The Falcon and the Winter Soldier tangle with the “Power Broker”

Apparently, I am doing episode by episode reviews for the entire series of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, so if you want my thoughts on previous episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, go here. Also, may I remind you that Disney is still not paying Alan Dean Foster and others.

Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!

This episode starts with a commercial for the so-called Global Repatriation Council, a UN organisation that has been tasked with taking care of the people who were brought back into existence after five years of non-existence. The commercial is so dripping with pathos that it not only makes you roll your eyes, but also makes you want to join the Flag-Smashers, the organisation that opposes the Global Repatriation Council.

And just in case we didn’t get that the Global Repatriation Council are hypocrites and that the ad we just saw is nothing but propaganda, the show cuts immediately from the ad to a raid conducted by the Munich police and the Global Repatriation Council as well as the faux Captain America and his pal Battlestar on a Flag-Smasher hideout. Of course, the uniforms are all wrong for German riot police nor would any German police officer wear a German flag on their uniform – after all, it’s not as if Austrian or Danish or Dutch police officers would operate in Germany. Instead, they would have the coat of arms of the respective state (here Bavaria) on their uniforms. Not to mention that the German police would not conduct a raid together on German soil with forces from other countries, let alone the would-be superheroes Captain Nationalism and his Battlestar.

In fact, the hideout is the same we saw last episode (so it was in Munich and not in Austria, as we assumed), though Karli and her friends are long gone. Chicken liver man is still there, though, and not at all happy about having armed goons and would-be superheroes invading his warehouse or whatever that graffiti covered building is supposed to be. Battlestar attempts to interrogate chicken liver man in bad German (Dude, at the very least he learned English at school and can understand you all right, he just doesn’t want to answer). Chicken liver man spits into the face of faux Cap to cheers everywhere. “Do you know who I am?” faux Cap demands. “Yes, and I don’t care”, Chicken liver man replies. So let’s hear it for chicken liver man, unsung hero of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

However, once more the scene stops short of being great and questioning the assumptions that underlie that Marvel Universe and superhero movies and comics altogether. For both the Marvel and DC movies tend to assume that in general, ordinary people will like superheroes and worship them. However, neither the Marvel comics nor the Marvel movies have ever asked the question how people from other countries will feel when confronted by explicitly patriotic superheroes. Characters like Captain America, War Machine in his Iron Patriot phase, Captain Britain, Union Jack, Alpha Flight and others are not not universal heroes, they’re the heroes of a specific country. How did the people of Stuttgart feel when Captain America (the real one) showed up in his flag costume to fight Loki in The Avengers? For that matter, how did the people of Sokovia feel about that? Or the people of Lagos, which was trashed by the Avengers? Or how did the Afghan people or wherever that was supposed to be set feel when Rhodey in his full star-sprangled Iron Patriot get-up burst into that sweat shop looking for the Mandarin in Iron Man 3? I suspect a lot of them would have reacted more like chicken liver man than cheer on the Avengers. And Rhodey and Steve are good guys, who genuinely mean well, whereas John Walker is just a bully.

The Marvel movies usually gloss over those questions, though we do see that the people of Sokovia object to the Avengers, particularly to Iron Man, since their country got bombed by plenty of unwanted Stark missiles. Chicken liver man’s confrontation with faux Cap might have been a chance to actually ask those questions. Instead, it’s glossed over once again in favour of hollow action scenes. Though we do get a moment later on, where the villain of the piece, Baron Zemo, says that the reason he objects to superheroes is that if you put them on a pedestal, they lose all accountability. He also points out that making supersoldiers might just as well result in a world of Red Skulls than in a world of Steve Rogers. Or a world of John Walkers, for that matter.

