Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — premiering March 19 on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar in India — follows WandaVision as the second series from Marvel Studios. Just like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has two Avengers in the lead, but otherwise it's nothing like it. While WandaVision was devoted to episodic storytelling, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier plays out like a six-hour movie, director Kari Skogland told reporters over Zoom in a virtual event on Sunday. And while WandaVision was inspired by decades of classic American sitcoms, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier delivers action fare on the scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“Just because it's on TV doesn't mean it's not going to be as big as it possibly could be as a movie,” Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said, and added: “and we were working just as hard on it and putting all of our blood, sweat, and tears into. Which is why, in this [The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1] that most of the journalists have seen, it really starts off with a bang. We kept saying, ‘If we're going to do a series with Falcon and Winter Soldier in it, we need to at least start off with the best action that we've ever seen.'”
In some ways, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier fits into a well explored genre: buddy comedy. Except Sam Wilson/ Falcon and Bucky Barnes/ Winter Soldier, played respectively by Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, have never been friends directly. They shared a common buddy in Steve Rogers/ Captain America, played by Steve Rogers, who aged out of time and moved on at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Now, Sam and Bucky find themselves in a world without Captain America, and as they attempt to honour his legacy, they must figure out a place for themselves in the new world.
“They're actually in similar places, yes and no,” Stan said. “I mean, they are in some similar places because of Steve's missing, and the consequences of that. And it has sort of thrown them both into almost opposite corners, in terms of facing their lives, their demons, their questions. And they've got different things that they're facing, but they're definitely in a similar place in terms of questions they're asking, I believe.”
“Exploring that question [of their place in a post-Endgame, post-Cap MCU] is very much built into the arc of both of these characters, where they are at the top of the show,” Stan added. “And actually answering that question and exploring that question is very much their journey throughout the show. ‘Who am I now? What do I have to contribute? I mean [Captain America] did this and this, and so what is going to be my legacy? If I even want that?' So, there's all these pieces to it that are interesting.”
“[The Falcon and the Winter Soldier creator] Malcolm [Spellman] really homed in on that,” Stan said earlier. “We're really finally kind of zooming in on his quest for identity and really accepting his past and sort of re-educating himself, actually, about the world that he's currently in. The ideals and principles he might've lived by and been driven by at one point that perhaps no longer really serve him the same way. Obviously, that's always exciting for an actor.”
As with WandaVision, the new Marvel series will also look at the trauma they have suffered, Feige noted: “You can easily forget that because there's sparkly portals opening and people cheering and giant man punching a flying lizard, but really if you think about it, which we do we think about. ‘What if we were these characters, what if we live through this? There would be horrific elements to that, that would have repercussions years down the line.' And that is very fun to explore.”
To develop that buddy comedy tone, Spellman looked at a whole host of movies from said genre. He mentioned the Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy-starrer 48 Hrs. that essentially kick-started the buddy cop genre in 1982. Spellman also name-checked Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon series that began in 1987 with Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, in addition to Michael Bay's Bad Boys from 1995 with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and the martial arts-inspired 1998's Rush Hour with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
“You can go from as gritty as 48 Hrs to as comedic as Rush Hour, but in between there is like that first Lethal Weapon and that first Bad Boys,” Spellman remarked. “And what we liked about it was it allows Sebastian and Anthony to do what they do and create that magic, but also allows the broader creative — if you need to take on real issue or if you need to get into something very Marvel-y, it's a very, very durable form of storytelling.”
Stan noted that, while exploring the question of who Bucky is now, they realised “part of that was really homing in on his sense of humour, so to speak. That really came into the tone of [The Falcon and the Winter Soldier] and, particularly, his dynamic with Sam Wilson — along with my own dynamic with Anthony and kind of just marrying the two.”
Skogland also looked at some of the buddy movies to develop The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's look — including John Schlesinger's 1969 drama Midnight Cowboy. But she went way beyond too, “as crazy as” David Lean, the director of epics such as The Bridge on the River Kwai with William Holden and Alec Guinness, Peter O'Toole-led Lawrence of Arabia, and the period drama A Passage to India.
“I really go very wide and then try to put it in a pot and sort of stir it and come up with something that is unique and signature for us,” Skogland added.
Of course, unlike all of their inspirations, the team behind The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wasn't tasked with making a movie. This is after all a series, or as Skogland said, a six-hour film in which we figured out where to snip it at certain hour marks.
“I think, a huge part of that process was that we didn't just tackle one episode at a time,” Spellman said. “[Movies are] vertical storytelling, right? They are compressed time and immediate action, they all build towards one event. A series allows horizontal storytelling, and the rhythm of the storytelling is completely different, in that characters can befriend each other, fall out, and evolve in a much different way.
“So, by focusing on that horizontal story, and spreading across all those themes, you're talking about spreading across where these characters journey is going to be, before we even know what the individual episodes do. It created that feeling that you're talking about [of weaving in various socioeconomic elements in a big action story] where there's almost like this fabric that's draped over the entire series and that was born from the process.”
“You know what is terrific — I've been calling the movies the snack and this is like the meal — you really can get involved with the characters in a way, in six hours that you're just not able to in a film,” Skogland chimed in earlier. “Particularly because the films are often high octane, already immersed in some world saving event. It's very hard to you know go off on a little tangent with a character, because the stakes are so high and it's one singular direction.
“But on a series, you're able to meander a little bit, and we're able to get inside the lives of our characters, we're able to do twists and turns that are a little less straight line to the end. I love this space of being able to get inside the characters and get inside their lives.”
With a series, there's also the natural question: will there be The Falcon and the Winter Soldier season 2? Here's what Feige would say for now: “It's a funny question, and it's one that we obviously get asked much more in television, because people expect it to be what like people know before. ‘So, where's season two?' We really did approach it like we do the movies. Which is, we better make this great, or we won't be able to do another one.”
“If we were able to do another [season], there's certainly ideas. The slight difference, of course, is as you've all heard me say, — and I think is becoming clear with WandaVision — that they really will go back and forth between Disney+ series, and the Marvel Studios [movies]. So, where characters show up, and how, sometimes will be in a direct season 2. Sometimes will be in a [MCU movie], and then into an additional season. [For The Falcon and the Winter Soldier], we're just not going to say who does what right this second.”