With Thanos finally defeated and Captain America returned after living a long and fulfilled life with his love Peggy Carter, the end of Avengers: Endgame appeared to herald a new era of peace among the superheroes in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).
However, as Disney Plus’ WandaVision made clear and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier will further stress, the ramifications of Infinity War and Endgame – both mental and physical – still stretch far and wide among superpowered beings and the general public alike.
Set six months after the events of Endgame, episode one of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier provides viewers with an insight on how Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and James ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan) have been doing since Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) handed over Cap’s symbolic shield to the Falcon.
While Bucky appears more isolated than ever without Steve at his side and Sam is getting to spend time with his sister and nephews following the five-year Blip, the former rivals do have a lot in common on their separate journeys – both are in desperate need of a new purpose.
In WandaVision, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) creates an entirely new reality as a coping mechanism when grieving the loss of Vision (Paul Bettany), who she had to watch die twice in Infinity War and then was unable to bury when his synthetic body was taken and dismantled by S.H.I.E.L.D.
In The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, which is set several months afterwards, the pain and loss that Sam and Bucky have been through serves as a constant reminder of how moving forward means having to face up to the past on a daily basis, no matter how ugly it may be.
Sam and Bucky have been hailed as fan-favourite characters ever since they were each introduced, with Bucky’s MCU journey going all the way back to the 2011 origin film Captain America: The First Avenger.
Yet according to IMDb user ninewheels0, in Infinity War, Falcon only had two and a quarter minutes of screen time, while Bucky had two minutes. Then in Endgame, Falcon had four and a half minutes, while Bucky had two and a quarter.
After a decade in the MCU for Bucky and seven years for Sam, the pair are finally receiving the spotlight they deserve, treating viewers to far more than just intricately choreographed close combat sequences and explosive action… not that those aren’t right up our street.
Right from the get-go in episode one, we get to delve into both characters’ psyches, which is particularly fascinating when it comes to Bucky, considering for decades he was working as a covert brainwashed assassin.
With the help of the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) after Captain America: Civil War, Bucky’s days of being brainwashed are (hopefully) behind him… but the Winter Soldier persona isn’t one that he can just shake off overnight.
Nonetheless, with every mischievous grin and wry remark, it’s clear that the old Bucky that Steve knew in Brooklyn is still under there somewhere, fighting to finally emerge and be free.
When it comes to Sam, he knows how to put on a strong front so that he can support others. We saw it in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, when Cap watched him running a support group for veterans after losing his wingman Riley in action. And now, he’s trying to do the same for his family after vanishing for years.
But Sam needs to check in on himself too. The doubt that he expressed when receiving Captain America’s shield is still there, continuing to plague him months later. Despite his clear skills as a leader and his unique talent with his Falcon wingpack, Sam struggles to believe that Steve’s faith in him is well-placed.
The first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier serves very much as an introduction. The familiar Captain America and Winter Soldier theme music sends shivers down the spine and it’s a real joy getting to know Sam and Bucky that little bit more after all these years.
There’s still a lot to uncover about what makes them both tick, but with just under five more hours worth of Falcon and Winter Soldier content coming our way, and given how effectively WandaVision conveyed the emotion behind the superhero tale, we have high hopes that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will be able to emulate this success.
All of these Marvel series coming out on Disney Plus have a tall order to find villains that can match up to the universe-crushing Thanos (Josh Brolin) from the Avengers films.
Fortunately for fans eager for a formidable foe, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier premiere sprinkles just enough foreshadowing with the introduction of the Flag-Smashers to suggest that Sam and Bucky will face just that, when they eventually realise that they’re stronger together than apart.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier launches on Friday on Disney Plus.