When we last saw our protagonists Bucky and Steve, they were about to visit Helmut Zemo in prison in Berlin. We now see them at the prison, which looks like no German prison anywhere, escorted by a guard in a uniform that does not look like a German prison warden uniform either. Though at least, this time the wrong uniform is emblazoned with the Berlin coat of arms, so they got that bit correct. Bucky wants to go in and talk to Zemo alone. Reluctantly, Sam lets him.

Bucky meets Zemo not in a monitored visitor room, as would be normal, but in a Silence of the Lambs type cell with a glass wall. Of course, that sort of thing doesn’t exist in German prison except maybe in Stammheim. Also, why is Zemo held in a regular prison in Berlin and not in Stammheim which would be far more appropriate for a terrorist and supervillain?

When Bucky shows up, Zemo immediately begins to recite the list of random Russian words that will reset his brainwashing. “That doesn’t work anymore”, Bucky says and tells Zemo that someone has managed to recreate the supersoldier serum. Zemo is genuinely shocked, but then we know that he hates superbeings in general and supersoldiers in particular. He also offers to help. There’s only one problem. Zemo is still in prison.

There is a cut and we see Bucky and Sam in what seems to be some kind of garage. Bucky lays out a totally hypothetical plan for busting Zemo out of jail, while Sam vocally objects. We also see Bucky’s plan – distract the guards by inciting two random prisoners to fight, trigger a fire alarm, Zemo escapes in the chaos – play out on screen, which suggests that it’s far more than just a hypothetical plan. Cue Zemo walking into the garage.

Of course, the fact that the prison break plays out on screen gives the production team the chance to insert even more random errors. The uniforms of the guards are still wrong, the prison still looks wrong and the racial mix of the inmates is completely wrong as well. Because this is a show made by Americans, we see several black prisoners, because that is what you would see in a US prison. However, there are roughly half a million black people living in Germany, i.e. under one percent of the population. Of course, Berlin has a higher percentage of black people, e.g. there are about 20000 people of Ghanaian origin living in Berlin alone. And while our police and justice system may not be quite as racist as that of the US, it is still racist, so black people likely (I don’t know of any statistics) have a higher chance of going to prison for the same charges than white people. So black prisoners would not be unexpected in a regular prison in Berlin (and you would see a lot more in deportation detention), but I wouldn’t expect half of the prisoners we see to be black and the other half to be white. Meanwhile, there are no prisoners of Turkish or Arab origin, even though I would expect to see quite a few in a Berlin prison, since Berlin is home to approx. 250000 to 300000 people of Turkish origin and about 70000 of Arab origin. You would also see a few Asians, since Berlin is home to 83000 people of Vietnamese origin as well as a couple of thousand people of Chinese and Thai origin. So in short, the ehtnic make-up is what an American viewer would expect from a prison, but not what a German prison actually looks like.

Sam isn’t at all happy to see Zemo, though he is willing to go along with the plan for now. Sam is also surprised that the impressive collection of pricey vintage cars in the garage is actually Zemo’s. “So you were rich all the time?” Sam asks. “Of course”, Zemo replies, “I used to be a Baron before the Americans destroyed my country.”

At this point, my reaction was, “Dude, the Soviets confiscated the estates of German aristocrats, but the Americans usually didn’t and West Germany even paid compensation to aristocrats who lost their estates in the eastern parts of Germany, including what are now parts of Poland and Russia. But while the Americans and Brits bombed German cities to smithereens, they rarely bothered with country estates. Not to mention that all that happened decades before you were even born. So don’t whine, cause I’m sure you’re doing just fine.” And indeed, as we will see, Zemo is doing just fine. He has a collection of vintage cars, a private jet and a cool supervillain coat.

