Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiere reintroduces the world to Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes at a time when both heroes, like most everyone else in existence, are still piecing their lives back together in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame. Though the series was never meant to be about Steve Rogers himself, Captain America’s legacy looms large in Sam and Bucky’s minds for reasons that should be rather obvious.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was clearly crafted in a way that’s meant to build to a deeper, more complicated unpacking of what Captain America means as an idea in the public and as an identity to the series’ heroes. But the premiere, which debuted on Disney+ last night (our recap to come!), kicked things off by briefly diverting down a third route that frames one’s Captain America-ness as a set of experiences. And it brought back one of the MCU’s most underrated villains.
Before the latest Marvel TV series actually brings its two former Avengers back together, the story first focuses on what sort of stuff Sam’s (Anthony Mackie) been up to since he returned from the dead. Much like WandaVision’s Monica Rambeau, he almost immediately tries to throw himself into the closest thing there is to his old life: working with the military. Unlike Monica, though, who was grounded and forced into something of a corner as she rejoined SWORD, working with the Air Force puts Sam back into the sky—not exactly as a superhero, but as a specialized asset with the skills necessary to do what regular people can’t.
When the Air Force receives intel that one of their aircrafts is set to be hijacked by terrorists who know that the U.S. Military can’t take action in Libyan airspace, Sam’s brought in to single-handedly thwart the operation without the Libyan government being any wiser. As Sam leaps from his Air Force transport and briefly freefalls before his Falcon wings unfurl, the series’ focus on action kicks into gear in a gorgeous sequence that highlights what makes Sam more than just a pilot with a fancy jetpack. While there are plenty of heroes who can fly in the MCU, Sam’s flyer of the highest order whose elegance and grace in the air belies how surprisingly formidable a fighter he is with his wings even when he’s in closed-in spaces.
It’s always interesting to see when Marvel decides to drop members of different characters’ Rogues Galleries into projects like these, particular when the minor villain of the moment is someone from the comics you don’t expect to see. After Sam scouts the hijacked plane and confirms that the soldiers on board have been taken hostage, he deploys Redwing to make quick work of the aircraft’s hatch, and he bursts onboard ready to take on the multiple armed men in a flurry of fists, wings, and gunfire.
While Sam’s able to deal with most everyone on the plane, things take a turn when the pilot ends up being shot by a stray bullet, briefly leading to the craft nosediving towards the Earth. Sam’s small moment of relief that comes as the plane’s autopilot kicks in is shattered when the terrorist’s leader reveals himself with an impractical kick that would be hilarious were it not for the fact that the attack’s meant to kill.
The last time that we saw Georges St-Pierre’s Georges Batroc (the Leaper) was in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Back then he was up to, well, more or less the same kind of highly illegal antics. Where the film played Batroc and his fondness for kicking up for a series of laughs, though, Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes the villain somewhat more seriously and in a fun way that doesn’t try to poke fun at the silliness of his comics counterpart.
Though the MCU’s Batroc would probably shoot anyone for saying it, the man does get a kick out of leaping out of things, which becomes clear as he and the remaining terrorists pin Sam down with gunfire while jumping out of the plane with the last surviving hostage. Cartoonish as Batroc and his goons’ gliding suits look, they actually work as the perfect translation of the character’s whole leaping gimmick in an adaptation attempting to root itself in a grittier, more realistic story.
Not only do Batroc and his men fall with style and legitimately give Sam trouble as they bob and weave through the air while firing off their guns at him, but their high-flying dogfight actually culminates in Batroc himself landing inside a moving helicopter, making this one entire sequence a testament to just what all a two-dimensional villain’s dumb bit can become if they just apply themselves and use a little imagination.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier knows that the only thing more embarrassing than getting clowned by Scott Lang and some ants in private would be getting outflown and outgunned by Batroc the leaper while the Air Force watched, and ultimately, Sam’s able to complete his mission. It all winds up kicking off the rest of the series, and it’s interesting to consider whether Batroc will pop up again. It’d be perfectly understandable if he didn’t, though, and not just because he ended up getting his ass handed to him.
For one brief, shining moment, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier turned Batroc into a villain with some finesse and grandeur, and the rest of the MCU’s villains should be so lucky to get that sort of wild sendoff.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now streaming on Disney+.
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