Warning: this Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 3 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...
Over the last decade, worried parents have wondered whether the Marvel movies are age-appropriate for children. And while I don’t want to wade into that debate, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier makes for interesting watching when you consider what’s allowed – and what’s not allowed – to be shown on Disney Plus.
The fictional, lawless island of Madripoor drips with neon lights. The music blares out, and Sam Wilson remarks how his new clothes should belong to a pimp. Heading into Madripoor, the visuals are initially stunning, but there’s no denying this is a sterilized version of a Blade Runner-like world. We briefly see people shuffling money, and a couple of machine guns are on display, yet Madripoor’s bars and clubs are surprisingly lacking in character, with no real depth, coming across as unrealistic as a Star Wars cantina.
That’s partly because, as an adult viewer, I’m expecting to see some shady shit going down. Instead, a barman cuts open a snake and Sam drinks a shot, and the moment is played for laughs. That neuters the tone just before an ex-Hydra agent punches a nameless goon’s head inward with a metal arm. Violence is fine in Marvel’s world, but sex, drugs, or clubbing that’s not exactly what a teenager imagines clubbing to be like? Absolutely not. (The best presentation of an underworld in a superhero movie comes in Wesley Snipes’ Blade movies, and I hope Marvel’s upcoming adaptation doesn’t remove the personality from those scenes.)
Madripoor is something of a disappointment. Not only are we restricted to this surface level, child-friendly version – as we should expect from a Disney Plus show – but the scenes that do luxuriate in the atmosphere are cut severely short. Power Broker’s minion Selby could have been an interesting character, with her build-up hinting at a larger role. She’s dead within three minutes. We then see a bunch of assassins receiving notifications and the hunt for Sam and Bukcky commences – suddenly the atmosphere feels like the final moments of a John Wick movie. Our heroes and Zemo briefly start running, but are instantly saved when two bikers are shot by a guardian angel. The trio are then, confusingly, all clear and go out for a night on the town. A few scenes later, as they interrogate the engineer behind the new Super Soldier Serum, every hitman in Madripoor is hunting them again.
The show charges through these moments, racing to get to from one action scene to the next. That pace means Sharon Carter only gets a few moments in the spotlight and her situation gets mere lip service. This is a woman on the run from her country, only finding solace in a seedy, dangerous place that harbors fugitives. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s opening episode was so successful because it gave Sam and Bucky’s lives room to breathe. Carter – whose character will hopefully return and get the development she deserves – could have done with the same treatment.
Another returning character has more to do. Zemo’s back and there’s not a chance in hell he’s working with the good guys just to rid the world of Super Soldiers. A double-cross is distractingly inevitable, and Sam should know better than to go along with Bucky’s ludicrous plan to trust the man who shattered the Avengers – but here we are. Daniel Bruhl’s having a palpably good time in the role, and that’s fun to watch.
The action is on par with the movies, and Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan’s chemistry remains great. Sure, some of the quips midway through shootouts are a bit much, but the duo are enjoyable company – and if they weren’t, this show would be in serious trouble. Florence Kasumba's Ayo turning up during the final moments also excitingly hints at further complications because of Zemo, and there are a few Flag-Smasher moments throughout the episode that offer slightly more explanation behind Karli’s motives – though her “This is the only language they understand” line is a bit too textbook villain.
So, where does this leave Falcon and the Winter Soldier? Last week, I asked whether a Marvel series could be prestige TV. This week, Marvel showed that there’s a limit to how much they can show. Madripoor was never going to be a true hive of scum and villainy, but perhaps if the show wasn’t rushing between fights, the famed comic-book location could have been something more. Hopefully, I won’t be saying that about the series when it ends in three episodes' time.