However, I eventually realised, we don’t really know whether the country Zemo is talking about really is Germany or whether he is referring to Sokovia. Of course, Sokovia went likely communist after WWII, so Zemo’s family would have lost their estates anyway. But the fact remains that the show isn’t particularly clear about what nationality Zemo even is. In the comics, Zemo is your bog-standard Nazi villain and of course German. Besides, Helmut is a German name (and Zemo is no name anybody anywhere ever bore outside a comic book) and actor Daniel Brühl is a dual German and Spanish citizen, but he could still play a Sokovian. However, the Sokovia we’ve seen is clearly a slavic, likely South East European country and Zemo is very much not slavic. Of course, migration as well as the extensive German and Hungaro-Austrian Empire dumped people with German names and German heritage all over Eastern Europe. But the whole thing is really badly thought out.

In the comics, Zemo is a cliché villain, yet another evil Nazi for Captain America to beat up. Gee, and John Walker wonders why chicken liver man might not like him, considering that Captain American was literally created to fight Germans and Japanese. And while the Japanese villains of the golden age Captain America comics have thankfully been consigned to the dustbin of racist history, the Nazi villains – the Red Skull, Baron von Strucker, Baron Zemo – made it all the way into the 21st century and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That said, the Zemo was saw in Captain America: Civil War was a far cry from the evil Nazi cliché of the comics, as far as Ben Kingsley’s washed-up actor take on the Mandarin was from the yellow peril cliché of the comics. The way Daniel Brühl played him, Zemo was a soft-spoken but smart guy with a justified grudge against superheroes in general and the Avengers in particular. He’s also ruthless about using people and doesn’t care about who gets in his way. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. It’s nothing personal”, he tells Bucky in this episode, just as he said something similar to T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War, after killing T’Challa’s father. Next to Eric Killmonger and Loki, Zemo is probably the most nuanced Marvel movie villain. However, unlike Killmonger and Loki, Zemo is also badly underused. We see very little of him even in his own movie. Therefore, I was happy to see more of Zemo, especially since he’s also charismatic and actually sort of sympathetic, again like Loki or Killmonger. The fact that Daniel Brühl, the actor who plays him, is immensely likeable also helps. Brühl plays almost always good guys. Even if he plays ambiguous characters like Catalan militant activist Salvador Puig Antich, one of the last two people executed by garrotte in Spain, Brühl is still likeable and the 2006 movie Salvador does sympathise with him. You can see a clip of the execution scene here (warning, graphic), which I came across years ago while researching The Butcher of Spain.

Daniel Brühl’s take on Baron Zemo oscillates between likeable and menacing. Zemo really seems to enjoy winding up Sam and particularly Bucky, e.g. when he snatches Bucky’s notebook, which turns out to be Steve’s old notebook, and reads it, which is really a dick move. This leads to an amusing exchange when Sam tries to persuade Bucky to listen to the 1972 Marvin Gaye album “Trouble Man”, which he’d previously recommended to Steve. But while Steve apparently wound up liking it, Bucky declares that he only likes 1940s music. Sam is annoyed that Bucky won’t even try, while Zemo declares that “Trouble Man” is a masterpiece that perfectly captures the African American experience (and Zemo knows this how exactly?). “Well, he’s out of line, but he’s right”, Sam snaps. The title song of the album is here, by the way, and while I wouldn’t quite call it a masterpiece, it’s certainly good. Also, 1970s soul is not so far away from 1940s jazz and swing that Bucky or Steve would have problems relating. Rap or hip-hop would be a lot more difficult for them.

Zemo tells Sam and Bucky that they need to go to Madripoor in Zemo’s handy private jet to talk to someone named Selby who might know more. Now Madripoor is a location that particularly longtime readers of the X-Men comics will recognise. Basically, it’s a fictional cliched South East Asian city that’s also a hive of scum and villainy. It’s part Singapore, part Hongkong, part Bangkok, part Macau mixed with a large dash of western fantasies and prejudices about South East Asia. Wolverine spent a lot of time there in the 1980s and 1990s. It hasn’t been seen in the Marvel movies so far, largely because the rights were with Fox as part of the X-Men franchise. However, now that Disney bought up Fox, they can use Madripoor. Though if you’d asked me what the first things from the X-Men and Fantastic Four that we’d see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be, Evan Peters as Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver and Madripoor would be far down my list.

