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The Falcon and The Winter Soldier First Reviews: Delivers 'Stellar' Action Along with Big Emotions and Surprising Depth

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan bring charm, introspection, and emotional resonance, as the series shines a light on trauma and legacy in a post-blip world, while exploring ways Avengers: Endgame events continue to inform the MCU.

by | March 18, 2021 | Comments

After a longer-than-expected wait, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is finally here, premiering to Disney+ on Friday, March 19. And while it’s been nearly two years since Avengers: Endgame first premiered in theaters, the story (and some of the major plot-points therein) are still having an impact on our heroes Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) closest friends never were top-tier in the Avengers franchise, but it looks like The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is aiming to change that. Can Sam and Bucky rise to the challenge against a mysterious new foe, while also reconciling with their own pasts in order to see where they fit in a post-Endgame world without Captain America? And, more importantly, will the fans want to come along for the ride?

Here’s what critics are saying about The Falcon and The Winter Soldier episode 1 (note: reviews are posted under each episode —rather than on the season 1 page — since critics are supplied with new episodes each week just before their debut):


HOW ARE ANTHONY MACKIE AND SEBASTIAN STAN?

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan are on top form, with the latter really given the chance to shine as Bucky struggles to find his place in the world. His peaceful sabbatical in Wakanda as the White Wolf is over, so what happens when he’s confronted by the sins of his past? That’s a question this series looks to be setting out to answer, and if this first episode is any indication, that could take the character to some extraordinary places. –Josh Wilding, ComicBookMovie.com

Mackie and Stan stretch nicely in their expanded roles, finding room to play with both high drama and dark comedy, respectively — an odd couple in emotional beats as much as their actual character pairing. Stan finds touching humor in Bucky’s impossible circumstances (yes, we get Bucky on a date, and it is everything), and Mackie’s expressive eyes and face bookend the episode with two wordless yet striking scenes. We don’t need any explanation for Sam’s grief, doubt, and disappointment when we watch the actor in those moments. –Proma Khosla, Mashable

Between the jaw-clenched brooding and reflective staring, Mackie and Stan find small but meaningful moments to illustrate their innate charms. Mackie’s smile has a natural glow that’s impossible to resist, and he gets to crack it a few times while “Uncle Sam” (yup) jokes with his young nephews or cajoles his sister into a new business plan. Stan, meanwhile, has this simple little moment with a Maneki-neko that’s destined for meme glory (while still conveying Bucky’s deep desire for the world to stop moving, just for a second, so he can catch up). Once these two get together, making enough time for fans to enjoy their natural charisma among the requisite action scenes may be the show’s greatest challenge. –Ben Travers, IndieWire

For Mackie — a prolific character actor many first noticed in his role in “Half Nelson” fifteen years ago — this is an overdue moment in the sun. Mackie’s work in the Marvel films has been consistently strong but somewhat underwritten, given the magnitude of his talent. What is striking about his presence here is that he is permitted to embody complexity. –Daniel D’Addario, Variety


DOES IT STRIKE A GOOD BALANCE BETWEEN ACTION AND DRAMA?

Falcon and Winter Soldier

(Photo by © Disney+, @ Marvel Studios)

On the surface, the action sequences are arguably some of the best seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. –Dewey Singleton, AwardsWatch

The trailers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier promised a lot of action in this series, and the first episode doesn’t have much of it. The few action sequences that are in the premiere are stellar, but this is a show that doesn’t mind taking its time. –Charlie Ridgely, ComicBook.com

Tonally it’s along the lines of The Winter Soldier and the start of Civil War, at least regarding political jockeying and America-centric military issues. That’s both good and bad. On the one hand, the series could delve into some very worthy considerations of what it means to serve, to come home, to feel unmoored by a world that has moved past you; it could even reach Wanda-levels of introspection and emotional resonance regarding consequence. On the other, it could devolve into more of how this first episode starts: Call of Duty-esque mumbo jumbo, murder, explosions. –Allison Keene, Paste Magazine


HOW DOES IT PORTRAY THE POST-BLIP WORLD?

Anthony Mackie in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

(Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios)

With this show, we’re able to get more of Sam’s backstory, which hasn’t been much of a focus previously. Poised to perhaps take the reigns from Steve Rogers, we’re able to connect with him on another level; learning more about his family and life before The Avengers. And we’ll also see how he’s dealing with returning post-“blip”, having missed five years, and what that experience is like. –Jordi Sirkin, Jordi Reviews It

By honing in on Sam’s anxiety as a black man on the precipice of taking up the moniker of America’s Aryan saviour, the writers have added a layer of complexity to his character that we hadn’t seen before. Mackie, too, steps up to the plate in a big way, exhibiting a rawness that is hard to come by in superhero fare. –Ben Allen, GQ Magazine [UK]

The Falcon show features the boffo action opening, and also a richer exploration of the lives of those left behind in the Snap and of the internal contradictions of being a Black superhero in a country that doesn’t fully embrace Blackness than Marvel has ever approached. –Daniel Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter

Spellman and his writers have a blast with the post-Endgame world, using the space allowed a TV series to ask questions that movies simply don’t have time to address. Do Avengers get paid? What actually happens to a nation’s infrastructure when billions of people reappear after five years? The nerdy world-building is given room to breathe and it’s a hoot. –Jacob Hall, SlashFilm

Now, with his mind finally free of Hydra’s influence, Bucky is a 104-year-old man trying to find peace — or at least his version of it. In many ways, Bucky’s story is a sadder version of the one presented by Steve Rogers. After Steve was thawed out from the ice by Nick Fury, fans only got to see brief glimpses of him readjusting to modern society. The Falcon and Winter Soldier gives viewers more time to see Bucky attempt his rehabilitation tour. –Tim Adams, CBR


IS THE PRODUCTION VALUE WORTHY OF THE MCU?

Sebastian Stan in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Primetime Emmy–nominated director Kari Skogland (The Handmaid’s Tale; The Loudest Voice) is easily the biggest standout here, as she brings a very unique eye to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some of the camera angles she utilizes throughout the first episode feel so intimate, it’s almost like you’re inside the characters’ heads, a trick that works especially well in Bucky’s therapy scene. The premiere does feel familiar — staying true to the tone set by the Russo Brothers in The Winter Soldier and Civil War — but under her direction, everything feels oddly fresh and exciting at the same time. –Rohan Patel, ComicBookMovie.com

The excellent production values and interesting writing/directing is what make The Falcon and The Winter Soldier worth watching. –Allison Skornick-Rose, Flick Direct


ANY FINAL THOUGHTS?

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

(Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios)

As enjoyable as it is to catch up with the two leads (while being treated to some jaw-dropping action), this is definitely something of a slow burn which drops plenty of hints about what’s to come without rushing into bringing in characters like Sharon Carter and Zemo. –Josh Wilding, ComicBookMovie.com

With a timeliness its creators could not have predicted, “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” will likely grow to feel as necessary to our national conversation as “Wandavision” did this winter. Possibly even more so, with themes of national chaos and what “American values” really mean.
And, maybe most importantly, how we move forward. –Brigid Presecky, Impressionist Media

The series has so much inherent potential to be a breakthrough moment for action storytelling, so long as it leans more into the unique skills of its nimble characters, and not just what makes them flashy in short bursts. –Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” has yet to reach its ideal cruising altitude but it’s smooth, slow climb that promises to take viewers to new, exciting destinations. –Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier premieres Friday, March 19, on Disney+.


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