Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Though Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Falcon Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) are no strangers to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and have familiarized audiences with the basic fundamentals of their characters, they’ve now been given oodles of extra screen time in DisneyPlus’ series, THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER. This action-packed, thrilling show focuses on the two men, post-blip, dealing with the struggles of their dual lives as superheroes. As Sam is reticent to pick up Captain America’s shield and Bucky is sorting through trauma in his past having been used as a weapon, a new threat is beginning to emerge in the world – one the two will eventually be tasked to help stop.
During the series’ recent virtual press conference, Marvel guru Kevin Feige said he was thrilled to start the series with an action-forward first episode.
“It really starts off with a bang. We kept saying, ‘If we’re gonna 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 we’ve seen a lotta cool action with both of them before.”
Because the show is hyper-focused on these two characters, the stunt work has increased compared to what the two titular leading men had done before on the big screen. Stan says,
“[It was] actually even more evolved and intense I would say – definitely for Falcon. The action really intensified in a lot of ways. We’re always finding new ways to have them evolve with their sort of action sequences. But it’s tonally the same as the movies.”
Mackie credits the stunt choreographers who also worked with them on the films for helping bring that added sense of developing character through intensified action sequences.
“The great thing about what we were able to do with was nothing was jeopardized, or watered down. The same stunt guys we worked with on the films are the same guys who choreographed and did all of our stunts on the show. Because of that, the stunts are really amazing.”
“Kari had a great idea that we all kind of fell in line with, taking the idea of weaponry away, so it’s more hand to hand combat. It’s more physical. It’s more assertive. It’s more of us utilizing our strengths. The stunt guys had a field day. Wyatt [Russell], Sebastian, and myself did a lot of stunt training to be able to go in and [do] a lot. Some of the stuff you see is us, but we [also] had amazing stuntmen to go in and kick ass for us.”
Director Kari Skogland approached the series like it was a film – not a limited series.
“From the beginning, we were making a six-hour film. We just kind of figured out where to snip it at certain hour marks. Malcolm and I did a lot of looking at movies and shows. We have a buddy-cop kind of relationship going on, so we looked at some of those. I looked at a lot of different influences. I looked at – as crazy as [it sounds] David Lean [and] MIDNIGHT COWBOY. I really go very wide and then try to put it in a pot and stir it and come up with something that is uniquely signature for our [look].
Series head writer Malcolm Spellman pulled inspiration from tonal touchstones like 80’s and 90’s buddy-cop movies.
“The buddy-two-hander genre, what we loved about them is the range. You can go from as gritty as gritty as 48 HRS. to as comedic as RUSH HOUR, but in between there is sorta, like, that first LETHAL WEAPON and that first BAD BOYS. It allows Sebastian and Anthony to do what they do and create that magic, but also allows the broader creative to take on real issue, or if you need to get into something very Marvel-y. It’s a very durable form of storytelling.”
Not only is the action on par with what we’ve seen in Marvel movies, Feige said they’re using the series as a way to explore these two characters further.
“More importantly, as [we] will see much more of over the course of the series, [we] learn who the heck they are. We know a little bit about poor Bucky Barnes and what he’d been through. Sam Wilson, other than that he likes the job, is an inherently moral man and had been in the service and worked with PTSD, we didn’t know much about ‘em. It was really an opportunity to go deep.”
Stan confesses he was a little daunted by the more comedic elements incorporated into his character’s actions.
“I was pretty freaked out because I felt like we had established a character a certain way and there were certain things about him that I was very comfortable and familiar with tonally in the movies. And then, we had to kind of go into this and go, “All right. What is he like now?” Part of that was really kind of us homing in on his sense of humor, so to speak. That really came into the tone of the series and, particularly, with his dynamic with Sam Wilson along with my own dynamic with Anthony and kind of just marrying the two. That was scary and exciting.
“I think we’re finally kind of zooming in on his quest for identity and, in terms of accepting his past and sort of re‑educating himself, really actually, about the world that he’s currently in. The ideals and principles he might’ve lived by and been driven by at one point that perhaps no longer really serve him the same way. He’s in an interesting trajectory when we start out the show and that’s always exciting for an actor.”
Mackie was equally excited by the challenge to explore his character’s hidden layers.
“The idea of Sam Wilson, and the character and the evolution of what’s now known as The Falcon, to be able to go back and dive into his backstory, his family, and his surroundings, only betters the character for the audience. It’s always great to learn more and give more about your character and it not feel like heavy exposition and a lesson. It feels like a good cinematic experience.”
Skogland utilized the camera to help root the perspective in the titular characters’ psyches.
“It was important that we respected that we were gonna be into peoples’ perspectives. We really had to go in deep character and be able to sustain that. It was also looking at how to do that, how to [assign a] signature [through] the camera – the nature of where we put focal planes. All the different ways that we could be more intimate with these characters so that we get to know them.”
THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER series premieres March 19 on Disney+.