The Madripoor we see in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is its typical cliched self. The production team apparently decided to go with the aesthetics of a stereotypical neon-drenched Asian cyberpunk city. However, all the vaguely Asian trappings are only facade. Because the people we see in Madripoor are a generic mix of black and white people with nary an Asian in sight – in a city that is supposedly located in South East Asia. The clothes the characters wear are also way too warm for a tropical climate, but perfectly appropriate for Prague in winter. Now I’ve seen quite a lot of people object to Madripoor, because it is a cliché and a tired one at that. However, I find Madripoor less objectionable than using real places and then showing them looking nothing like they look in reality. Because Madipoor (and Sokovia and Wakanda, for that matter) are fictional, they can look however the production wants them to look. Never mind that projecting orientalist fantasies about lawless South East Asian port cities onto real cities and countries such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hongkong, etc… would be even more offensive. That said, a supposedly South East Asian city state without any Asians is just eye-rollingly stupid.

In Madripoor, our heroes and their pet villain head to a nightclub run by a woman named Selby who apparently deals in endangered animals, another Asian cliché. I don’t think Selby is a character from the comics – at any rate, I don’t recognise her. Zemo can go as himself, while Bucky has to pose as the Winter Soldier again. Sam is decked out in a colourful suit, which gave me fabric envy, and passed off as a gangster called the Smiling Tiger. “I look like a pimp”, Sam complains. “Only Americans would say that a well-dressed black man looks like a pimp”, Zemo counters. The often heavy-handed racism theme that dominated the last two episodes is almost completely absent in this one – except for Zemo’s two offhand remarks that he is very much aware that Sam is black and must have experienced a lot of racism in his life, something that Bucky doesn’t really seem to grasp.

At Selby’s night club, poor Sam is forced to drink a disgusting cocktail made from the guts of a freshly killed snake, since that’s apparently Smiling Tiger’s signature drink. Bucky is forced to play the Winter Soldier and attack some thugs on Zemo’s say-so, a role he plays a little too well, as Zemo can’t help but point out, though at least Bucky doesn’t seem to kill anybody in this scene.

Selby also finally delivers an infodump about the supersoldier serum. It was made by a scientist called Wilfred Nagel (Sigh, another bad guy with a vaguely German name) who works for the Power Broker who is the current ruler of Madripoor. Now the Power Broker is an established Marvel villain, though he had nothing to do with Madripoor in the comics. Instead, Madripoor’s ruler was a woman named Tyger Tiger who had an affair with Wolverine (but then, who didn’t?). Hydra also had a hand in ruling Madripoor, though this was the Hydra run by Viper/Madame Hydra (who – big surprise – also had an affair with Wolverine and was even briefly married to him) rather than Strucker’s Nazi Hydra from the movies.

Karli Morgenthau and her Flag-Smashers stole about twenty vials of the serum from the Power Broker who now wants them dead. Finally, Selby also reveals where Nagel is to be found, namely at the Madripoor container terminal. At this moment, Sam gets a phonecall from his sister – and why didn’t he switch off his phone during the mission? – which blows everybody’s cover. “Kill them”, Selby orders, but before her goons can carry out that order, Selby herself is shot by an unseen sniper.

“This is not good”, Zemo says in what has to be the understatement of the century, “We will be blamed for this.” And indeed, we see beepers going off all over the city and the local bounty hunters are on our heroes’ tail. They are saved by the timely appearance of Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) whom we haven’t seen since Captain America: Civil War, where she found herself outlawed after stealing Steve’s shield and Sam’s wings and returning them to their rightful owners.

