Following in the footsteps of WandaVision, Marvel has taken on two of its minor heroes (both of them started out in Marvel’s movies as sidekicks for the original Captain America, Steve Rogers), put them in an adventurous buddy adventure, and then pivoted on a dime in order to tackle some serious and very human issues through their more-than-human characters. And they put their necks on the line to attack these issues, especially in the charged era we find ourselves in right now; things could have gone south very quickly with this one. But Marvel pulled it off… barely. Bravo.
There are no shortages of reviews for this series, so I’m just going to comment on the things that struck me; the first being Isaiah Bradley. Most people who don’t read comics knew nothing about Isaiah, but his story is only a few years old, having been written into the Captain America mythos with a deliberate reference to the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment that involved doctors lying to local Africans. Considering there are many Africans in America today who use that bit of history to avoid getting vaccinated in the middle of a dread pandemic, referencing that story at this time in history is just plain ballsy.
But it worked; mainly through the effective work of the writers and actors, especially Carl Lumbly. Lumbly, who has a long and impressive history of roles, knocked it out of the park portraying Isaiah Bradley, the bitter soldier who was unknowingly experimented on with many other African soldiers, served his country as a patriotic super-soldier, was rewarded by being thrown in jail and experimented on, and who didn’t gain freedom until after he was declared dead. That’s a deep story to tell, but Lumbly told it and made you feel his intense pain and anger over his treatment by the American government.
Bradley’s story was meant to inform Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, that America had never been good to African-Americans (which, duh, it hasn’t), and that no self-respecting Black man would want to represent such a country. But Sam’s final decision is that Isaiah’s sacrifice would be wasted if Sam doesn’t stand up and prove he can be Captain America; in fact he has every right to be Cap, and no one has the right to tell him he can’t do it. And he does a great job as Captain America, as only an MCU superhero can.
At this point, I’ll say that the production itself was worthy of a Marvel property. Marvel puts the work in to make sure its productions look good, and know where to cut corners without losing that quality. Though most of the city sets look like… well, sets… the surroundings and effects are top-notch. And they know how to get the most out of their actors, with very few exceptions. From start to finish, the series was a joy to watch.
As great and powerful as all this is, it’s a disappointment that the primary villain of the series is a group of morons; specifically, the Flag Smashers extremist group. Here was an organization of people who wanted to protect the multitudes of the planet who returned after Avengers: Endgame‘s un-snap, and who found themselves displaced, homeless, jobless refugees in the recovering world; but the Flag Smashers’ strategy to help those refugees was to become callous terrorists, basically poisoning the message they wanted to sell by destroying property and killing innocents. And the plan to create super-soldiers to aid them in their mission was a plot-point quickly lost in the shuffle.
To make matters worse, the Flag Smashers motto was “One World, One People,” maybe the most globally-needed credo there exists today. This group was doing all the worst things for plot reasons, talking about saving refugees and acting like all they wanted was to burn the world. I hated the idea that a group of people who clearly wanted to help the world were acting like B-movie bad guys, and dragging such a prescient slogan down with them. I blame the showrunner, and in conjunction, the show’s writers, for taking such a noble cause and mishandling their characters so sloppily.
I’d also like to blame whoever decided that this series should have been only six episodes, because frankly it wasn’t enough to really do all the show’s stories justice. I thought it was enough for Isaiah Bradley’s story, but seeing more of the indignities perpetrated on him would’ve been better. The backstory of the Flag Smashers; the rise, fall and fate of John Walker as the new Captain America-cum-US Agent; Bucky Barnes’ journey to find some closure and peace after years of being a brainwashed assassin; and significantly, the struggles of a world trying to find places for the half of the global population who were thought lost forever; all of those themes
could have should have been worth another 10-15 episodes to properly deal with. But I suppose the showrunners figured the series was already to political and preachy (exactly what the fanboyz are bitching about in its aftermath).
So: Overall, brave in concept, excellent as usual in production, but mostly lacking in story execution. I’m glad they were brave enough to tackle such a serious set of issues; they should have been given enough time to tackle them well. But at least we got out of it great performances, particularly from Anthony Mackie and Carl Lumbly, and a message that anyone from any background can be Captain America… as long as they are Good People.