The Falcon and the Winter Soldier meet “The Star Sprangled Man”

I’m still not sure if I’ll do episode by episode reviews for the entire series of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, because it is much less complex than WandaVision and I’m not sure whether it really deserves deeper analysis. Camestros Felapton in his non-review also isn’t sure if the show actually deserves a deeper analysis. That said, if you want my thoughts on other episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (well, there is only one post so far), go here.

Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!

The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ended with the presentation of a new Captain America who will henceforth bear the shield of Steve Rogers. The only problem is that Steve bequeathed his shield to Sam Wilson a.k.a. the Falcon and that Sam donated it to the Smithsonian Museum for its Captain America exhibition. There never was any talk of a new Captain America, especially not of someone who has zero connection to Steve Rogers. Never mind that Steve explicitly wanted Sam to be his successor. Alas, Sam is too black to be Captain America, at least as far as certain people are concerned, a point that the show keeps making over and over again, just in case we didn’t get it the first time around.

The faux Captain America seemed designed to be instantly hateable in his brief appearance at the end of episode 1, as Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out at The Daily Dot. Episode 2 mitigates this somewhat by opening not with one of our titular protagonists Sam and Bucky, but with the faux Captain America. We learn that his name is John Walker (played by Wyatt Russell, real life son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn), that he is from Georgia and he is very much an all-American cliché: high school football star turned war hero with three Medals of Honour. John Walker is very much the kind of guy into whom Dr. Abraham Erskine did not want to injuect his supersoldier serum. And indeed, John Walker isn’t a supersoldier, he’s just a regular guy with a costume, a shield and some gadgets.

That said, the opening scene featuring John Walker in a homecoming tour to his high school in Georgia does turn him into a more nuanced than he initially seemed. We learn that John Walker has a black wife and a black best friend/comrade-in-arms named Lemar Hoskins, who is also his superhero sidekick Battlestar. Battlestar is another character from the comics BTW and was introduced to be the Bucky to John Walker’s anti-Captain America. Initially, he was even supposed to be named Bucky, but the writers changed this, when they learned that “Bucky” was a derogatory term for African-American men.

We also learn that John Walker is a bit insecure and that he’d rather go out there and fight than go on propaganda tours, much like Steve Rogers back in the day. However, John Walker seems to embrace his propaganda role much more than Steve ever did. We see one of those propaganda appearances, complete with a marching band and cheerleaders, playing a more modern arrangement of the same song that accompanied Steve’s propaganda tour in the 1940s. We also see John Walker interviewed on Good Morning America by a woman who is apparently the real-life host of that show. That’s the advantage of Disney – who are still not paying Alan Dean Foster, by the way – owning everything. Crossovers are possible and a real life morning show host can play herself in a Marvel TV series interviewing the faux Captain America.

But while the opening scenes gave us a more human side of John Walker, the interview shows that he’s also a bit of a jerk. When the interviewer asks him if he knew Steve Rogers, Walker replies that he never met him, but that he always felt connected to Steve, almost as if they were brothers. Yeah, right.

If that interview and the propaganda show that goes with it made me roll my eyes, that’s nothing compared to the reaction of James Bucky Barnes a.k.a. the Winter Soldier. Because Bucky watches the TV appearance while curled up in a fetal position on the floor of his apartment, a look of utter horror on his face. This is as good a place as any to praise the performance of Sebastian Stan whose facial expressions really are amazing. He also looks increasingly like Mark Hamill in the 1980s to the point that it’s almost eerie. Hell, Sebastian Stan looks more like Mark Hamill than that weird Uncanny Valley de-aged CGI character who appeared in the final episode of The Mandalorian. If playing a post-Return of the Jedi and pre-The Last Jedi Luke Skywalker isn’t in Sebastian Stan’s future, then someone at Disney is not paying attention.

Bucky is so upset that he barges in on Sam, just as Sam and his new pal Lieutenant Torres are getting ready to go on a mission to take out the unfortunately named terrorist group the Flag-Smashers. We get some fun banter between Bucky and Sam, the kind of banter that appears to become a defining characteristic of this series, as AV-Club reviewer Sulagna Misra points out. After Bucky is through with yelling at Sam for giving up the shield, Sam gets to talk about the mission and wonders whether the Flag-Smashers are part of the “big three”, aliens, androids and wizards, since most enemies that Avengers have fought fall into those three categories. Bucky points out that wizards don’t exist and no, Doctor Strange doesn’t count. He also makes a Tolkien reference and when Sam asks him how he can possibly know about Gandalf, Bucky points out that he read The Hobbit when it first came out – in 1937.

Bucky more or less invites himself along on the mission to spy on and deal with the Flag-Smashers who have been sighted in a warehouse near Munich. Sam and Bucky spend the flight – which would be about seven hours on a regular plane and is probably longer aboard a military airplane – glaring at each other, while Torres is his usual exuberant self. When they reach their destination, Sam jumps out of the plane – he can fly, after all. Bucky jumps after him, eschewing a parachute, because – like Steve before him – he doesn’t need one. Alas, Bucky is not Steve and so he lands on his arse in the Bavarian forest, while Sam films everything with his trusty drone Redwing.

Sam and Bucky sneak into the warehouse, still bickering all the way, to the point that it’s a miracle that they don’t get caught. They watch as the Flag-Smashers load stolen medical supplies onto two trucks and drive off. Sam and Bucky follow and Redwind reveals that there is a person on the cargo platform of one of the trucks – a hostage they assume. So Bucky climbs aboard the truck and finds himself face to face with a young red-haired woman with lots of freckles. Bucky thinks he’s about the rescue the damsel-in-distress – only for the damsel to knock him in the jaw and smash him into the windshield of the following car. Oops.

