After the incredible success of WandaVision, Marvel Studios is releasing a new six-episode series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (making its debut on Disney+ on March 19), set to impress fans within its first minutes.
Coming out of the gate with a massive action sequence that's more than seven minutes long, if WandaVision was Marvel Studios' way of showing the unique storytelling that can be brought to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier exemplifies that just because it's a series on a streaming service, doesn't mean it can't have the look and feel of a feature film.
"We kept saying, 'if we're going to do a series with Falcon and Winter Soldier in it, we need to at least start off with the best action that we've ever seen,'" executive producer, president of Marvel Studios and chief creative officer of Marvel, Kevin Feige, said at a press conference earlier this week.
Director Kari Skogland explained that the project was approached with the mindset of making a six-hour film, which is already very evident in the first hour-long episode alone.
How does 'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' start?
It's hard to judge an entire series by just the first episode, but the initial hour certainly does a good job of setting up the character-driven narrative and the tone for the two main characters: Sam Wilson aka The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
The series begins after Avengers: Endgame where we see Steve Rogers, otherwise known as Captain America, give Wilson the shield. As The Falcon and The Winter Soldier begins, Wilson still doesn't believe the shield belongs to him.
"Symbols are nothing without the women and men who give them meaning," he says in the first episode of the series.
"You don't want to see Captain America go away because just like Captain America was your captain, Captain America was Sam Wilson's captain," Anthony Mackie said.
James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) makes an appearance to stress to Wilson (and the audience) that no one is stable, alliances have been fractured, the world is broken and everyone is looking for someone to fix it.
By the end of the first episode, Rogers' shield seemingly has a new owner, but it's not who or what you may have expected (or possibly wanted to happen) after watching Avengers: Endgame, it's in the hands of the government-appointed U.S. Agent.
After returning from the Blip, Wilson rejoins his sister to help support the family business. This is where we discover that Wilson is from New Orleans, which is also where Mackie is from.
"I had one request that, if he was from Louisiana, I had to eat crawfish on-camera and I don't know who said no, but somebody said no," he revealed. "I don't know if it was because they were out of season, but it was too much to get crawfish for Marvel."
It's also initially in conjunction with Wilson/Falcon's character development that the antagonists Flag-Smashers are introduced, who believe world was better before the Blip. The group, originally a single character in the Marvel Comics space, want a unified world without borders.
On flip side, Barnes/Winter Soldier is still working through the trauma of being a brainwashed assassin by Hydra. We see him working with a therapist to address his thoughts and nightmares, revealing that he only felt "a little calm" when he was being healed in Wakanda.
Actor Sebastian Stan described the exploration of this character as "scary and exciting," honing in on his sense of humour and evolving a character that Stan was "very comfortable and familiar with tonally" from the movies.
"We're really finally kind of zooming in on [his] quest for identity and in terms of really accepting his past, and sort of re‑educating himself...about the world that he's currently in," Stan said. "The ideals and principles he might have lived by and been driven by at one point that perhaps no longer really serve him the same way."
One aspect that has been teased in trailers, but isn't explored in the first episode, is the "buddy-cop" genre that shapes the relationship between the two characters, building on their chemistry, or really their bickering, in Civil War.
"You can go from as gritty as 48 Hrs,. to as comedic as Rush Hour, but in between there is sort of that first Lethal Weapon and that first Bad Boys," head writer Malcolm Spellman said.
"What we liked about it was it allows Sebastian and Anthony to do what they do and create that magic, but also allows the broader creative to, if you need to take on real issue or if you need to get into something very Marvel-y, it's a very, very durable form of storytelling."
Skogland revealed she looked at references ranging from filmmaker David Lean, who directed films like Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and The Bridge on the River Kwai, and John Schlesinger's 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, for inspiration.
While the relationship between the two characters is such a pivotal aspect of the series, the actors admit that they are very much opposites themselves, as well.
"What I enjoy so much, you can't find two people further opposite than each other than Sebastian and I," Mackie revealed. "But there's a mutual respect, understanding, appreciation of that person."
"We listen, learn, and teach each other a great deal... As Mr. T would say, 'there's no jibber-jabber.' We allow ourselves to be our best selves and we correct ourselves when we're not our best selves."
Could there be more seasons of Marvel series content?
One of the major questions still outstanding is if these series on Disney+ will be a one-time adventure, or if we can expect more seasons The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and/or WandaVision in the future.
While we haven't received a direct answer, Feige has provided a few hints.
"We really did approach it like we do the movies, which is, we better make this great or we won’t be able to do another one," he said. "If we were able to do another one, there's certainly ideas."
"The slight difference, of course, is...that they really will go back and forth between Disney+ series and the Marvel Studios features. So where characters show up and how, sometimes will be in a direct season two, sometimes will be in a feature, and then into an additional season. We're just not going to say who does what, right this second."
Throughout Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans can expect to continue to see the emotional trauma of characters put on display.
"I think that’s something we’ve always tried to do, Ironman 3 was all about Tony Stark’s PTSD from Avengers, essentially," Feige said. "What's great about the Marvel characters...is their flaws.
"As crazy and extraordinary and science fiction and fantasy and supernatural as the MCU can get, it's grounding in the character experiences and the emotions of the character. That’s always by far the most important anchor for any story we’re going to tell."