Flowing down the Stream
“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” ushers in a New Age of Heroes
We live in a golden age of superhero cinema. What once was regarded as action figures smashing against each other while chasing the silly little concept of “Truth, Justice and looking damn fine in Tights,” is now indisputably a box office and cultural juggernaut. Yet, even as we as a culture can now accept a wrinkled space grape with magic rocks yeeting half the universe, the heroes we worship on the big screen are still frightfully monochromatic.
You only need to look at the fact that three of the biggest superheroes of the last decade are played by the Trinity of Chris, who despite their undeniable charisma and screen presence, are just different flavors of plain old vanilla.
Now it seems that after the breakout success of Black Panther (which only took 10 years and 18 movies to get to, but I digress), studios are finally starting to embrace the idea that the heroes we see onscreen should look more like the world outside our window and less like the white bread aisle.
Which brings us to the main point of discussion for the day, the passing of the mantle of Captain America from one generation to the next. In a universe where world ending cataclysms are their typical weekend, the story of a Black man taking on the shield is by far its most compelling.
Throughout The Falcon and Winter Soldier, we see Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), the titular Falcon and Cap’s chosen successor, grapple with the complicated legacy of the Captain America shield and the inner turmoil of what it means for a Black man to become the symbol of a nation.
It’s in this personal conflict that the show truly shines, as the typically apolitical Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) does not shy away from the dark history of systemic racism in the USA. Sam not only survives his own moment of police profiling, that sadly mirrors a very real African-American experience, but he also encounters the tragic tale of the would-be first Black Captain America, Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly).
In a truly harrowing performance, we hear how Isaiah was part of a group of Black soldiers who were treated as human guinea pigs during the Korean War for an unstable experimental drug to recreate the super soldier serum that created the OG Captain America (Steve Rodgers played by Chris the Best). These soldiers were then abandoned by the US army when they were captured behind enemy lines. The army then planned to bomb the enemy base to remove any evidence of their “failed experiments”. Not willing to let his fellow soldiers die, and in a move mirroring the first Captain America’s own origin story, Isaiah disobeys orders and frees his comrades. However, where Steve was given a hero’s welcome, Isaiah finds himself imprisoned for 30 years, and his history “erased” just like countless other Black people in the name of the good old Red, White and Blue.
This heartbreaking story shows how The Falcon and the Winter Soldier won’t shy away from the harsh reality of race relations in the US, and dares its audience not to look away either. Even through all the pain and suffering, there is a strong undercurrent of hope prevalent throughout the series. Even at his lowest with his family in financial crisis and disillusioned with the legacy of the shield, Sam never loses sight of what makes him a true hero – his strong sense of empathy and stalwart belief in the inherent good of people.
It’s in this same spirit that drives Sam to reach out to the villain of the series Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) as he understands her plight to fight for the disenfranchised. That same determination that stirs him to prove that the world is ready for a Black Captain America, and that same passion that pushes him to make the struggle of the Black men and women who came before him mean something.
By the time Sam dons the shield in the final episode, you truly believe that he is the hero this world needs right now. One who isn’t just America’s champion, but everyone’s.
As a Black and gay superhero fan, it’s truly indescribable to have one of the most iconic heroes out there look like me. The moment Sam’s nephew looks up in admiration at him while reaching out to the shield, was awe-inspiring. It reminded me for the first time in a long time why I fell in love with comic books in the first place. While Marvel’s gay representation onscreen leaves much to be desired so far (no, I don’t count the blink and you’ll miss it gay grief counselling guy from Endgame), this gives me hope that one day members of the LGBT community will have their own hero to look up to. Spandex and campy one-liners and all.
The series is far from perfect though. The Flag Smashers, the central antagonists, never felt like a real threat with only one real character (Karli) among them. The rest are just a bunch of interchangeable cartoon goons with a propensity for knives. As well, John Walker (Wyatt Russell) , the show’s other Captain America, has a sudden change of heart in the eleventh hour that doesn’t quite gel with the character we saw less than an episode ago.
Despite these flaws, the show more than stands tall as one of the best things the MCU has produced in years, if not ever. And that’s all thanks to its strong themes, and a true hero we can all root for who looks a little more like you and me.
Available from Disney Plus
About the Author
Just another island boy getting lost in the city. Frequent surfer of the Interwebs and with my fair share of opinions on what's making waves in popular culture these days. (P.S. Can't really surf but I sure can swim)