How do you follow a movie like Avengers: Endgame? How do you continue a story that comes after the finale of a decade-long superhero saga that is arguably one of the most ambitious film franchises of all time?
At first glance, it seemed as though the producers of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier had their work cut out for them.
Not only is it the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) property to directly follow the events of 2019’s Endgame, it was also meant to be the first TV show to kickstart Marvel Studio’s slate of TV shows on Disney+ Hotstar (though due to production issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the hugely successful WandaVision ended up being the first one out).
So how did that affect the director and writer of the show?
“Everyone who walks into Marvel is worried about being the first people to have a flop!” said Malcolm Spellman, head writer of the series, during a recent video call from the United States.
“In a way, WandaVision coming out first was a relief to us, but it also put a lot of pressure on us because it did so well!”
In a separate video call, series director Kari Skogland explained that she wanted to tell the story of Captain America’s shield, which Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) gives to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) at the end of Endgame.
“Sam Wilson was given the shield, and he says it doesn’t feel like it belongs to him. So from the get go, this was going to be the story of whether or not he answers the call to action and takes up the title of Captain America, ” she said.
Although Sam does indeed take up the mantle in the comic books, Skogland and Spellman wanted to make sure that audiences truly understood what it would mean for a Black man to take up that shield and carry the symbol of Captain America.
Spellman, who is best known for his work on the critically acclaimed Empire, said: “We didn’t want that to be an easy journey. We wanted to force this character to have a real reckoning about what it would mean if he ever took on that mantle, ” he mentioned, adding that it was “inescapable” that the series would be so politically charged.
“The one thing Marvel is not going to let you do is be fake. You have to honour the characters. You can’t just hand that shield to a Black man and not have certain conversations come up! There is just no way around it. You might as well not do the series!” he said.
“From the get go, I thought this was one of the most important stories of the centuries, because we were going to be taking on racial themes in a very big way, ” said Skogland.
“We were also taking on imperialism, elitism, tolerance, and taking a really good look at all the different sides to the shield, which is a metaphor for the American flag. We were going to unpack it and see what it meant to so many different people."
For all its political weight and focus on character, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is still very much an MCU show, with top-notch action sequences and visual effects to boot. While Skogland is better known for her work on TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Vikings, this is the first time she is tackling action of this scale.
“I’ve done martial arts movies, so I was aware of different styles of action, but for this one, I really managed to run the spectrum of what action was, ” she explained. “Some of it was very street-y, some a bit more superhero, and some of it was messy.
“But we approached everything from the character, so there is not one action scene that doesn’t have a story, in both the action of it and also in the character arc of it. So it was challenging to build all that in, but satisfying to see it all come together.”
Ultimately, she and Spellman wanted to make sure that all the characters got their time to develop their own niche in the MCU, none more so than Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier, who has been put through the wringer since his debut in Captain America: The First Avenger back in 2011.
“Bucky has been carrying the weight of all the awful stuff he has done in every movie he has been in. So for the series, we wanted to put him through the fire, and if he steps up and faces up to that challenge, let him finally be a hero for the first time, ” said Spellman.
“It’s not that he had never done heroic things, but he had never felt like he could be a hero. At the end of this, we wanted him to feel that way.”
“All the lead characters start off the series in one place, but by the end of the series, we wanted them to have a new life moving forward in the MCU, ” Skolgard concluded.
The Falcon And the Winter Soldier is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.