By Zach Johnson
The first episode of Marvel Studios’ highly anticipated series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier will begin streaming this Friday on Disney+ and explore brand-new corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The six-episode series follows the adventures of Sam Wilson aka The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), both of whom are trying to find their place in a world without their friend and mentor, Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans). On Sunday, the lead actors joined executive producer Kevin Feige, director Kari Skogland, and head writer Malcolm Spellman at a press conference to discuss what’s in store for their fan-favorite characters.
Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame, in which the Avengers and their allies defeated Thanos (Josh Brolin) and “blipped” half of the universe’s population back into existence, Phase 4 of the MCU will see many ancillary characters taking on larger roles. Sam, for example, was last seen accepting Steve’s shield—even though, at the time, he admitted, “It feels like it belongs to someone else.” Sam’s reticence to succeed Steve as Captain America boils down to the “pain” of losing his friend, said Mackie. “Just like everybody else, you don’t want to see Steve Rogers go away. You don’t want to see Captain America go away,” he added. “Just like Captain America was your Captain America, he was Sam Wilson’s Cap.”
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier will be the second series from Marvel Studios to debut on Disney+, following WandaVision… but it was actually the first to be developed for the streaming service. “We were working just as hard on it—putting all of our blood, sweat, and tears into it—which is why in this first episode really starts off with a bang,” Feige said of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. “We kept saying, ‘If we’re going to do a series with Falcon and Winter Soldier in it, we need to at least start off with the best action that we’ve ever seen.’” And by telling these characters’ stories episodically, Feige explained, their stories inherently become more multifaceted and richer: “It was really an opportunity to go deep.”
In response those who are already crossing their fingers for a second season of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Feige stayed typically tight-lipped. “We really did approach [this season] like we do the movies, which is: ‘We better make this great or we won’t be able to do another one,’” Feige said. “If we were able to do another one, there are certainly ideas. The slight difference, of course—as you’ve all heard me say and I think is becoming clear with WandaVision—is they really will go back and forth between the Disney+ series and the Marvel Studios features. Where characters show up and how sometimes will be in a direct season two, and sometimes will be in a feature and then into an additional season.”
Below, we’ve assembled seven key takeaways from the virtual press conference:
1. Sam revisits his strong Southern roots.
Sam made his soaring MCU debut in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, joining Steve, Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and others in dismantling HYDRA and S.H.I.E.L.D. At the time, Sam divulged a bit about his time as a pararescue in the Air Force but said little about who he was off-duty. That will change in the first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier when Sam returns to his native Louisiana and reunites with his sister, Sarah Wilson (Adepero Oduye), and his nephews. “To be able to go back and dive into his backstory, his family, and his surroundings only betters the character for the audience,” Mackie explained. “We’re in a place now where we want the audience to know and learn about these new characters—especially since Kevin Feige killed Iron Man!”
2. Sam and Bucky continue to experience grief and suffering.
Both Sam and Bucky have lived through the horrors of war. Although they deal with their emotions in different ways, they are bonded by their similar experiences. “The whole subject of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and the experience that they both share as soldiers—as men who have served—is one of the things that brings them together,” said Stan. “And there’s sort of a bit of an honor code between them… There’s a mutual respect.” Depicting PTSD respectfully and properly was important to everyone involved. “As everybody knows, PTSD is not something you’re just done with. It’s really something one has to continue to grow with and to become better at dealing with,” Stan said. “Obviously, it’s a major part of our show, and it grounds both of these characters in very realistic ways.”
3. Sam and Bucky are more than just Avengers.
Like Iron Man 3, WandaVision, and many other MCU stories, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier isn’t planning to shy away from sensitive subject matter. “What’s great about the Marvel characters, as you’ve always heard us say, is their flaws,” said Feige, adding that every story is anchored in the characters’ emotions and experiences. “There has been a lot of trauma for these characters over the years, and you can easily forget or brush that under the carpet because there are sparkling portals opening, people cheering, and Giant Man punching a flying lizard. But really, if you think about it—which we do—we think about, ‘What if we were these characters? What if we lived this?’ There’d be horrific elements to that, which would have repercussions years down the line. And that is very fun to explore.”
4. The series is an ambitious, feature film-sized production.
“From the beginning, we were making a six-hour film,” Skogland said of their approach to bringing the titular characters from the big to the small screen. As such, Spellman said, “We didn’t just tackle one episode at a time; we spent months doing this.” They employed a “horizontal storytelling” approach, he explained, so “the rhythm of the storytelling was completely different in that characters can befriend each other, fall out, and evolve in a much different way.” They couldn’t have planned it any better. “It’s almost like this fabric that’s draped over the entire series,” Spellman said, “and that was born from the process.”
5. The series was made under unique and unusual circumstances.
Like hundreds of productions around the world, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier briefly paused filming in 2020 until health and safety protocols were established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, Skogland said, the temporary delay didn’t affect the series too dramatically. “The story didn’t change, but we had to pivot and react to what was happening in the world,” she said. “What really was exciting was once we were shut down through COVID, we didn’t skip a beat and went straight into post-production. We were able to continue editing and sharpening the pencil. So, it turned into a weird opportunity.”
6. A new hero is about to step into the spotlight… or is he a villain?
Wyatt Russell joins the MCU as John Walker (his casting was announced at D23 Expo 2019), one of the highest-ranking soldiers in the U.S. military. Russell’s character is described as patriotic, strong, and well-intentioned—but whether he will stay true to his comic book origins remains to be seen. “The past is prologue, and the clues are everywhere,” Feige teased. “Oftentimes, we do pull from the lineage of [a character’s] biography from the comics, then tweak it as appropriate for the point of time that we are introducing those characters into the MCU. But… stay tuned over the course of this series.”
7. In a post-Thanos world, “good” and “bad” are subjective.
In the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, in which Iron Man sacrificed himself in order to bring half of the universe’s population back from the “blip,” Spellman said, “The entire world is dealing with one single issue, which is very familiar to what’s going on today. And everything is borne from that. The villains in this series are responding to that—and, in fact, every villain in the series would tell you he or she is a hero.” What Thanos did—and what Iron Man undid—”galvanizes and affects everybody on the planet at the same time.”