The young woman is not a hostage, but a member of the Flag-Smashers. And not just any old member either, she’s Karli Morgenthau, the leader. Now Karli’s male comics equivalent Karl Morgenthau is Swiss. However, Erin Kellyman, the actress who plays Karli, is British and speaks with a notable Staffordshire accent. But I guess Marvel couldn’t find any Swiss actresses. Though they could also have made the character British and called her Carly Morningdew and would also have avoided using the problematic Morgenthau name.

What follows is what is probably supposed to be a thrilling action sequence as Sam and Bucky fight multiple superstrong Flash-Smashers on, above and under a pair of trucks. Bucky and Sam also pretty much get their arses handed to them, cause the Flag-Smashers all have superstrength and they outnumber Sam and Bucky. However, just when all seems lost, the faux Captain America and his sidekick Battlestar show up in a helicopter and join the fight.

Like I said, it’s all supposed to be very thrilling, except that it isn’t. Because frankly, there’s so much wrong with the truck sequence that I simply couldn’t enjoy it as a random action set piece. For starters, we’ve been repeatedly told that this whole sequence takes place in the Munich area. However, we see mountains and trees in the background. However, Munich is not actually in the Alps (something which regularly confuses North German visitors to Bavaria) and you have to drive quite a bit to actually reach the Alps. And once you do, you’re almost in Austria.

Also, when Sam and Bucky get thrown off the truck and take a tumble in a rapeseed field, awkwardly landing on top of each other to the delight of fanfic writers everywhere, we are suddenly in a hilly landscape that looks more like the actual surroundings of Munich, but that doesn’t at all match the mountains and fir tree landscape we’ve seen before.

Regarding the trucks, the license plate of one of the trucks says “MK”, which stands for Märkischer Kreis, a county in North-Rhine Westfalia, some 570 kilometres to the north of Munich. The other truck doesn’t have a German license plate at all – as far as I can tell, it’s Slovakian. One of the trucks is emblazoned with “Osnabrück”, a city on the border of Lower Saxony and North-Rhine Westfalia, i.e. not in the Märkischer Kreis, but far closer to the Märkischer Kreis than to Munich. And yes, trucks cover long distances and don’t necessarily have the license plate of the area where a scene takes place, but the whole thing is still a mess. Also pro-tip for Hollywood producers: If you have a scene that’s supposedly set in Germany and involves cars, get the license plates right, because believe us, we will notice.

Furthermore, the trucks are supposedly driving along the Autobahn. At one point, Sam even gets smashed into a blue Autobahn sign (which does correctly say Munich). However, the street where the truck fight takes place is very obviously a two-lane country road, not an Autobahn. It’s also suspiciously empty. The Autobahn A8 from Luxembourg via Stuttgart and Munich to Salzburg in Austria is one of the busiest in all of Germany and the Autobahn A9 from Berlin to Munich and the Autobahn A99, the Munich ring highway, are also extremely busy. None of them would ever be as empty as the road seen in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – not even in the middle of the night at the height of the Covid lockdown.

But it’s not just that the truck fight is so riddled with inconsistencies and errors that it’s impossible to enjoy for what it is, it’s also not a very good car chase/fight scene. Because as I’ve mentioned before, for me the gold standard for any kind of car chase and car related action scene is the German TV series Alarm für Cobra 11, which has the best car crashes and chases on TV. Here are some examples from YouTube. As you can see, there’s actually traffic on the roads and the crashes and explosions are much better as well – on a fraction of the budget. Alarm für Cobra 11 has a budget of 1 million Euro per episode, one of the highest in Germany (only Babylon Berlin is more epensive), but nowhere near the budget for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which allegedgly costs 25 million US-dollars per episode. Action Concept, the company which makes Alarm für Cobra 11, has a purpose-built stretch of Autobahn, which is solely used for filming Alarm für Cobra 11 and other shows. Why on Earth Disney didn’t rent that Autobahn stretch I have no idea? For that matter, they should just have hired Action Concept, cause I would have loved to see what they can do with a Disney/Marvel-sized budget. I bet we would have gotten a truck chase scene on a busy Autobahn, involving dozens of cars, the two trucks, maybe some road construction equipment, at least one truck transporting crates of beer, cans of paint, pipes or something equally messy and a bus full of singing nuns that Bucky and Steve have to save from oblivion.

Of course, a lot of people may think, “What does it matter, if the area looks wrong, the Autobahn is no Autobahn and the license plates are wrong as well?” However, if you’re going after a global audience like Disney/Marvel is, it does matter. Because the signal that Marvel sends not just with this non-Autobahn in non-Munich, but also with things like passing off Cleveland, Ohio, as Stuttgart in The Avengers and Halle-Leipzig Airport as Berlin Airport in Captain America: Civil War is clear: We don’t care, because Europe is all the same, a big theme park we can use for our action scenes. And the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily fare any better. See Johannesburg pretending to be Lagos in Captain America: Civil War. And I’m pretty sure the Baltimore seen in this episode was actually Georgia. Nor is Marvel the only offender, international scenes in US TV shows regularly are very obviously not shot where they are supposed to be set. But while I’m willing to forgive a TV show with a small budget, Marvel’s budgets are huge. Also, there is no reason to pass off one place as another. The truck chase scene in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier could have happened wherever it was shot, probably the Czech Republic. The “Loki makes people kneel” scene in The Avengers could have happened just as well in Ohio. And the Avengers could have smashed up Halle-Leipzig airport for real, there was no reason for it to be Berlin (and the Leipzig newspaper was hugely excited to have a Hollywood movie filming nearby). The whole practice just feels disrespectful, as if any place in Europe (or Africa or Asia, for that matter), is the same as any other place.

