While we’ve still got a few weeks of WandaVision left to go, the MCU/Disney+ fun will continue from 19 March with The Falcon And The Winter Soldier – a show bringing back fan favourites Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon, and James “Bucky” Barnes, who for many decades was the enhanced, mind-controlled assassin known as The Winter Soldier. Originally planned as the first MCU show produced by the Marvel Studios team, pandemic shooting delays mean it’s debuting second, following the sitcom-styled thriller starring Wanda Maximoff and Vision.
And though it promises to be less of a mystery than WandaVision, with trailers spotlighting a more straightforward blend of action heroics and mismatched buddy banter between the central pair, there are questions to be asked, not all of which have answers yet. So let’s dive in, shall we?
Who is Sam Wilson?
Created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan for 1969’s Captain American #117, Sam Wilson’s upbringing was in a tough Harlem neighbourhood. His father, a minister, was murdered while trying to stop a gang fight when Sam was nine and his mother was slain by a mugger a few years later. Initially embracing the good fight, Sam slides into a criminal persona, re-inventing himself as “Snap” Wilson. But that part of his life is retconned by recurring Captain America villain the Red Skull when Sam’s plane crashes on an island called Exile. The Skull mind-controls him and gives him the ability to communicate with birds, particularly a falcon Sam had bought named Redwing. After a clash with Steve Rogers – better known as Captain America – Sam is released from the Skull’s control, and the criminal period of his life is revealed as something forced upon him by the baddie. He helps Cap defeat the Skull and becomes his crime-fighting partner for many years.
As befits a Marvel comics character, Sam has gone through various incarnations through the years, including brief stints as an Avenger (he quits shortly after the first time because he’s angry at being seen as a token hire). Perhaps most pertinent to the new show is the run known as Sam Wilson: Captain America, which sees Steve Rogers lose his Super Serum advantages, rapidly aging into an old man, and handing the mantle of Captain America over to Sam. Where have we seen that before? (If your answer is “I don’t know, you tell me!”, see below). Also pertinent is the comics run kicking off with Captain America Vol. 1 #333, where the US government decides that John Walker should be the new Captain America, under the moniker US Agent.
Sam Wilson, played by Anthony Mackie, is introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. A former Air Force pararescue trooper, he’s now running support groups for veterans and encounters Chris Evans‘ Steve Rogers during his daily morning jog. Sam ends up helping Cap take down SHIELD, which, it is revealed, has been infiltrated by villainous organisation Hydra almost since the start. Sam, with tech taken from his old job (and later enhanced by Stark tech, including a drone named Redwing) aids Cap in tracking down Bucky Barnes and is recruited to become a member of the Avengers at the end of Age Of Ultron.
He takes Cap’s side during the Civil War that splits the Avengers, leading to his being imprisoned in the Raft prison. Freed by Captain America, he becomes a fugitive with his friend, returning from hiding to assist in the battle against Thanos (Josh Brolin) for Avengers: Infinity War, which they lose. Falcon is “dusted”, ceasing to exist when Thanos gains all the Infinity Stones and snaps his fingers, wiping out half the life in the universe. Sam returns when Smart Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) uses the stones in _Avengers: Endgame__ to bring the dusted population back, and The Falcon joins the successful fight to defeat Thanos. At the end of _Endgame, it is revealed that Steve Rogers, as part of his efforts to return the stones to their proper place in the timeline, has chosen to live a full life with his beau Peggy Carter in the past, returning to the same spot as an old man, and handing over his iconic Captain America shield to Sam with the intent that he’ll take up the mantle.
Who is James “Bucky” Barnes?
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby invented James Buchanan Barnes for Captain America Comics #1, published in December 1940, as the Second World War raged around the world. An orphan following the death of his parents, he persuades military authorities to make him a ward of Camp Leigh, the army training facility where his father perished. After becoming the camp mascot and starting a sideline in providing soldiers with non-requisition supplies, he starts working as a military operative, eventually making his way to the UK, where he meets and befriends Steve Rogers, who has just become Captain America.
The pair helps the allies win the war against the Nazis and the Red Skull, though towards the end of the war, Bucky is seemingly killed when his uniform snags on a plane that explodes. Yet because this is comics and no-one truly dies, he survived being frozen in ice and is recovered by the Russians, who wipe his mind and give him a bionic arm to replace the one he lost in the explosion. They turn him into the assassin known as the Winter Soldier, killing various targets and, at one point, starting an affair with Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow. In a later story, Steve Rogers uses the Cosmic Cube to return Bucky’s memories, and, following the death of Cap, takes on the mantle himself, at least for a time. He goes through several versions and storylines, including re-igniting his relationship with Natasha.