So far, Sharon Carter, though a long established character in the comics, has been badly underserved by the Marvel movies. She’s barely in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. She gets a little more to do in Captain America: Civil War, but her main purpose in that movie is literally handing back the shield to Steve. Sharon doesn’t appear at all in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame to the point that we have no idea whether she was dusted or not. Furthermore, Sharon’s traditional role in the comics as Steve Rogers’ love interest is void, because Steve went back to be with Peggy (who’s Sharon’s great-aunt) in the past. So Sharon Carter is a character at loose ends, though she still fares better than Steve’s other girlfriend from the comics Bernadette “Bernie” Rosenthal, who doesn’t exist in the movies at all.

We knew that Sharon would be in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, though the way she’s reintroduced is something of a surprise, because Sharon is angry. She’s really fucking angry, because while Sam and Bucky and Hawkeye and Ant-Man and Wanda and everybody else who sided with Steve during Civil War was pardoned and got their old lives back, Sharon is still on the run and can’t ever go back to the US. And Steve never even called (and neither did Sam), but went back in time to marry her great-aunt. So yes, Sharon has every right to be angry.

Sam promises that he’ll get Sharon a pardon – after all, he managed to get one for “the bionic staring machine” (Bucky) and what Bucky did was considerably worse. So Sharon agrees to help them and takes them to her fancy apartment where she hosts fancy parties and deals in stolen artwork. In short, Sharon has gone to the dark side, though how fully still has to be seen. “She’s kind of awful now”, Bucky whispers to Sam.

Sam and Bucky change their clothes at Sharon’s and everybody hangs out at one of her fancy parties. The next day, they all decide to see Nagel, only to find that the address Selby gave them before her untimely end (at the hands of Sharon, it is implied) is a seemingly empty container at the Madripoor container terminal. Sharon waits outside, while Sam, Bucky and Zemo investigate. “Check the rear wall”, I screamed at the screen, “It’s obviously fake.”

And indeed, the rear wall turns out to be fake and reveals a set of stairs that lead upwards, presumably to the container above. Not that assembling several containers into a larger connected structure isn’t possible. It totally is possible and a lot of mobile offices, classrooms, etc… are assembled this way. However, those are not shipping containers and – most importantly – they’re not on a container lot, where containers don’t stay in one place for long. But then, Iron Man 3 proved extensively that Marvel has no idea how containers work.

Up the stairs, Bucky, Sam and Zemo find a lab and Wilfred Nagel who looks not unlike the babyfaced Q from the Daniel Craig Bond movies and is just as much of an arse. Nagel delivers some more exposition. He used to work for Hydra on their supersoldier program. When Hydra was destroyed, he was recruited by the CIA for their supersoldier program and provided with blood samples of a surviving supersoldier test subject, Isaiah Bradley whom we met last episode. However, before Nagel could complete his work on the supersoldier serum, he was zapped by Thanos and when he came back five years later, the program had been discontinued. So Nagel went to the Power Broker and finally finished his serum. It’s different from the one that was used on Steve and doesn’t result in bulky muscles. That’s why the Flag-Smashers don’t look particularly muscular.

While Sam, Bucky and Zemo are interrogating Nagel, the bounty hunters have tracked down our heroes. Sharon holds them off, showing off her fighting skills. Once Nagel has finished delivering his infodump, Zemo shoots him to the shock of Bucky and Sam. It is notable that every character in this episode is promptly killed off, once they have delivered their infodump. The fight with the bounty hunters escalates and eventually the container lab explodes. Bucky manages to rescue Sam and Sharon, but Zemo has vanished. We next see him standing on top of a container, wearing the silly purple mask he also wears in the comics (where he at least has a reason, because his face is disfigured) and shooting at the bounty hunters. Sam, Bucky and Sharon join the fight and there is a lot of shooting and bullets flying. Bucky also finds a new use for a container lock bar, namely impaling bounty hunters.