In the end, the truck fight doesn’t really accomplish anything either. Bucky and Sam get their arses handed to them, while the Flag-Smashers get away. The faux Cap and Battlestar offer Bucky and Sam a ride and reveal that they tracked Bucky and Sam (and the Flag-Smashers) via Redwing, cause – quote faux Cap – “it’s government property, just like you.” We do hope that the US government at least asked the German government for permission before they sent in a bunch of superheroes and wannabe superheroes that wreak havoc on a German highway, but I strongly suspect they didn’t. The faux Cap also wants to work together with Sam and Bucky, because – so he points out – it will be easier for him to be accepted as Captain America, when Cap’s old wingmen stand by his side. Sam and Bucky make it very clear that no, they were not Steve’s sidekicks, they were his friends, and get out of the car.

The Flag-Smashers escape with their stolen trucks and spend the night at a hideout run by one of their supporters. There are flyers in German, really badly designed flyers, on the door announcing that someone is buying old cars. A sign on the wall says “Kneipe” (bar), but the place looks more like an empty warehouse or barn. The guy who owns the place speaks German (though he might be Austrian) and gives everybody chopped chicken liver, which is apparently supposed to be a German specialty, except that it isn’t, neither in Bavaria nor anywhere else. But then, everywhere in Europe is the same according to Marvel.

We do get a bit about the Flag-Smashers’ motivation courtesy of Karli, except that it’s more muddled than anything. The Flag-Smashers want a world without borders and nations, which is a good thing in theory. They are also angry that the people who were zapped during the Blip and then reappeared five years later are getting aid and resources, while the people who never left get nothing.

This sort of resentment is unpleasant, but not unbelievable. We saw it a lot in Germany after WWII, when the ethnic Germans who were driven out of what are now parts of Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic got resettlement aid from the government, whereas the people who’d always lived in (West) Germany got much less aid, even though they’d suffered bomb damages, etc…, too. The fact that there apparently was occasional fraud (Actual quote I’ve heard: “Everyone from Eastern Prussia claimed to have had a huge estate, even if they really lived in a shack.”) didn’t help either. Some forty to fifty years later, when ethnic Germans from the former Soviet republics came to Germany after the Soviet Union fell apart, they got the same reaction. “Those people are getting aid and they can afford houses (mostly because they bought fixer-uppers and repaired them themselves), even though they’re not even real Germans (TM).” And when a large number of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other places came to Germany in 2015/16, we got the same reaction from the usual suspects again. To quote an unknown elderly woman at a Pegida march in Dresden, “Those people are getting free housing (usually mass housing) and free washing machines (one for twenty people and the cheapest one at the electronics store, too), while I have to pay for my washing machine.” These attitudes are ugly, but they’re common. And interestingly, the groups who were on receiving end of that sort of thing before then turn around and complain about the next supposedly undeserving group of newscomers.

The Flag-Smashers’ chosen enemy is a Global Repatriation Council, which is in charge of supplying the people who returned after the Blip with housing, food and other supplies. Considering the Flag-Smashers supposedly want a world without borders, you wonder why they have such issues with a presumably UN-backed organisation trying to solve the issues on a global scale. Karli also gives a brief speech about wanting to destroy industrial plants, which – as Peer Sylvester pointed out on Twitter – puts her unpleasantly close to the real world historical villain whose surname she shares:

While the Flag-Smashers are hiding with chicken liver dude, Karli gets a text message from someone who tells her that she took something that belongs to them and that they’ll kill her for it. Next we see the Flag-Smashers near Bratislava, capital of Slovakia (which suggests they must have passed through Austria), where they are loading their stolen medical supplies into a plane. Armed men show up and the name “Power Broker”, an established Marvel villain, is mentioned. The Power Broker sells dangerous and addictive drugs which give people superpowers, so his involvement here makes sense and suggests that this is how the Flag-Smashers came by their superstrength. One of the Flag-Smashers sacrifices himself to let the other get away, proving that while the Flag-Smashers may have superstrength, they’re not bulletproof.

Erin Kellyman is a very likeable actress and I wish she had better material to work with. Because the Flag-Smashers are the worst aspect of the series so far. Their motivations are hopelessly muddled. I mean, what exactly does this group stand for? One world without borders? Those other people over there are getting something that we’re not getting and we don’t like it? Down with industry? And why exactly are they stealing medical supplies and robbing banks? No one seems to know, not even Karli or the writers. But then, I suspect that the Flag-Smashers and their motivations matter no more than the motivation of Georges Batroc first in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and then in the previous episode. They merely exist to give Bucky and Sam someone to fight, before they engage in more banter.

Talking of banter, on their flight back to the US, Sam and Bucky actually talk and discuss which of the big three – aliens, androids and wizards – the Flag-Smashers are. Sam, however, is convinced that there’s a fourth possibility, namely that they’re supersoldiers. Except that there aren’t supposed to be any supersoldiers other than Steve. “You need to meet someone”, Bucky says to Sam.

