While certainly flashy, explosive and at times even pompous, one could also easily argue, that The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was designed to serve as a more personal vessel for the two titular characters, both of which have been forced time and again to take a backseat next to more iconic heroes, such as Iron Man, and Thor.
The core concept of utilising Disney+ to serve up more personal stories centred around the characters the movies kind of have to leave behind in some way, makes a lot of sense. And in most cases Falcon and the Winter Soldier does deliver on that promise, pushing us ever closer to Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, giving them motivations, hopes and fears that feed into that attachment.
So, as an overall narrative exercise, Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a success, and one Disney hopefully can build on in future instalments, but I'm afraid that's not all, as there's several key points, moments and ideas that the show simply does not have the capacity to fully realise, or even utilise. And that ultimately does hinder the otherwise effective execution of the central mission here, sadly.
First off, the show has, over its six-episode run, had the tendency of introducing characters that simply either have no major impact on the story, or fails to capture your attention as they move about on screen. While the central trio of Wyatt Russel's John Walker, Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes and Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson are all great portrayals, there's just so much wasted opportunity in its full gallery.
Daniel Brühl's Baron Zemo isn't nearly as well utilised as first thought, ending up having little to add to the overarching plot, but a few key moments towards the latter half of the season. The same goes for Sharon Carter, only briefly appearing in a semi-shady anti-hero persona that also has little effect in the grand scheme of things. The same goes for the elite Wakandan hit squad, the Dora Milaje, and its leader Ayo. Oh, and Georges St-Pierre's Bartroc, and even Erin Kellyman as Karli Morgenthau.
The Flag Smashers are not terrible villains, and the international espionage-esque grey morale space the show operates in is a perfect fit for such an organisation. But, it just becomes too cartoony too fast, and Morgenthau herself quickly devolves into something two-dimensional to fit the typical description of a villain.
It just ends up feeling rather tame, as if too many chefs tried to improve what started out as a solidly crafted dish, and the flavours are now all over the place. The penultimate episode even settles for clichéd montages and the fixing up of Sam's boat. For around 30 minutes. In a show that's only six episodes long.
The show is well crafted though, and the key moments provided by Stan and Mackie are enough to keep it afloat. As previously stated, strictly as a character portrayal of its titular heroes, the show works well. But the amount of distracting noise is hard to ignore throughout.
All of that said, perhaps the noise, the inconsistent usage of additional characters, would all be more bearable, had the show gone for a more traditional length of perhaps either 10 or perhaps even 12 episodes, giving us both room to breathe and establish key motivations from some of these wasted characters, and allowed us to forgive when the show meandered off-course. But it isn't, it's six episodes, and so it becomes immediately jarring whenever we do meander.
There's a great show at the heart of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with Sam and Bucky trying to find themselves in a post-Cap world, and the shield being picked up by someone clearly not emotionally ready for it. Furthermore, it does lean into the whole Civil War question of how symbolism matches up against the gravitas of the hero's actual actions. It's fascinating subject material, I just wish we had the time to delve into it properly.