The action is all very thrilling. Nonetheless, I didn’t like this scene, because Sam, Bucky, Sharon and Zemo kill a whole lot of people. Yes, they were bounty hunters and going to kill them, but nonetheless the cavalier killing of so many people bothered me, since the Marvel movies are normally a bit more nuanced about mass dealing of death. Zemo just happens to have one of his vintage cars stashed away in a container on just this lot and picks up Bucky and Sam. Sharon is picked up in a black Mercedes (car of choice for Hollywood villains and upper middle class Germans) by a black woman who turns out to be her bodyguard. “We have problems”, Sharon says.

Quite a few people, such as io9 reviewer Germain Lussier and reviewer Keith R.A. DeCandido, suspect that Sharon might be the Power Broker herself. The scene with the bodyguard does seem to hint at that (and why would Sharon, who can take care of herself, need a bodyguard?). Sharon Carter out to be the main villain behind everything would certainly be an interesting development, especially since she’s a character left adrift without a purpose in the story now Steve has gone back to the past. And from what little I’ve seen of Revenge, Emily VanCamp can certainly play villainous women.

While all this is going on, Karli and the Flag-Smashers (that sounds like the name of a bad 1960s band) have made their way to Riga in Latvia, after being last seen boarding a plane in Slovakia. Of course, Latvia is nowhere near Slovakia, but then I suspect that the writers chose the locations by throwing darts at a map of Europe. And given Marvel’s geographic track record so far, we should probably be happy that they don’t get Latvia, a real Baltic country, and Latveria, fiction kingdom and home of Doctor Doom, mixed up.

Karli has a heart to heart with her fellow Flag-Smasher Dovich, who turns out to be the only Asian person from Madripoor. We learn that Karli wanted to be a teacher before she decided that terrorism was a more viable career path. It all feels very Red Army Fraction, only that the Red Army Fraction has been history for 25 years now. We also see her playing football with some kids in the yard of a 19th century building which houses a camp for persons displaced by the blip. Why is a refugee camp located in a random Victorian building in a European capital rather than in disused military barracks or a tent city, which is what refugee camps look like in the real world? Only Marvel knows.

Karli is called away from her football game by someone who tells her that “She hasn’t much time left.” Next we see Karli in a makeshift medical ward (Why no hospital? Especially since Riga has plenty of hospitals) standing at the bed of a woman we later learn is named Donya Madani. The woman holds a hamsa pendant in her hand, which to me suggest that she’s Muslim and likely Arabic, though Jews apparently also use hamsa pendants. The woman is apparently dying of tuberculosis. She obviously means a lot to Karli and Karli kisses the dying woman. All this would be very touching, if we had any idea who the dying woman is and what her connection to Karli is. Some people suspect that Donya Madani is Karli’s mother, though the question is how a red-haired and freckled Swiss woman with a Staffordshire accent came by an Arabic mother. Even if we assue that the hamsa amulet suggests she’s Jewish rather than Muslim (and Karli is likely Jewish as well), it still doesn’t make sense. Frankly, my first suspicion was that the dying woman was Karli’s lover. Also, while still way too many people die of tuberculosis, this mostly happens in developing countries, because tuberculosis is treatable. You won’t see people dying of tuberculosis in a EU country like Latvia.

Also, who exactly are the people in this displaced persons camp? Logic would suggest that they are people who were zapped by Thanos and then returned to life and found their homes, jobs, etc… gone. However, Karli and the Flag-Smashers explicitly would have preferred that zapped people to remain dust. They don’t care about the zapped people, they care about the ones who remained behind. But why would the people who were not zapped end up in a refugee camp? Honestly, none of this makes any sense.

A bit later, we see Karli and the Flag-Smashers raiding a depot of the Global Repatriation Council in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. For once the location change makes sense, because Lithuania is the neighbouring country of Latvia and it takes maybe two hours to get from Riga to Vilnius. The Flag-Smashers carry off barrels and sacks of potatoes. When they leave, the depot with the guards still inside explodes behind them. Karli has set a bomb and officially crossed the line from misguided idealist to terrorist. She really seems to be determined to follow in the footsteps of the Red Army Fraction, though we all know how that story ended.