Next we see Sam and Bucky in a rundown neighbourhood of what is supposed to be Baltimore, though it’s probably somewhere in Georgia. Sam has a little interaction with a kid who recognises him, but thinks his superhero name is Black Falcon, probably a reference to the fact that a lot of early black superheroes were named Black Something or Other, e.g. Black Panther, Black Lightning, Black Manta (okay, he’s a supervillain, but the naming pattern still applies). Bucky takes Sam to a house and asks for Isaiah. A teenaged boy opens and insists that there is no Isaiah. Bucky tells the boy to tell Isaiah that they met someplace in Korea (I forgot the name, sorry) and the door suddenly opens and we meet Isaiah Bradley, played with the usual excellence by Carl Lumbly.

It turns out that Steve was not the only supersoldier, after all. The US-military also experimented on black soldiers and one of them, the only one who survived the experiments, was Isaiah. He did get to go on missions – and on one of those missions during the Korean War Isaiah fought Bucky, when Bucky was still a brainwashed Hydra assassin, and damaged his bionic arm. However, Isaiah never got the glory Steve got and he never got to be Captain America either. Instead, he was thrown into prison for decades and experimented upon some more. “Your people weren’t done with me”, Isaiah says with a pointed look at Bucky. Sam takes this to mean “white people”, but Bucky believes that Isaiah is talking about Hydra. Isaiah Bradley is a character from the comics and his story in the comics is even more awful, if that’s possible.

The Isaiah scenes are incredibly powerful and also the highlight of the episode. I really hope we see more of Isaiah and his past. Sam is understandably horrified that there was a black supersoldier the world never knew about, because he was basically thrown away. “Did Steve know about this?” Sam asks Bucky. Bucky replies that Steve didn’t know, cause Bucky never told him.

Steve and Bucky bickering in public draws the attention of two racist white police officers straight from central casting. They pull over, think they need to save Bucky from Sam and only treat Sam like a human being, once they realise that Sam is not just a random black man on the street, but a superhero and celebrity. However, the racist cops now arrest Bucky, because there is a warrant out for his arrest, since he missed one of his therapy sessions. Bucky even lets himself be arrested and handcuffed, though he could probably mop the floor with those racist cops (and the viewers would probably cheer).

Now I do think that it’s a good thing that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is addressing racism, especially since the Marvel movies usually pretend that racism does not exist. Black Panther and the character of Killmonger are the big exception here and there’s likely something in the Luke Cage series I didn’t watch as well. But Sam, Rhodey, Nick Fury, Maria Rambeau, Gabe Jones and the various black characters in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. don’t experience racism on screen – it just never comes up. And while Monica Rambeau is forced into a cliched “sassy black best friend” role in WandaVision, everybody inside Westview is forced into cliched roles. So it’s a good thing that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier reminds us that racism exists and that even superheroes are affected by it, though Noah Berlatsky criticises the way the show addresses the subject.

However, do they have to be so blunt about it? So far, we’ve seen Sam not getting a bank loan due to being too black, Sam not getting to be Captain America due to being too black, we’ve met Isaiah who never got to be Captain America due to being too black either, but was abused and incarcerated instead. And considering how powerful the Isaiah scene was, did we really need the scene with the racist cops straight from central casting, too? Especially since that scene is about as subtle as the original Star Trek episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”. But then, Americans tend to like “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, so maybe the people who need it, need their anti-racist messaging on the blunt side.

ETA 1: io9 reviewer Charles Pulliam-Moore points that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier either glosses over racism (e.g. Sam being surprised about the blatantly racist things that are happening to him, which a black man in the US simply wouldn’t be) or is extremely blunt about its messaging. Charles Pulliam-Moore also says that Lovecraft Country handled racism in a similarly clumsy way, which also matches my impression of the show, which started off strong, but could have been so much better.

ETA 2: The excellent Hugo, Girl! podcast sends this link to this article by Richard Newby from The Hollywood Reporter, which also discusses the character of Isaiah Bradley and the treatment of racism in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in general.

Though in the end, the cop scene only serves to get Bucky arrested, so faux Cap and Battlestar can show up to bust him out and Bucky’s therapist Dr. Raynor can finally have her long delayed session with Bucky and more or less bullies Sam into coming along as well. Now I generally hate the therapy scenes that are so common in US television and I know I’m no the only German viewer who hates them. Therapy is much less common here than in the US, so German viewers often have a hard time relating to those scenes. Never mind that they often seem like a cheap way to get the characters to talk about their feelings. Bucky apparently feels about therapy the same way I do, even though he is one character who actually needs it. And Amy Aquino is really good as the no-nonsense therapist Dr. Raynor, so the therapy scenes are less annoying than usual. Nonetheless, I hope they don’t overdo the therapy stuff.

That said, the Bucky and Sam therapy session scene was good. Dr. Raynor makes them do a silly soul-gazing exercise, forcing Bucky and Steve to sit close to each other (so close that they don’t quite know where to put their legs, a scene that will have all the Bucky/Sam shippers out there hyperventilating) and look into each other’s eyes, which Bucky and Sam promptly turn into a staring contest, for of course they do. Finally, Bucky blurts out that he’s angry at Sam for giving up the shield, because that means that Steve was wrong to trust Sam. And if Steve was wrong to trust Sam, then maybe he was wrong to trust Bucky, too. Sam points out that John Walker getting the shield and getting to be Captain America was not the outcome he wanted or expected either.

The episode ends with Sam and Bucky once more turning down faux Cap’s offer to work together. “Well, then don’t get in my way”, John Walker snarls, suddenly seeming a lot more sinister.

