Stars and Stripes

Featured image from ARS Technica. Follow the link for their review of Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

I like Marvel. I am a fan of the MCU, and have been watching the Disney Plus series as they have been coming out. I would like to deviate from my standard cultivation of news and opinion, and foray briefly into a different cultural sphere. ARS Technica gave their honest review of the Falcon and Winter Soldier series streamed on Disney Plus, published yesterday. It wasn’t a glowing review, and the author offered her takes on what she would have like the storyline to focus on. Her general summation was the the show attempted to “do too many things at once” and subsequently “never did any of those things as well as it could have.”

I am a fan of mini-series. I think that they offer directors and producers far more leeway to explore ideas and themes than you could with a single film, while still giving some pressure to focus on only a few themes. It is a good blend between film and screen, allowing for more depth of character and story progression without feeling like you’re cramming everything in.

To sum up, the theme of the whole series is legacy. Steve Rogers handed off the shield, and all the expectations that its legacy carries, to Sam Wilson, who was first introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Bucky Barnes, fellow super soldier and the original wingman to Rogers, agrees with the pick, and supports the decision to make Sam the new Captain America. In the near aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, Sam Wilson feels overshadowed by the legacy of Steve Rogers, and turns the shield over to the government, believing that instead of trying to carry on the legacy of this person (with the fear of failure that comes with not doing so), that new heroes are required for the times we live in. Bucky, meanwhile, goes through mandated therapy as part of his pardon, and avoids telling his therapist about his ongoing nightmares. He continues to sleep on the floor, an indication that he is still dealing with the legacy of his time both as a soldier, and the Winter Soldier. Even though his brain had been deprogrammed of the control words to activate him as the ruthless killer, he still grapples with the effects it has on him. He attempts to “make amends” with people still on his list (in the same notebook Rogers used in the Winter Soldier movie), but in reality he is, as Wilson says, “avenging.”

Sam, meanwhile, is working with the government to do missions, flying away from family struggles at home. Specifically, the family boat had fallen into disrepair between the snap and the blip, and his sister struggled to keep everything together. The boat became not only a plot device, but a symbol of the family legacy, and a stand in for the legacy of the shield.

The villains to Wilson and Barnes, the Flagsmashers, were an ideological group bent on returning the world to the mindset of the blip, erasing borders, and making the world one world, one people. The Global Repatriation Council was their true enemy, since after the blip, millions who were displaced by the snap, were treated as second class world citizens, forced into camps and left nearly unnoticed by the world. Carly Morgenthau used her connections with Madrapor and the Power Broker, to gain powers through a reformulated version of the super soldier serum, with a small but dedicated group of followers, and worldwide sympathy, in order to affect change.

Then there was John Walker, the imposter Captain America, given the authority from the government to act as such. A great soldier, Walker was given the mantle due to his loyalty and service to the US Government. This harkens back to the conversation between Dr. Abraham Erskine, played by Stanley Tucci, and Colonel Chester Phillips, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Phillips thought that the super soldier serum should be given to Gilmore Hodge, a specimen of a recruit who had all the physical characteristics of a great soldier. Erskine believed that Rogers, who at that point was nothing more than a skinny kid with a big heart, was the ideal candidate. He was not a perfect soldier, but rather, a good man. And the serum would enhance those characteristics, “Good becomes great, bad becomes worse.”

Walker, who was dealing with PTSD, became unhinged once he took the last remaining super soldier serum. Set off by the death of his close friend and partner Lamar Hoskins, he exacts revenge by using the shield as a weapon and not a defensive tool as it was intended. As a soldier, he trended toward force and violence because he believed that it was the only thing that “those people” understood. Wilson, on the other hand, saw opportunities to foster common ground, and to defuse the situation. Even after Walker’s murder of Niko, Sam tried to talk down Walker.

Sam also discovered the erased history of Isaiah Bradley, a black man who in the Korean War was experimented on and given a version of the super soldier serum that worked. He was the only survivor of these government experiments, and was imprisoned for thirty years for disobeying orders in similar fashion to how Steve Rogers did in World War II. This lead to him feeling not only betrayed by the country he fought for, but embittered toward the legacy of the shield, believing that “no self respecting black man would want to be Captain America.” Sam, affected in his own way as a Black man in America, was angry that Bradley’s history was covered up, and torn between the huge shoes left to fill from Steve Rogers, and the complications of race relations in this country. But instead of reaching the same conclusion that Isaiah Bradley reached, he chooses to still fight for the country, and the legacy given to him by Steve Rogers.

This acceptance, and a new suit designed by the Wakandans, enables him to stop the Flagsmashers from disrupting the GRC vote, but establishes him firmly as the new Captain America. He gives an impassioned to the various government officials about the power they wield, and admonishes them about the ease by which they label those who disagree with them terrorists, particularly when they have the same power as a “mad god.” He recognizes that there will be “millions of people who will hate me every time I pick up the shield,” but that doesn’t stop him from doing it. Not only does he take the weight of the legacy and rise to it, but uses it to begin to heal some of the damage of the past, by adding to the Captain America exhibit with a section about Isaiah Bradley.

Bucky meanwhile, comes to terms with his past, accepts it, and begins to truly make amends by being of service, following the advice Sam gives him. He rescues the GRC representatives, and puts himself in harms way to do so. In the epilogue, he manages to set things right with all those on his list, leaving it as a gift for his therapist.

I really enjoyed the show. I thought that they did a good job with it. The effects showed that Disney really is invested in their Disney Plus material, at least in terms of the MCU and Star Wars. The characters of the Falcon, now Captain America, and the Winter Soldier, reach interesting and satisfying emotional conclusions, while adding to the lore of the MCU. The show offers us a chance to pause, and ask the simple question “why” when it comes to where many of the disagreements come in, whether it is on racial issues, terrorism, the use of force and violence, and many other issues. Had people looked for a different approach, and ways to humanize those on the other side, we can begin to come back together. So, while JENNIFER OUELLETTE is entitled to her opinion, and her analysis is sound, I take it a different way.

For those who have yet to see the show, please do. Take in the overt references to modern racial politics and power through. It can be cringy, but the payoff at the end is worthwhile. It may be frustrating to feel like others will try to lump you in with the “millions who will hate [Sam Wilson]” for picking up the shield, if in your heart you know yourself not to be, then live in that knowledge. For those who have seen it, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts, and if you’d like more reviews, please let me know.

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