While Karli is jetting all over Eastern Europe, Bucky and Sam are trailing Karli and John Walker and Battlestar are tracking Bucky and Sam. John Walker and Battlestar have only made it as far as Berlin, where they realise that Bucky has apparently broken Zemo out of prison. Bucky, Sam and Zemo have made it to Riga, tracking Karli via the late Donya Madani. “Riga…” Sam explains, “…is a city near the Baltic Sea”, which is like saying “Washington DC is a city on the US East Coast near the Atlantic.” Because Riga is the capital of Latvia, which has been an independent state for thirty years now (and was a Soviet Republic for fifty years before that), and should be referred to as such.

That said, Riga looks more convincing than Munich or indeed any other place we’ve seen so far, even though it is likely portrayed by Prague as well. But the cobble-stoned street we briefly see does look like the Riga I visited back in 1989 on the first school exchange with what was then still the Soviet Union. On that cobble-stoned street, Bucky finds a strange ball, which he realises is a message. He follows it and finds himself face to face with Ayo (Florence Kasumba), one of the Wakandan Dora Milaje, who was on duty when a bomb set by Zemo killed King T’Chaka. Ayo is understandably still angry about this – after all, T’Chaka was killed on her watch. And now she wants Zemo.

I have to admit that I was thrilled to see Ayo again, especially since her involvement was not mentioned earlier. Also, with Florence Kasumba there is now a second German actor in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And her role is much less cliched than Daniel Brühl’s, probably because no one in their right mind would make Florence Kasumba play a Nazi.

This episode was pretty much all action and indeed, the writer was also responsible for the John Wick movies, as Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out at The Daily Dot. It certainly shows, because “Power Broker” feels very much like a 21st century action movie, whether a Daniel Craig James Bond movie or a John Wick or Jason Bourne movie. As AV-Club reviewer Sulagna Misra points out, there’s very little here that we haven’t before somewhere else.

The inaccuracies, which annoyed me so much last episode, are still present. And the motives of Karli Morgenthau and the Flag-Smashers are just as muddled as they were before. The jaunt to Madripoor was fun, but all the action can’t really hide the fact that the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

In his review of the first three episodes, Camestros Felapton notes that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is quite probably a bad series and nothing more than brainless action fodder. I’m not sure if it really is bad, but it at least isn’t very good so far. Marvel can do better.

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan are good as always and Daniel Brühl is a delight as the ambiguously villainous Zemo, but the banter between Sam and Bucky, which made the previous episode so much fun, is largely missing from this one. In general, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier seems to have no idea what it wants to be. An action spectacular starring two popular Marvel characters? A serious meditation on racism, idealism and what it means to be an icon like Captain America? An exploration of the many problems the post-blip world faces? Any of these possibilities would be fine, but as it is, the series is just a muddled mess, fun enough to watch, but it falls apart once you think about it. And since there are only six episodes, this was already the halfway point, so they don’t have much time to pull this ship around.

WandaVision, of which I didn’t expect much, turned out to be so much better than anybody expected. Meanwhile, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is turning out to be worse than expected.

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10 Responses to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier tangle with the “Power Broker”

  1. Szwole?er says:

    I must admit that from the beginning I expected much more from WandaVision, because concept was fresh and bold, and I think that MCU is best when it experiments with genres and conventions.

    I don`t think that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is bad TV series although this episode was much worse than previous one. I must admit that I long ago decided to treat MCU as kind of alternative universe and abandon all expectations of realism. Still, I think that using Madripoor was a bad idea, because idea of this is very outdated and has nothing in common with real modern Asia. Another problem is that plot of this episode was somewhat absurd, to the point that episode feels better when viewer do not pay too much attention. Despite this I think that quality of this series is still considerably higher than Marvel-Netflix series (Daredevil, Punisher, Iron Fist and the rest).

