gender swapped version of the character in the MCU. Well as badass as Karli is there’s someone on her trail who appears intent on settling scores.
The Star-Spangled Man isn’t all buddy cop banter and superhero action. It also does a deep dive into some heavy topics. When Bucky takes Sam to see an old adversary, the complicated paths of both men and the injustices of the past come screaming into the present. The old man Bucky goes to meet is Isaiah whom Captain America stans would recognize as Isaiah Bradley. In the comics Bradley was an African American Captain America, whose tragic origin, Project: Rebirth was based on the real-life Tuskegee experiments that began in the early 1930’s. A recipient of the serum that flows through Bucky’s veins, Isaiah is bitter over his mistreatment by the government and fear that the Winter Soldier would eventually come back for him. Isaiah’s story, which hopefully will be expanded further also highlights the stark contrasts between how Steve and now John Walker are celebrated while Isaiah lives in obscurity. It’s a painful reminder of the injustice that exists and is highlighted even further when Sam and Bucky are stopped by policemen after leaving Isiah’s home.
Sam’s exploits and accomplishments mean nothing until he’s recognized by one of the officers and highlights that even 70 years after Isiah’s imprisonment and mistreatment some things remain the same. Bucky doesn’t walk away unscathed though. Arrested for missing his therapy session he’s locked up until Walker arranges for his release. Even after getting a helping hand from Walker and Hoskins, Bucky and Sam find it difficult to see anyway they can work together. This sets up the introduction of a character we’ve all been waiting for – Zemo but that will have to wait until next week.
The Star-Spangled Man does an excellent job of weaving Captain America’s comic book history into the narrative with the new Captain America and eventual U.S. Agent, Battlestar, Flag-Smasher and Isaiah Bradley getting meaningful screen time. It mines Truth: Red, White & Black for Bradley and the excellent Captain America run by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting after the death of the Star-Spangled Avenger. The Brubaker/Epting run features elements present in the Disney+ series including having Sam, Bucky and Sharon struggling to make their way in a world without Steve. So far, so excellent for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Hopefully Zemo’s appearance next week won’t disappoint.