With Sebastian Stan in the role, Bucky is introduced as Steve Rogers’ best friend growing up, who protects his weaker friend and tries to help him score girlfriends. When Bucky signed up for the Army to fight in World War II, Rogers followed his friend and they reunited after the Super Serum turned Rogers into Captain America. Forming the Howling Commandos, Rogers, Bucky and their comrades battle the forces of the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), until Bucky is captured and experiment upon by Arnim Zola (Toby Jones). He’s rescued and continues the fight until he seemingly dies in an ambush by the Red Skull’s forces, plummeting hundreds of feet from a train.
That, of course, is not the end of his story. He survives the fall thanks to the experimentation, and, losing his left arm, is recruited, modified and mind-wiped by the Soviet Union and HYDRA. Becoming the Winter Solider, the assassin carries out missions, including murdering Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) parents. Sent to take out Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), he’s stopped by Steve Rogers, and in the ensuing battles, starts to recall memories of his former life. Rogers and Sam Wilson resolve to track him down.
The Winter Soldier is framed for bombing a meeting to sign the Sokovia Accords at the Vienna International by Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) and goes on the run again. Hunted by T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and some of the Avengers supporting Tony Stark, Barnes is captured and ultimately exonerated of the bombing. Taken to Wakanda, he’s treated and rehabilitated, ultimately helping the Avengers battle Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and “dusted” during the snap. He’s brought back to fight against Thanos once again in Avengers: Endgame.
What is The Falcon And The Winter Soldier’s story?
Unlike WandaVision‘s unfolding story, a lot about the new show’s plot is still wrapped in a mystery. What we do know is that one of the anchors of the show will be Sam’s conflicted decision to take on the Captain America mantle from Steve Rogers – he has far from made up his mind despite his friend’s request. Added to that, the US government is less than thrilled by the choice of Sam Wilson (probably something to do with his previous status as a wanted criminal for backing Steve), and pushes ahead with the creation of another Captain America in John Walker (Wyatt Russell). Bucky faces an even tougher path back into life after the events of Endgame, but it appears that he’s still hanging out with Sam, even though they constantly bicker like an old married couple.
Causing trouble will be the returning Helmut Zemo, who has his own schemes in mind after being brought to justice at the end of Captain America: Civil War. And we’ll have the chance to see Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) return. Aside from Zemo, there will be new threats to fight and plenty of action, at least based on the trailer. Oh, and – Spoiler Alert, and stop reading, skip to the next section if you don’t want to know – a certain Don Cheadle has admitted that James Rhodes, AKA War Machine, pops up in the show at some point. Plus, given its presence in WandaVision, we’d guess SWORD might play a part.
Who else is in the show?
Daniel Brühl is Helmut Zemo, the aggrieved Sokovian who caused so much trouble in Captain America: Civil War. Quite what he’s up to this time remains to be seen, but it can’t be good.
Emily VanCamp is Sharon Carter, the former SHIELD Agent known as Agent 13. Given that SHIELD no longer exists, and she was caught up in the Civil War drama, it remains to be seen what position she’s in with the new show. Could she end up working for SWORD? But mostly – yes! Cap’s Beard is in this.
Wyatt Russell is John Walker, the US government’s choice as the new Captain America. In the comic books, Walker is a patriot, but also a man with serious rage issues, and hardly the best option as the new Cap.
Georges St-Pierre returns to play Batroc, who we briefly saw taking on Captain America at the start of Winter Solider. Nothing is known about his involvement this time. Could he be an ally of Zemo?
Adepero Oduye, Desmond Chiam, Miki Ishikawa, Noah Mills, and Carl Lumbly are also in the cast, though their characters are a mystery for now.
Who created the show?
The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is run by Malcolm Spellman (above right), who worked on Empire (the music-dynasty TV drama, not the magazine). He’s in charge of the writing room, which includes John Wick‘s Derek Kolstad. Kari Skogland (above left) is directing the entire first season. Talking of…
How many episodes are there?
Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige has said that there will be six episodes. There’s no sign yet that the show will run beyond the first season.
The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is premiering on Disney+ on 19 March. We’ll learn soon enough if the first two episodes will launch on the first day, or whether it’ll just be one episode weekly.