    • Cora says:

      WandaVision culminated in a big superhero punchup, even though the first few episodes promised something much stranger. Though I agree that Marvel is best when it experiments with genres and tropes.

      I don’t exactly think that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is bad either, but it’s not nearly as good as it could be. Better than the Netflix series, but then the only one of those I actually liked as season 1 of Jessica Jones.

      Madripoor has almost nothing in common with the historical Asia either, it’s mostly a hodge podge of western fantasies. But the problem is that there is no real place anywhere in the world that could fill the role Madripoor plays here, a haven for criminals. And using a real country would be even more offensive.

  2. Peer says:

    I found the one german line by Battlestar („Nun, Du hast die Namen gehört“) to be delivered much more Accenture then the German lines by liver man, which amused me.

    I don’t understand why they used Madripoor and not Curaçao which would have fittet the demographic much better TMK (at least the lyrics of the background fit the SE Asian setting, it was Tagalog as my Filipino wife noticed).

    I thought Madani was somehow related to Dinah Madani, who was in the Punisher, but apparently not.

    Generally I don’t expect much geographical correctness by US shows, but Marvel should do better here, I absolutely agree. In an international Setting you really need to research your geography better.
    I expect this will stilltry to make some points about being good and evil and the grey lines which could be interesting, but I’m not confident they can pull it off, with the flag smashers still have so muddled motivations.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, Battlestar at least tries his best, unlike chicken liver man whose accent is a mess.

      I suspect the inhabitants of Curaçao would object to their island being portrayed as a hive of scum and villainy, though at least the demographics would fit better. Maybe a fictional Caribbean island would work. Though I’m glad they at least got the lyrics right.

      The utter disregard for any semblance of geographic correctness in US movies and TV shows continues to surprise me. On Good Friday, there were some Edgar Wallace movies on TV and even those managed to make the combination of stock footage and location shoots that are nowhere near London look more convincing than many US films and shows.

      I’m pretty sure that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will make some kind of point, though right now the writers don’t seem to know what that point is.

      • Peer says:

        I think any real place could have worked instead of Madripoor, if they just emphasied that they go to a very specific part of town.
        No one onjects when the heroes of a story visit dodgy places in Moscow to visit the russian mafia, Palermo, to visit the real Mafia or anywhere in japan to visit Yakuza.

        The bounty hunter trope would still be a problem, although it does work for John Wick, which was the obvious inspiration for the whole Madripoor part of this episode.

        • Cora says:

          I strongly suspect that Russians and Sicilians object to inevitably being portrayed as gangsters.

          The John Wick parallels are no accident, because the screenwriter for this episode also wrote the John Wick movies.

  3. One thing, Strucker and the first Zemo were created in 1960s and given a World War II back story. The Red Skull was the only villain (that I know of) came from the 1940s.

    I have to checkout back issues of The Invaders and the All Star Squadron and see if they had adventures in the Pacific theater. I have read the early issues and they faced mainly European villains.

    Thanks for reminding me of Bernie. She was Steve’s girlfriend when I was reading the comic.

    • Cora says:

      Strucker (and Hydra) definitely were 1960s characters. Regarding Zemo, I always assumed he was a 1940s character, since in the comics Zemo the elder is the one who killed Bucky (only that Bucky got better) and Bucky was killed off in the 1940s. Though they might have retconned that later.

      I’m not a specialist on US Golden Age comics, but some of the Retro Hugo finalists for Best Graphic Story had racist Japanese villains.

      I didn’t read Captain America specifically, but I did encounter Cap and Bernie in The Avengers as well as crossovers and the like, back when I was a regular comic reader. I used to like Bernie a lot and would love to see her in the movies in some form. Not that I mind Peggy or Sharon, but I don’t have much of a link to Sharon, since I’ve only seen her in reprints from the 1960s.

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