Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 review: "The most grounded Marvel series yet"

Falcon and The Winter Soldier
(Image: © Disney/Marvel Studios)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier comes out the gate with one of the most grounded takes on the superhero genre yet

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Warning: this Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 review contains spoilers. If you have not watched the Disney Plus show yet, then bookmark this page and come back when you're all caught up...

There’s a reason Kevin Feige originally wanted The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to kickstart the Marvel universe on Disney Plus. The premiere is action-packed, setting up a series that’s more strait-laced than WandaVision, taking a grounded approach to analyzing the struggles of superheroes. 

Where WandaVision dealt with grief, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier looks at PTSD, monetary difficulties, racism, and the long-term effects of The Blip – the official name for the Thanos snap that left half the universe in dust. Marvel is getting heavy. There are a few comical moments throughout the first episode, sure, but mostly we’re witnessing two men finding their way in the aftermath of a great tragedy.

Anthony Mackie as the Falcon

(Image credit: Disney/Marvel Studios)

Sam Wilson, still battling bad-guys for the American armed forces, has been gone for five years and the world has changed. His sister’s no longer financially stable and she’s about to lose their family boat. Sam thinks that, because he's an Avenger, he can persuade a bank to lend them money, but no such luck. Being the Falcon only gets you so far, the bank teller struggling to pinpoint where he knows Sam from – though that does not stop him wanting a selfie.

Meanwhile, Bucky Barnes is suffering from major bouts of PTSD and attending therapy sessions to discuss his nightmares – memories of his terrifying past life as the Winter Soldier. Bucky feels immense guilt, the hero spending his days trying to make amends and taking the father of a former victim out for lunch. The guilt weighs so heavily that, while on a date, Bucky dashes out midway through. Life will never be normal for Bucky.

Already, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier comes across as more intimate and relatable than the MCU has been for a while. Throughout the first 42 minutes, we get a closer look at these two characters, especially Sam, and that lays the foundation for the main pull of the series.

The overarching story looks set to center on the United States versus the Flag-Smashers, a terrorist group who believe the world was better off after the Blip and want to break down borders between countries. They are Thanos-sympathisers, basically the Reddit page "ThanosDidNothingWrong" brought to life (were the users activists rather than meme-makers). Indeed, as pointed out, a world without borders sounds attractive, but their methods are heinous, and no doubt the returning villain Baron Zemo will have some relation to these villains.

Then there’s the legacy of Captain America. Sam Wilson was rightfully given the shield by Steve Rodgers, and Sam decides to make a very public announcement that the symbol should be retired with Steve. Rhodey’s in attendance – a reminder of this interconnected world – and offers a warning that things are not quite so simple.

The episode ends with a bombshell: the government has gone ahead anyway and installed a new Captain America without informing Sam. Worst of all, and a sign of things to come, Cap happens to be a white man. There were already undercurrents of racist attitudes on-screen during the aforementioned bank scene, and this certainly seems a purposeful choice. That Sam’s vow to retire the Captain America name was completely ignored says more than any punch-up could.

Speaking of punching, there is action. The episode kickstarts with a movie-style chase. We were promised a series akin to a Marvel movie, and they are certainly delivering on that within the first episode. There’s certainly a lot of promise in this grounded series, and both Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan are great here. Should their chemistry hold when they inevitably team-up, this could certainly be one excellent addition to the MCU.

For more Marvel coverage, check out our primer on all the new Marvel TV shows coming our way. You can also get the best deal and watch The Falcon and the Winter Soldier for less with our guide.

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Jack Shepherd
Freelance Journalist

Jack Shepherd is the former Senior Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar. Jack used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film for the likes of GR+, Total Film, SFX, and others. You can now find Jack working as a freelance journalist and editor.