This article contains The Falcon and the Winter Soldier spoilers.
The opening installment of Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier gives us a little time to catch up with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), as they begin to navigate a post-Blip and post-Captain America world. The weight of what they’ve been through clearly weighs heavily on their minds and the pair are struggling in some ways, but slowly making progress in others.
In his winged guise as Falcon, Sam Wilson proves straight out of the gate in the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that he’s more than a worthy fit for Cap’s shield, which was handed to him at the end of Avengers: Endgame. But after some deliberation Sam has decided not to take up the mantle of Captain America, puzzling Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes.
At a memorial for Steve Rogers at the Smithsonian, Sam gives a touching speech where he declares that a post-Blip Earth “needs new heroes, ones suited for the times we’re in” and then tells Rhodey that he doesn’t think anyone should carry Steve’s shield except, well, Steve. The shield is placed in a glass box – a relic of a bygone era – and a representative from the Department of Defense reassures Sam that he’s made the right choice.
Wilson recalls that when he was first given the shield, it felt like it belonged to someone else …and if it didn’t before, it does now, thanks to the good ol’ U.S. government! In the closing moments of the episode, it’s revealed that ex-Marine John Walker (Overlord’s Wyatt Russell) has been selected to be the new Captain America instead.
The same spokesman from the Department of Defense who gladly took Cap’s shield away from Sam at the Smithsonian and locked it away apparently had other plans for it all along. He tells a crowd of excited onlookers that the DoD and the President are about to introduce a new hero that embodies America’s greatest values. Within seconds, we’re meeting our new Cap, who arrives brandishing Steve’s iconic shield with a cheeky wink.
It was confirmed that Russell – son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn – would be playing Walker in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ages ago, but it’s pretty exciting to witness him arrive on the scene. Understandably, Sam is less excited than us – he clearly wasn’t privy to what we can only assume was a whole host of behind-the-scenes marketing decisions leading to this moment.
Walker is an asset that the U.S. government can control and who probably won’t have the same doubts Steve did about following their orders. When we first see him, his Cap suit seems ill-fitting and off, almost like it was focus-grouped into the ground – and it probably was. The suit isn’t too far off the one Walker actually wears in his latter-day Marvel Comics appearances, however, despite its corrupted vibe.
Marvel’s Anti-Steve Rogers
Make no mistake, Russell’s John Walker is a key addition to the MCU, but whether he will end up being a hero or a villain may remain uncertain when the series has finished up its run on Disney+.
Walker was originally introduced into the pages of Marvel Comics as “Super-Patriot” in Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America #323 back in 1986. He was created as a kind of anti-Steve Rogers by Gruenwald, who described him as “a patriotic villain.” Walker eventually replaced Steve as Captain America for a time, when Steve refused a governmental demand to essentially become an employee under their control. The circumstances are a little different here, but Walker-as-Cap has precedent in Marvel history.
Right now (and often in the comics, too) Walker’s a wild card, and him taking up the Captain America mantle so soon after Steve relinquished it will likely prickle Sam and Bucky’s reverence for Steve’s legacy. But the government wasn’t exactly seeing eye-to-eye with Steve before he disappeared, and they clearly weren’t happy when Steve chose Sam to be the next Captain America.
“John Walker wouldn’t be in this series if he was causing everything to go well,” Russell explained to USA Today. “There’s a dynamic he adds that somewhat complicates the relationship of everybody involved.”
We will have to wait until The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 to find out whether Sam and Bucky will get together and hash out a plan of action to address both the surprise installation of Walker and the rising threat of the Flag-Smashers, a violent underground group who no longer believe that good fences make good neighbors after the chaos of the Blip.
Could the two even be connected? It seems a little convenient that there’s an anti-patriotic group out there just ready and waiting for John Walker’s new Cap to make an example out of them…