As Sam and Bucky walk away, Bucky says that Isaiah was right. If somone knows where new supersoldiers are coming from, it’s Hydra. Of course, most of Hydra is gone now, but there’s still someone they can ask, namely Helmut Zemo. Zemo was last seen in Captain America: Civil War, portrayed by Daniel Brühl, where he reactivated Bucky’s brainwashing and framed him for the bombing that cost the life of T’Chaka, father of T’Challa a.k.a. Black Panther. Zemo was arrested and is currently in prison in Berlin – which is represented by an aerial shot of the Victory Column. There is no prison anywhere near the Victory Column, though I guess we should be glad that the footage actually shows Berlin rather than Leipzig or Schkeuditz or Prague or wherever. We also get a brief glimpse of Zemo in his cell, still played by Daniel Brühl. And yes, it’s notable that German villains are usually played by German actors (the Red Skull who’s played by Hugo Weaving is the big exception here), whereas Marvel’s few German heroes – none of which have appeared in the Marvel cinematic universe so far, because the rights were with Fox – were played by a British actor (Alan Cummings as Nightcrawler), a Dutch-American and an American actress (Rebecca Romijn and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique – and yes, Mystique is not really a hero and I’m not sure if her nationality has ever been confirmed either) and an Asian-American actor (Daniel Henney as Maverick a.k.a. Agent X) respectively.

In the comics, Zemo is just another Nazi cliché, indistinguishable from the other Nazi clichés Captain America fought like Baron von Strucker (they’re all aristocrats, too) and the Red Skull, though you can at least tell the Red Skull apart due to his face being literally a red skull. In Captain America: Civil War – though somewhat lost in this completely overstuffed movie – Zemo is a more nuanced character who actually has a believable motivation. He wants to avenge the death of his family who became collateral damage during the Avengers’ attack on the Hydra compound in Sokovia. The fact that Daniel Brühl is a much better actor than a one-note evil Nazi character deserves and also extremely likeable doesn’t hurt either. I hope he continues to be a more complex character than his comics counterpart.

This review is quite critical, which may be a bit unfair, because I actually enjoyed this episode quite a bit and most of the problems I’ve pointed out are not unique to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or even Marvel. It’s just that after WandaVision, which was so much better than I or anybody else expected, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is turning out to be exactly what everybody expected, namely a mix of action and explosions that is carried by two likeable characters played by charismatic actors and the chemistry between them.

As Camestros Felapton points out, what makes the Marvel comics and movies work is that we like these characters. We want to spend time with them and watch them doing stuff, even if the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In many ways, superhero stories are like longrunning soap operas, only with superpowers and the occasional big battle. But the reason people keep buying the comics for years are not the big battles, though those are a lot of fun, but the many interpersonal scenes between the characters. To a comic reader, the X-Men playing baseball or hanging out by the pool is as important as the X-Men fighting Magneto. Most superhero movies completely fail to grasp this aspect. They have the flashy superpowers and big battles, but shortchange the interpersonal stuff. The first two Fox X-Men movies and the various DC TV shows did get it, which is why it’s such a disappointment that the latter X-Men movies and the DC movies mostly forgot this lesson. The Marvel Cinematic Universe also gets it, but then Marvel should know what keeps their comics selling and what keeps readers coming back for more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier gets the interpersonal moments and the banter absolutely right. They also did a good job introducing less known characters from the comics such as John Walker, Lemar Hoskins and Isaiah Bradley. I also really hope we see more of Isaiah, maybe even a flahback episode of Isaiah fighting the Winter Soldier in the 1950s. A pity that the plot is kind of a mess so far and that the series suffers from the all too common “Every place on every continent that’s not North America is all the same anyway” syndrome.

So far, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is fun. However, it could be more than just banter and explosions.

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25 Responses to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier meet “The Star Sprangled Man”

  1. Lenora Rose says:

    As an observation, Vancouver has stood in for so many different American cities it became a running joke… and the one movie I watched that claimed to be set in Vancouver I could just about name the exact neighbourhood in Winnipeg where they’d filmed.

    There IS something much more egregious about their getting settings in Europe this hopelessly entangled in cliches AS WELL and trying to paint a fairly small highway as the Autobahn, but one city/airport standing for another isn’t so bad until they ALSO get all those other details so badly wrong. I think I agree that I’d have liked to see that truck chase scene on the “actual” Autobahn, though I did find myself wondering what the random two or three unrelated cars we did see were doing staying so close to this kind of fight, especially the ones coming up behind; on an otherwise mostly empty highway like the one they actually used, I would totally have pulled off to the side (and tried to call the authorities) and waited for a while before I dared to resume. And in front, I might have given my poor vehicle its fastest ever workout, not puttered driving along like I didn’t see any of this.

    • Cora says:

      The fact that a lot of US TV shows and movies are actually shot in Vancouver or Toronto has also made it to our side of the pond. I’m also convinced that the Baltimore shown in this episode as well as the Louisiana shown in the first are actually Georgia.

      There also are quite a few German movies which try to pass off a mix of stock footage and location shoots in Hamburg or Berlin as London and New York. However, those movies are more than fifty years old, when location shoots abroad would have been prohibitively expensive. And they still manage to pull it off better than Marvel does with its huge budget.

      The TV show I mentioned, Alarm für Cobra 11, actually does handle the innocent bystander cars much better as well. As soon as the shooting and/or the explosions start, uninvolved cars stop and brake. There are crashes on occasion, because not everybody manages to brake in time, but they don’t keep blindly driving towards the huge fight. There also occasionally are stunned bystanders wandering around among stopped and abandoned cars. Sometimes our heroes have to rescue them. The thing that stuns me is that there is a company which specialises in really convincing Autobahn chases and crashes and that has a purpose built Autobahn stretch and yet Marvel doesn’t hire them.

