Falcon and the Winter Soldier Review: John Walker vs The Fandom

The Review:
Falcon and the Winter soldier is the second MCU entry to take place as a TV Series on Disney Plus that aims to take side characters from the Marvel movies and put them into the spotlight. Now, WandaVision was a show with a fairly complex plot told very simply and concisely… The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the exact opposite. Tempting as it might be to say this is just a show about super heroes fighting terrorists, that would be doing the show a disservice. Despite having a deceivingly over simplistic premise, the show’s plot and ideas run a little deeper than you might imagine, considering as the marketing revolved around a man with eagle wings gets Captain America’s shield and then starts throwing it at baddies.

After being given shield of Captain America to continue the legacy and carry the meaning of that name by Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson immediately retires the shield after feeling unworthy to wield it. The government immediately gives the shield to a man called John Walker – a winner of multiple medal of honours when fighting in the middle east – and brands him as the brand new protector of the United States. Along with dealing with the guilt regarding his past as the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes feels betrayed that Sam would surrender the shield to the government and conflict arises between the two just as the world needs them most:

Following the events of Avengers Endgame where 50% of the Earth’s presumed dead population suddenly came back into existence, many of those people found themselves displaced: Other people had moved into their homes, their living friends had moved and they had missed out on five years of history that everyone else had to suffered through. Many of these people became homeless refugees mostly forgotten by the government and some of them became radicalised for this reason by a group called The Flag Smashers (not on the nose at all). With the help of an unknown partner, the group is able to turn its members into Super Soldiers so that they can enact their plan to kidnap and/or kill US Senators to stop them voting on legislation that would see yet more people like them become displaced and resettled in parts of the world they don’t know or understand. So, it is up to the Falcon and Winter Soldier to stop the terrorists. And while that does summarise the main plot… bloody hell, there’s a lot more to get into yet.

Not the least of which is the fact the heroes are positioned in such a way that they are sympathetic to the cause of the Flag Smashers, as well as their leader’s – Karli’s – motives. Both Sam and Bucky were characters who did vanish at the end of Infinity War, so it’s not surprising they have these feelings for people who also vanished. Resultingly a lot of time is spent trying to reason with the Flag Smashers… Then a lot of time is also spent punching them into the ground.

Okay this is my first problem with the show: I have no problem with them trying to negotiate, negotiations falling apart and then the heroes having to get into a fight to save the world. That’s fine, and would work well if it was all leading to one big final conflict. But the truth is that Sam and Bucky’s first interaction with the Flag Smashers is a punching match. After trying to negotiate once, John Walker (Who we’ll get to) interrupts and everyone gets into another punching match. Then there’s like a third one, and so on and so fourth and it gets to the point where the heroes look bloody stupid for even trying to negotiate after a certain point, since the villains exploit their willingness to talk to get the upper hand after their initial talks broke down.

But I do get what they were going for: America breaking down doors and taking names is kind of a meme at this point, and depicting Sam Wilson – The new Captain America – as a more reasonable representation of what the country should be is a good idea; It harkens back to the Iron Man trilogy’s same analysis of this issue. But Sam, the first time you met them you punched them a lot, and then she blew up houses full of innocent people an episode later, and further down the line she recruited your past enemies to her side for the sole purpose of getting you killed trying to stop her. She’s beyond reasoning! In fact she nearly bloody kills him in the finale. Look, I get that “I’m not giving up on you” heroic stuff, but Sam just looks stupid by the end of it taking all that crap from her and her friends. This show’s biggest problem for me is that it can’t commit to being about punching people or reasoning with people, and so it’s full of scenes where people are violent where they should be reasonable and reasonable where they should be violent.

And honestly I wish it was a little more reasonable because the action in this show isn’t spectacular. The higher budget and special effects do save it a little, but the fight scenes in Marvel’s darker Netflix shows like Daredevil or even Jessica Jones feel a lot more impactful and suspenseful. A single punch thrown in one of those feels more impactful that when Bucky, a super soldier, picks up construction equipment and slams it into someone’s head in this one. Beyond that I think that the main problem is that the action isn’t very creative. There’s a good action scene in the first episode on top of some lorries, and a good one in the last episode where Sam is flying around the city saving people, but everything in between in heroes in wide open spaces throwing wide punches and occasionally dodging, with the odd kick or two thrown in for good measure. Contrast this to Daredevil where the action utilises a lot of cool martial arts and a variety of environments that are open, narrow or even vertical to give more variety and there just isn’t a contest. This is especially since that show didn’t rely so heavily on CGI to formulate its hardest hitting moments.

