Why Black Panther Is Key to Understanding The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

This post contains frank discussion of episode one of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. If you’ve not watched yet, now is the time to leave. 

If you’re a Marvel movie fan, there’s plenty of familiar territory in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. In contrast to WandaVision, the latest Disney+ show hews closer to the action-heavy aesthetic that the films have run on for more than a decade. There are also callbacks galore, especially to the Captain America films. But as with WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is interested in doing something a bit more complex with its expanded running time. According to head writer Malcolm Spellman in the latest episode of Vanity Fair’s Still Watching podcast, though Easter eggs and new comic book villains are there, they’re also a bit more complicated than they initially appear. 

Take, for example, the bombshell introduction of Wyatt Russell’s character, John Walker, as the new Captain America in the closing minutes of the show. 

Wyatt Russell as John Walker a.k.a. Captain America. 

If you’re a comic book fan—or know anything about classic narrative foreboding—you might be inclined to not trust this man. In the books, John Walker goes by a few names, but is best known as U.S. Agent. He’s fought both against Captain America and alongside Captain America. (Isn’t that always the way?) He has been a government-sanctioned Captain America himself as well. It’s unclear if he has superpowers in the universe of *The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—*though he did acquire some in the comics. Seeing him usurp Sam (Anthony Mackie) in the closing scene of the episode should be enough to get your back up. But is he really friend or foe? 

As with all potential villains or antagonists in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Spellman explains, there’s something more complicated at play: “These villains all believe that they are heroes,” says Spellman. Think of John Walker, or the black-masked Flag-Smashers we meet in Switzerland, as less mustache-twisting bad guys and more in line with Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in Black Panther—a Marvel villain so convincing in his ideology that the hashtag #KillmongerWasRight took off on social media. 

“We talked about that hashtag a lot in the room,” Spellman explains. “Black Panther was an African character and still dealt with many issues that anyone, any person of color, is going to deal with. Killmonger was American in his point of view. That speech that Killmonger gave, we had that speech printed up. This series is borne from that spirit. We are not going to say, ‘Killmonger is wrong.’ His methods may have been, but that speech, you can’t front on it. It just is what it is. And it is the truth.”

Spellman explains, at length, how The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will dig into Sam’s reality as a Black American, and suggested a particular comic book title (which you can read more about here) that has very intriguing implications about the way the show plans to grapple with the history of Captain America and race. 

In other words, nothing is what it may seem on this show. Even the Easter eggs. If you’re fond of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (both Spellman’s favorite MCU movie and mine), you’ll be sure to spot some very specific callbacks to that film in the premiere episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It’s hard for us, the audience, to understand how Sam can’t see himself as the logical heir to Captain America’s shield when he’s fighting the same fights against Batroc the Leaper (Georges St-Pierre)…

Source: Why Black Panther Is Key to Understanding The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

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