Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (we’re calling it FAWS, remember?) reaches the halfway point and it’s still not exploded into the full-blooded superhero spectacle we might have expected and it’s now looking likely that it never will. It is, however, cleverly using the tropes and plot contrivances of modern superhero cinema to create a story that’s now toying with the style of the likes of the Bourne series with some Mission Impossible thrown in for a bit of extra derring-do. It’s a refreshing - and refreshingly mature - concoction, albeit one that requires the viewer to pay maximum attention to the plot’s twists and turns and to possess a fairly encyclopaedic knowledge of the deeper recesses of the MCU oeuvre.
Episode Three sees Sam and Bucky swooping around the globe – firstly to Munich where the wily Zemo (Daniel Brühl), now established as Baron Zemo, manipulates them into freeing him from imprisonment so he can help them locate the whereabouts of the creator of the super-serum that appears to be giving the ruthless Flag Smashers an advantage in their campaign to return the world to its Blipstate. Then we’re off to the fictional island of Madripoor where Bucky is forced to reassume his old Winter Soldier identity, resulting in the death of a significant crime boss leading to Sam, Bucky and Zemo fleeing for their lives. Luckily, rescue is close at hand from an unusual source as Captain America: Civil War’s Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) is waiting in the wings and she’s come to kick some ass and introduce our distinctly un-costumed heroes to one Wilfred Nagle, a HYDRA hired hand (later recruited by the CIA) tasked with recreating he super-soldier serum from blood samples extracted from Isaiah Bradley who we met last week. Are you keeping up? The ‘Blip’ interrupted his work and in the interim period, the Flag Smashers stole his work and imbued themselves with the extraordinary strength and agility we saw demonstrated in Episode Two. Nagle is quickly offed, his laboratory blown up, Sharon disappears back into the shadows (almost certainly destined to appear again later in the series) and Zemo, Sam, and Bucky set off – with a nice nod to a moment of levity from Civil War – to follow a clue that might lead them to the whereabouts of the Flag Smashers and their leader Karli.
Pitching up in Latvia, Bucky wanders off for some quality time alone only to be reunited with another character from Civil War who is also interested in catching up with Baron Zemo. Side-lined slightly this week are our new Captain America (Wyatt Rusell) and his sidekick Battlestar, who are following their own leads independently of Sam and Bucky and reminding us why, costume and shield or not, he really isn’t half the man Steve Rogers was.
Pawn Broker is a busy, bustling episode light on superhero histrionics but heavier on action and plot progression. The relationship between Sam and Bucky is still satisfyingly narky and Daniel Brühl is given the welcome opportunity to add some light and shade to Zemo who tended to lurk in the shadows manipulating events when we last saw him. He’s still the manipulator here, persuading Sam and Bucky to spring him from jail, setting off on his own killing spree in Madripoor and donning the ribbed mask familiar to fans of his comics’ incarnation. There’s much to be resolved in the remaining three episodes, from the threat of the Flag Smashers (and the identity of the mysterious and titular ‘Power Broker’) to all the issues surrounding the future of the mantle of Captain America but it’s refreshing to find the series offering up other tantalising hints for things to come even beyond the series itself in its final scene, which suggests that the Black Panther franchise may have tragically lost its charismatic leading man but there is still much to explore in the world of Wakanda and its noble inhabitants. FAWS may not have the ‘shock of the new’ factor of WandaVision but it’s also clearly not just the simplistic wham-bam full-colour superhero punch-up we might have anticipated (and some may have quietly dreaded), playing as it does in the more distant corners of the bountiful MCU sandbox.
Where to watch: Disney+