      Alternatively they could have just had the truck chase happen on a two-lane country road in the Czech Republic or wherever that scene was shot. It doesn’t have to be an Autobahn and indeed, I wouldn’t use the Autobahn, if I was transporting stolen goods. Just as the Avengers could simply have trashed Halle-Leipzig Airport (or they could have shot it in Berlin and used Tempelhof, which is decommisioned and a popular film shooting location).

  2. Peer says:

    “If you have a scene that’s supposedly set in Germany and involves cars, get the license plates right, because believe us, we will notice.” LOL, yes. But then we are obsessed by license plates (which indicate by a letter in which city the car is registered). I normally dont notice these things (although Tomorrow never dies, which was partly set in Hamburg, was hilarious, when you know the real locations of those places), but I immiadetly though “MK is not Munich!”. And pork liver man probably was Austrian.

    Overall I liked this episode more than the previous one. It does have a “Marvel Netflix” feel, but is less gritty (a plus imho). They are introducing a lot of players for sure, I just hope they dont overreach.
    I knew Zemo would appear in this beforehand, but the way they introduced him was confusing: Zemo is NOT hydra and IIRC he just interrogated one Hydra scientist to find out the things about the “Winter soldier” programm. Its a bit of a stretch that he was able to exctract all the infos from Hydra ever.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, the Hamburg scenes in Tomorrow Never Dies were hilarious. I’m not from Hamburg, but have been there often enough to know those scenes are not possible, unless James Bond has a teleporting car (which he might – he is James Bond after all).

      And I have to admit that I always check the license plates, whenever there’s a scene supposedly set in Germany. For example, the Cleveland, Ohio, pretending to be Stuttgart scene in The Avengers did have a German police car with Stuttgart license plates, though it’s still very obviously not Stuttgart.

      One US show which really got it right down to the numbering which distinguishes license plates from Bremen and Bremerhaven was the 1990s X-Files spin-off Millennium of all things, when it had an episode set in Bremerhaven. Of course, “Bremerhaven” was still somewhere in British Columbia.

      As for Zemo, I was also wondering about that, because as far as I recall (I have only watched Captain America: Civil War once on release, because it’s probably my least favourite MCU movie bar the Hulk movie with Edward Norton) he wasn’t Hydra, but on a mission of his own. And I’d imagine that even if it was possible to interrogate one Hydra scientist, the structure of the organisation was such that one person wouldn’t know everything, unless you somehow caught Strucker.

  3. Lurkertype says:

    Yeah, every American is used to all of the US looking like Vancouver (sometimes “New York” is Toronto), which is a very small city. I can probably recognize individual trees in Stanley Park at this point. The accents are often bad — someone’s always playing a red-blooded American who says “aboot” and “sohrry”. Also the much smaller pool of actors in Canada always gives it away. I don’t remember the last time I saw San Francisco’s Chinatown being played by itself, it’s Vancouver’s or LA’s or rarely NYC (hint: SF Chinatown is NOT flat). San Francisco almost never gets to play itself on TV, it’s either Van or LA. And everything’s a back lot somewhere.

    I remember some TV show that was set in Florida that starred Canadians, but was filmed in Mexico, then Israel, then South Africa. And of course South Africa was Montgomery AL in the Doctor Who episode about Rosa Parks, plus San Francisco and the nearby wine country in the one with the new Master. Which at least beat a quarry.

    And every chase scene wanders around — I’ve seen cars rocketing through downtown LA which then screech around a corner in sight of the beach. “Bullitt” is all over SF.

    Shooting and permits are extremely complicated things.

    Also, the best car chase (even allowing for geographical whatever) is from “To Live and Die in L.A.” back when they had to jackknife that big rig for real and the lead did some of the driving. (Which explains the genuine fear from the co-star.)

    One of the Bond movies got gales of laughter here when the villain said he could destroy Silicon Valley with a flood by triggering the San Andreas, which was only slightly more realistic than (Gene Hackman) Lex Luthor’s plan for the same. Earthquakes do not work that way, and even if they did, that ain’t the right fault line.

    The US version of “The Bridge” was set in El Paso/Juarez but other than a few shots in the pilot, it was all Southern California. Deserts don’t all look the same either. Still a good show, particularly since a) the differences on the opposite sides of the bridge are MUCH larger than the original and b) the subtitles were cleaned up, but not the Spanish dialogue, which was fun for lots of people. (Also Demian Bechir in any language.)

    Previously, all of the US looked like LA, so Georgia (which does have a sea coast not far from the Gulf) standing in for Louisiana is fine, and one run-down Eastern city neighborhood looks a lot like another, so Atlanta as Baltimore is also okay.

    It sure beat the snow-covered piney mountains that showed up in the season finale of “Stargirl”, who lives in Nebraska. Which was entirely an effects shot, so there’s no reason not to have used the rolling prairies of Nebraska. Smallville hasn’t been in Kansas my entire life; I think it’s been Canada since at least the 1978 movie, though I’m pretending Snyder’s movie never happened so I dunno there.

    So “every place that IS North America is the same” as well. You just don’t notice, is all.

    I’m not sure that a high school with that fabulous drum line in Georgia had as integrated a student/parent body as shown, with Mr. Aryan Poster Boy as their greatest QB.

    The shrink is great. Amy Aquino always is, but her character is perfect as well. She really does seem to be doing Bucky good. And if anyone ever needed therapy, it’s him! She did get him to admit something important so yay her. Just think how much better off Gotham would have been if Alfred had gotten young Bruce into therapy instead of letting him dress up like a bat and attracting villains who he never killed.

