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A Mighty Heart

In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie finally proves her Oscar win wasn't a fluke —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier take flight as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues its expansion.

A New Hope

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan
Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan

When Disney first announced new TV series projects for its then upcoming streaming service, hearing Star Wars titles get thrown around seemed sensible. Solo landed with a thud at the box office, so naturally there was an interest in exploring new avenues to keep the space opera going.

Then came Marvel. New series? Sure. Why not? Marvel was all over broadcast TV already, with Agents of SHIELD being a long-running series on ABC, while Agent Carter made it through two seasons. Plus, there were all those Netflix offerings: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist. Those were all standalone series, each essentially in isolation to everything else.

But the Disney+ twist was this: at least some of the new shows would become part of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe storyline. The MCU is storytelling genius. It currently spans 23 theatrical releases (Black Widow, delayed from last May, is the 24th entry, now set for a May 2021 release). Some of the movies are from Paramount, some from Sony, most from Disney. But adding in streaming series into the mix? Hmmm. Awkward.

The full slate for Phase 4 was announced in July 2019.

Pre-pandemic.

Pre-theatre closings.

Now, in retrospect, the move was pure genius.

WandaVision

WandaVision was the first MCU series out of the gate. A nine-episode epic that started with an odd heartbeat that mimicked TV sitcoms through the decades — The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, Family Ties among them — that even included parodies of TV commercials. But the real goal was to bring the characters of Wanda Maximoff and Vision into a post-Blip world.

Blip. Within the MCU, that’s the pop culture name given to the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, in which half the world’s population vanished.

In some respects, the quirky aspects of WandaVision throw it into the Thor: Ragnarok camp of MCU thematic departures. For the first few episodes, it’s rather light and dismissible. Then it gets much more interesting as other MCU characters enter the fray. By the end, there’s a setup that’s sure to be leveraged elsewhere in the MCU.

It made for “must-stream” TV.

Heroes Return

Now, the six-episode The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is here. And the Marvel title card and anthem are back, too.

Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference. Simply seeing those images and hearing that theme — even as the world slowly emerges from the pandemic — offers a welcome reassurance. Things are getting back to normal.

Right out of the gate, it’s also a return to the more traditional themes of the MCU and it starts with a pretty wild, whiz-bang aerial rescue.

That’s part of the magic of this and other Disney+ series. WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (as well as The Mandalorian, the first Disney+ Star Wars series) offer production values that, while perhaps not quite at the big screen level, are most certainly far ahead of standard TV fare, including all those other Marvel series that preceded the streamer exclusives.

This one brings back the action and — unlike WandaVision — works quickly to bring on the intrigue. Topical comments are made about a world without borders and how, while things get better for one group, it makes things worse for another. And, shockingly, a fringe element called the “Flag Snatchers” actually thought the world was a better place during the Blip.

The Shield

The titular characters of Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the Falcon (Anthony Mackie, The Hate U Give), and Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan, I, Tonya), take center stage and confront this call to action: the world needs new heroes, the kind suitable for the times we’re in.

Actually, that’s been Marvel’s modus operandi all along, but it’s as timely and timeless as ever.

Catching up with Bucky, one of Steve’s best friends going all the way back to his childhood, he’s going through some humorous therapy sessions as he discusses his “Amends” program to make certain things right.

At the end of Endgame, Captain America’s shield is handed over to Sam Wilson. As The Falcon and the Winter Soldier begins, Sam can’t escape the feeling it belongs to somebody else — Steve Rogers — and he donates it to the Smithsonian for posterity.

Another favorite character from the MCU makes an appearance in the first episode and tells Sam the world’s broken and it’s looking for somebody to fix it.

It’s only one episode in, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited about seeing the Falcon and the Winter Soldier deal with what ails them. No doubt, as they heal, so, too, will the nation.

As Stan Lee would say, “Stay tuned, true believers.”