Luckily the character drama does save this show from becoming completely boring. Sam Wilson, as discussed, is gradually built up to be a good candidate to be Captain America as he works through not only his personal doubts, but also through the implications of what it means to be Captain America while also being a black man – a theme the show dedicates a lot of time to and that is, as far as I’m concerned, time well spent on what is a well presented issue. Zemo – the terrorist responsible for separating the Avengers in Captain America Civil War – is given an anti-super soldier ideology which is, basically, 100% correct: The show reminds us the serum affects personality and not just physical feats and that the fact Steve Rogers didn’t turn out to be some maniac like the Red Skull was the result of luck and faith in a good man rather than any type of scientific certainty. Bucky… Bucky is the weak link. He has this drama about making amends for his time spent murdering people as the Winter Soldier, but it gets forgotten about in episode two and suddenly remerges at the end out of nowhere for the most abrupt and oddly paced conclusion to a character arc I’ve seen in a while.

Then there’s Jon Walker. I love John Walker. He’s the most interesting character on this show, no questions asked. The guy is a veteran who ahs earned multiple medals of honour serving in the middle east. For this reason he is put through training to become the new Captain America, baring in mind he is not a super soldier and just a normal guy who can fight good. He gets his ass kicked a lot. Sam and Bucky hate him because they didn’t want anyone other than Steve to be Captain America (Until the end, obviously, where Sam overcomes his problems an accepts the mantle). He’s kind of an asshole even though he doesn’t mean to be because he gets all this support from the government that Sam and Bucky don’t. Most importantly though is the idea that he is the opposite of Steve Rogers. You may recall the line said to Steve in the first Captain America movie that goes “be a good man, not the perfect soldier”, which Steve noted down and made sure to follow. The opposite is true for John Walker who is told his main strength is that he consistently makes the right decisions during a fight, which is promptly followed by him feeling overwhelmed by the fact he’s a normal guy fighting super soldiers, him taking the serum, the serum making him even more of an asshole, his best friend being murdered, him publicly executing someone and finally being stripped of the title of Captain America. Like, seriously, John Walker has the most interesting and consistently good character arc this show has to offer and he is the highlight of all of it.

Sadly a show can’t ride off of one character. And I hate to say it but this means I cannot recommend the show because although I was engaged when it started, I bored out my mind by the end and essentially just waiting in anticipation for the next John Walker scene. If you’re a big MCU person then you’ll love it. You might love it even more if you’re a comic fan because of how it introduces new elements from the comics into the MCU effortlessly. If you’re not either of those things then stay clear, because you’ll have needed to have seen all of the Captain America movies and Avengers Infinity War, and Endgame, to get what’s going on here.

The Fandom Menace:

Okay, obviously John Walker was written to be a character nobody liked, because he didn’t earn the right to be Captain America. He became unpopular with the fandom, as intended, but I also think they may have taken it a little too far with the John Walker hate. The hate peaked at a point where a Redditor noted that whereas Steve Rogers jumped on a dummy grenade to save his friends in the first Captain America movie, John Walker mentions that he saves people from grenades all the time by holding a reinforced helmet over them. While is a parallel to the “be a good man, not a perfect soldier” mentality, some of the conversation devolved into “this is why John Walker is bad!”

But let’s think about this for a second. John Walker consistently saving his friends on a routine basis that is, while not as life threatening, certainly as risky as what Steve would have done, is not a bad thing. Lest we forget there is a scene in Civil War where Steve Rogers puts his unbreakable shield over a grenade to prevent it stunning him and Bucky? That doesn’t make Steve bad, it makes him smart, just like it makes Jon smart. Further more he has multiple medal of honours. These don’t mean he isn’t an asshole, but they should count for something since entire documentaries are made about folks who win these things and they aren’t earned lightly.

More hate erupted when John Walker publicly executed a dude which is, y’know, understandable even if that guy is a terrorist. But I feel like the hate was targeting the wrong aspect of that scene. The focus seemed to be on the fact that John Walker killed someone and therefore he is bad. But this shouldn’t be so since Steve Rogers murdered lots and lots of people without repercussions. No, what the focus of the discourse should have been on was how he did it: Publicly, violently and maliciously. It was more akin to murder, given that the guy had surrendered. Steve Rogers killed terrorists himself, but he was never screaming out of his lungs while he caved a mans face in with unbreakable metal; He fought efficiently and knew his limits. Alas… A lot of the conversation remained on the fact that killing is bad, rather the context of it. After all, if Bucky is swinging construction equipment at the same terrorists John was hated for killing, then we can’t exactly condemn it in this show, or the MCU in general, which has a pretty high body count.

As a final word I will note that the fandom and the people working on the show were much, much more reserved than when WandaVision had come out. I’m glad everyone did learn a thing or two from the discussion around that show, and it made the discourse around this new one feel a lot better. Even the things I have discussed here that don’t exactly depict the fandom in the brightest light where much more reserved than anything I saw talked about on regarding WandaVision.

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