    The quippy exchanges between Sam and Bucky are great. I was LOL at the “A sorcerer is just a wizard without a hat” and Bucky’s smugness about having read “The Hobbit” decades before Sam was born.

    Hopefully this ends with Sam getting the shield back. Mr. Square Jaw can either go full villain or disappear, don’t care. Nobody wins 3 Medals of Honor, BTW, particularly as young as he is. Nobody’s ever won more than 2, nobody’s won more than 1 in a century, and a lot of them are posthumous. I buy the locations more than his record!

    Maybe the food the guy provided the Flag-Smashers was a reference to the old saying “What am I, chopped liver?” Made a good joke, and it’s popular with a lot of people with German surnames.

    • Lenora Rose says:

      Vancouver is not a “very small” city; it’s 2.6 million, which might not exactly be Mumbai or Tokyo, but is comparable to Chicago.

      It does seem to have a fairly limited number of good filming locations, meaning you see those bits over and over, but that isn’t the same.

      And yeah, accents are never all right. I tend not to notice much because when they get it wrong, they sound MORE like me, not less.

      I think for me the funniest one recently was the folks in Logan heading for Canada through the Dakotas, and being in mountains and forest when within reach of the border. That’s well into “Dog running away took three days to get out of sight” territory.

      • Cora says:

        Yes, come to think of it, those scenes in Logan also made me wonder, “Wait a minute, shouldn’t that be prairie and flat?”

    • Cora says:

      Yes, US film productions also keep using the same few locations to represent places in the US and sometimes it’s quite obvious, e.g. whenever the surroundings of Los Angeles pretended to be the South or the North West or North East. And in The X-Files, Mulder and Scully supposedly hunted down mysterious cases all over the US in locations which all suspiciously looked like Canada. Meanwhile, the shows set in Hawaii and Florida usually seem to be shot there. And those Chicago shows (Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, Chicago Med, etc…) really seem to be shot in Chicago as well, because the locations don’t look like the usual Vancouver or Toronto.

      And of course, the same backlot town showed up in every other episode of Mission Impossible as someplace or other as well as in Star Trek, e.g. in “City on the Edge of Forever” as 1930s New York. And recently, someone spotted the same backlot town with the same shops in a 1960s sitcom.

      And as I said, it’s not as if German films haven’t done it. The Edgar Wallace and Jerry Cotton movies of the 1960s pass off a mix of stock footage and locations in Hamburg, Berlin or Denmark as London, Scotland or New York City. And of course, Croatia pretended to be the American West for the Winnetou movies of the 1960s, while Cinecitta outside Rome and Altamira in Spain pretend to be the American West for various Italian westerns. Altamira also pretends to be the Hyborian age for Conan, the Barbarian, but since no one knows what the Hyborian age looked like, I can accept that.

      But nowadays, German films and TV shows are usually at least shot in the place where they are supposed to be set, even if locations don’t match up and someone turns a corner and ends up five kilometres away in another part of town. Internationally set German TV shows and movies are also usually shot on location. For a while, there was a trend towards sappy romantic dramas set in popular tourist destinations. There’s also a series of international crime dramas set in places like Istanbul, Venice, Croatia, Tel Aviv, etc… Those seem to be shot at least partly on location as well.

      Babylon Berlin is actually shot in and around Berlin, but since Berlin no longer looks even remotely like it did in 1929, most of the street scenes are shot on a purpose built backlot in the Babelsberg studios and some shots are CGI to recreate buildings which no longer exist. I think they also use the Schöneberger Rathaus (where Kennedy held the famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech) quite extensively, because it’s a largely preserved public pre-war building. But then, there is a lot to nitpick about Babylon Berlin and the locations are only a small part of it. A pity, because the novels by Volker Kutscher are impeccably researched.

      And yes, come to think of it, John Walker is a bit young and a bit too alive to have gained three Medel of Honours. And his high school as a very big stadium, which looks more like a professional sports arena than any school stadium I’ve ever seen.

    • Lurkertype says:

      I meant Vancouver proper is a small city geographically. So there simply aren’t as many filming locations available. Thus leading to recognize the individual trees after a few decades. And that big-ass pile of bright yellow sulfur that shows up in the background of shots too often.

      I spent our entire time in Vancouver going “Hey, this is where Mulder and Scully did such and such!” and naming off the monster of the week that attacked them in lots of places. (Mr. LT is very patient)

      I was WTF in Logan too… they couldn’t have shot on the Canadian prairies? There basically isn’t any sizeable tall feature down that area of North America from the North Pole to nearly the Gulf. Which is why it’s so cold even way south sometimes. Barb wire don’t stop blue northers.

      @Cora: Nope, that’s what a high school football stadium down South looks like. Even more so if it’s in Texas. It was way too small to be a pro stadium. That part was perfect. The locker room looked pretty low-rent, though.

      • Cora says:

        My high school was proud that our sports stadium had actual bleechers, where you could sit down, because many didn’t. As for the stadium in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, I would have thought that was a university or lesser pro stadium. The major pro stadiums are much bigger, of course, but a second league stadium might be about that size.

        • Lurkertype says:

          There isn’t a second league in US football. The universities in Division I are effectively it. Baseball has 3 pro levels, basketball has 2 levels for men (and some semi-pro).

