‘Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ grounds Marvel

Sebastion Stan (‘I, Tonya’) and Anthony Mackie (‘8 Mile’) star opposite in Marvel and Disney+’s second TV series. The limited series explores the world after the Blip. // Photo courtesy of FX

Our Take: 4 Stars

On Mar. 19, Disney+ premiered “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” the second of three limited series planned to supplement the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” depicts the world in wake of the Blip, the disappearance of half the world’s population that took place in “Avengers: Infinity War” and their subsequent return in “Avengers: Endgame.”

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and its sister shows, “WandaVision” and “Loki,” act as stepping stones into a new generation of Marvel movies. The characters in these series, already familiar to Marvel fans, are responsible for ushering in Phase IV, a new era in the MCU.

In “Falcon,” the Global Repatriation Council (GRC) is an international organization charged with helping newly returned Blip victims restore and rebuild their lives. However, those who did not disappear in the Blip are being displaced from their homes and deprived of resources.

Enter the Flag Smashers, an international grassroots organization aiming to return the world to how it was during the Blip, where people supported each other and cared about their fellow man.

Led by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman, “Solo: A Star Wars Story”), the Flag Smashers begin to build an army of super soldiers using stolen vials of the serum that gave the former Captain America, Steve Rogers, his super strength.

With international rebellion and conflict on the rise, the GRC grants Captain America’s shield to John Walker (Wyatt Russell, “22 Jump Street”) to rouse hope among the public. Walker is a trained soldier tasked within using his military skills to snuff out the rebels.

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” ultimately, is a continuation of the story of Captain America following the death of Steve Rogers. Rogers’ friends and titular characters Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, “8 Mile”) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastion Stan, “I, Tonya”) must learn to adjust to their lives without him.

Sam Wilson grappled with taking on the mantle of Captain America and furthering Rogers’s legacy in a racially divided America and eventually decided to pass on the honor. With Wilson’s refusal, John Walker was given the shield and the title instead.

Bucky Barnes is reckoning with the trauma of the torture and mind control he experienced operating under Hydra as the Winter Soldier.

Wilson and Barnes team up to stop the unregulated use of the super soldier serum, and the violence that results from the Flag Smasher’s rebellion.

The Flag Smashers blame the GRC and Walker, acting as an agent of the GRC, for the displacement of the people who were left behind in the Blip. While Walker aims to fight back and capture the rebellion leader, Wilson and Barnes attempt to quell the violence through more peaceful means with the help of Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp, “Revenge”) and Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl, “Inglourious Bastards”).

Director Kari Skogland and creator Malcolm Spellman crafted the series to emulate the original Marvel films as much as possible, and successfully retained the sense of the Marvel Universe magic. However, at times, it is clear that the formula of the MCU films does not neatly fit into the television format.

The series took two episodes to establish the major characters and conflicts, which initially affected the pacing of the story, making it much slower than a typical Marvel film. However, by the third episode, the series was able to recreate the fast paced story and conflict Marvel fans have come to expect from the MCU.

At the heart of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” are the central characters and their love-hate relationship. Their banter and tension is key to creating lighter moments in the story. From the moment Wilson and Barnes connect on screen, the chemistry of the actors, Mackie and Stan, shines through and lends a unique charm and heart to the series.

Adding Brühl’s Zemo to the mix has created a hilariously mismatched trio of characters. Brühl’s performance, in particular, brings a certain charisma and humor to the somewhat-reformed villain.

The audience gets to delve more into the character’s personality and motivations not seen in “Captain America: Civil War,” where he was first introduced. Zemo’s swagger and dance moves have made him a surprise fan favorite.

The stand-out performance of the show is Wyatt Rusell as John Walker. Walker enters the role of Captain America wanting to live up to the mantle but is plagued by his inability to measure up to his predecessor.

The character consists of equal parts good and evil. Russell is able to portray Walker’s discord and complexities with a precise artistry that brings a refreshingly dark energy to the story of Captain America.

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” grounds the Marvel universe in a grittier and more complicated world than where the films left it and offers both familiarity and originality for Marvel fans and new viewers alike.