          A smaller university would have a smaller stadium than the one we saw here. I went to a Division III college and the football stadium was smaller than my high school’s was. Which made sense since the college didn’t give scholarships and had only 1.5 times the student body as my high school. The marching band was way smaller and had no uniforms.

  4. Szwole?er says:

    At least they are not portraying rural Europe as quasi-medieval like they used to in older comics. Another funny thing with Marvel Europe (and to be fair, with rest of the world) is that it seems to have a lot of additional small countries like Latveria or Sokovia. It is one of reasons why I prefer when they stay in America (or go to space and leave Earth entirely). It is even funnier when you consider that Marvel is arguably still more realistic than DC with its reliance on large fictional cities, to the point that DC United States in theory should be significantly different country.

    • Cora says:

      I remember that I initially assumed Latveria was Latvia misspelled, which was even more confusing, because while there are castles in Latvia, it never had a monarch. I also remember being annoyed at an early 1990s X-Men comics which had some flashback scenes of Wolverine, Sabretooth and Maverick on a mission in East Berlin in the 1960s or so and apparently forgot the fact that there was a Berlin wall and just had them zipping all over town.

      Fictional East European countries (and there always East European) have been a thing in English language fiction going all the way back to the original Ruritania in the 19th century. Marvel just borrowed from that tradition, though they also added fictional South East Asian countries (Madripoor) and fictional African countries (Wakanda, Genosha).

      And yes, DC is even weirder with it’s many imaginary cities whose location seems to shift, depending on where it needs to be. Though most of them are in Canada in the movies and TV shows, except for Gotham which was New York in the recent TV show.

      • Szwole?er says:

        Another absurd thing about Latveria is idea that name Victor von Doom is somewhat plausible for Eastern European Romani. It is the reason why I could never treat one of generally more interesting Marvel villains seriously.

  5. peer says:

    One thing I wondered: The “Big Three” might be something out of the comicfandom, but if you think about it, its a bit strange coming from Sam and is spoken to Bucky. They have fought aliens of course, but the only Android in the MCU I can think of was Ultron – before Sams time as an Avenger.
    They only ever fought one wizard and that was ebony (?) in the last battle of Endgame. Now, he liklely knows about others, but even Dr. Strange only have battled two sorcerers max.

    What they have fought – repeatingly – are Hydra and other higher military-ups (just now in Wandavision) doing dodgy things. Or humans, like Zemo, using those.

    Its a good line and nice banter, but doesnt really make much sense in the current MCU, I think

    • Cora says:

      I don’t recall ever running across the “big three” comment in the comics, but I agree that it is strange. The Avengers have fought aliens, but Steve and Bucky haven’t. Doctor Strange handles the wizards and Wanda’s first encounter with a bonafide witch was Agatha. As for androids, there’s only Ultron and Vision and Vision is a good guy. Meanwhile, supersoldiers, dodgy military types and guys (and girls, e.g. Ghost in Ant-Man and the Wasp) in armoured suits are dime a dozen in the MCU.

      • Peer says:

        They have fought a lot of aliens in Infinity war and Endgame. So thats fine. I suppose the Avengers do talk to each other, so I can accept Ultron as well. Strange is not really an Avenger though, so even if he fought wizards of screen, the Muggles in the MCU wont know about it.

        • Cora says:

          I suspect Steve would have mentioned the Chitauri and Ultron to Sam and Bucky. Plus, the entire world saw the Avengers fighting the Chitauri on TV.

          But Doctor Strange barely interacted with Bucky and Sam in Infinity War and Endgame (or before), so it’s unlikely they would have known about any wizards he fought. And Wanda, whom both Sam and Bucky know and fought alongside, did not consider herself a witch until WandaVision and also didn’t fight any other magic users before that, so Sam and Bucky have no way of knowing about Agatha.

  6. Lurkertype says:

    I meant Vancouver proper is a small city geographically. So is San Francisco, though it has bigger hills. So there simply aren’t as many filming locations available. Thus leading to recognize the individual trees after a few decades. And that big-ass pile of bright yellow sulfur that shows up in the background of shots too often.

    I spent our entire time in Vancouver going “Hey, this is where Mulder and Scully did such and such!” and naming off the monster of the week that attacked them in lots of places. (Mr. LT is very patient)

    I was WTF in Logan too… they couldn’t have shot on the Canadian prairies? There basically isn’t any sizeable tall feature down that area of North America from the North Pole to nearly the Gulf. Which is why it’s so cold even way south sometimes. Barb wire don’t stop blue northers.

    @Cora: Nope, that’s what a high school football stadium down South looks like. Even more so if it’s in Texas. It was way too small to be a pro stadium. That part was perfect. The locker room looked pretty low-rent, though.

  7. Ingvar says:

    For me, the value in the racist cop sequence wasn;t “the racist cop interacts with Sam”, it was “Bucky intentionally does NOT rip the cops a new one” (thus showing his ongoing determination to become rehabilitated).

    I am not sure f that’s something I pulled out of that scene myself, or if that was something the writers intentionally put in, though.

    • Lurkertype says:

      Yes, I thought it showed admirable restraint from Bucky. Following the Rules set out between him and the shrink (which he referred to later as he was leaving her). He could easily have lectured them up one side and down the other about hassling Sam, but he settled for asking “don’t you know who this is?” after insisting no, Sam wasn’t bothering him didn’t work.

      It doesn’t solve the problem of racist cops, but it de-escalated the situation quickly, which is good considering how many innocent people were standing around. And nobody got shot or punched with a vibranium fist.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, Bucky did show remarkable restraint in not beating up those racist cops. And of course, he could have snapped those handcuffs in no time at all.

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