Falcon, the Winter Soldier & the MCU’s Original Sin

I had an early impression of the Disney+ superhero show that it was very like the set of gritty Netflix Marvel shows from a few years ago (Daredevil, Jessica Jones etc). The latest episode (4) confirmed that feeling when the erzatz Captain America starts down a dark path.

Shakespeare’s modes of greatness (some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them) doesn’t quite map onto Marvel’s superhero origins. All of the heroes have to work to achieve greatness but the powers/abilities fall into two camps: born with them or acquired less than willingly (by accident, compulsion or force of circumstance). Setting out to get special powers is atypical.

Birth or circumstance is not guarantee of superhero status and both can be part of villain’s origin story. However, seeking is an almost guaranteed path to evil. The nearest current counter-example in the MCU Steven Strange, yet even there his motive was to repair the damage to his hands from a car accident.

In the Netflix MCU adjacent shows there were multiple cases of people setting out to gain superpowers whose hubris would lead them down a dark path. Marvel tells us that superheroes are great but perversely wanting to be a superhero is the worst thing.

I dislike the fact that Zemo in Falcon & the Winter Soldier has abandoned the version we had in Civil War, where he was a unique and effective character. However, the new Zemo is a personification of this underlying animosity towards wanting superpowers. It is kind of neat to have a Marvel plot device turned into a character but it does underline the pseudo-moral message behind both Karli and the new Captain America. Even the extent to which they both still have some scope for redemption comes from the fact that they were partly forced or pressurised into the circumstance that has made them only quasi-heroes.

It is a species of pseudo-ethics, there is no well thought through thesis behind the idea but rather an arbitrary way of dealing with why everybody can’t be superheroes.

I’ll write a fuller review of the series once it is complete and for the meantime just make stray comments.

12 thoughts on “Falcon, the Winter Soldier & the MCU’s Original Sin

  1. Not on a comment on the show, but that I need to spend several months gorging on Disney+ this summer. I tend to only do one or or two streaming services at a time and I’m not doing this one right now so I’ll need drop one of the other before I can do this one.

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  2. Marvel’s always been big on the alienation of superheroes, though, hasn’t it? The Hulk, Spider-Man, the Silver Surfer, the X-Men – all persecuted and woefully misunderstood. The only group I can think of that gets generally positive responses is the Fantastic Four, and even they’ve had their ups and downs in the PR department. It all adds to the dramatic Angst, and it means you can have ambivalent, morally grey characters, who may be supervillains one week and heroes the next, or vice versa. There have been times when half the Avengers’ line-up have been reformed supervillains, and there’s always a worry that some of them might flip back over to the dark side at any moment.

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    1. Not recall exactly — it was before I was born — but there was an era when a full three-quarters of the Avengers lineup was characters who started out as villains.

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      1. I think at one point they’re down to Captain America (not a villain), Hawkeye (former Iron Man villain), Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (ex-Brotherhood of Evil Mutants).

        Mind you, it’s not always easy to tell what the line-up is – you’re never quite sure who’s left the team, or is out of action for medical reasons, or is just sulking in their tent at any given time.

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      2. Yes, that’s the era I’m talking about; affectionately known as “Cap’s Kooky Quartet”.

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  3. My take is this is one of those wonderfully American takes on the social hierarchy, influenced strongly by the ways that the USA (which is a strongly classed society with a definite hierarchy of social ranks and definite levels of social capital required to fit into those ranks) thinks of itself as a classless society. The underlying message of the MCU’s attitude on superpowers is “everyone should stay where they are put” – if you were born working class, you have no business attempting to lift yourself up to middle class; the middle class should remain in the middle, rather than attempting to rise higher, and nobody but nobody should be threatening the power of those who see themselves as the ruling class in the USA (billionaires, politicians, etc). It’s okay if you’re forcibly removed from your former context by events (but even so, it’s a lot better if you’re a – deserving – billionaire inventor rather than a working-class – undeserving – high school kid or scientist – consider the press Iron Man gets compared to the press Spiderman or the Hulk gets), and in those circumstances it’s acceptable for you to try to fit into a new role. But you aren’t allowed to go seeking power yourself, even if you’re the most disempowered person on the planet, because seeking additional power, seeking to advance up the social ladder, is EVIL. It’s not staying where you were put.

    When you strip Marvel’s messages down, they’re actually a rather conservative mob underneath it all.

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  4. The ending was chilling.

    I liked how Walker was photographed in conventional hero pose, but with the blood dripping off the shield and a mad look in his eyes.

    Once this goes viral, it isn’t good for anyone. Sam and Bucky need to take him down. If he dies, well, too bad. Maybe the serum combined with his excess testosterone will cause him to spontaneously combust.

    Sam did SO WELL talking to Karli. He was really getting through to her. “Talking is better than punching” is a good message, I think. Even the Bionic Staring Machine realized that.

    Zemo made me laugh, with his sipping the drink and then calmly exiting mid-fight, like you often saw in Westerns. And *of course* the force of evil lures kids with Turkish Delight; Zemo probably loved the White Witch.

    Seeing the Dora Milaje again was really good. They need to just kick everyone’s ass regularly.

    Still don’t know what the deal is with Sharon, but she certainly has All The Gadgets.

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  5. What was interesting for me in the episode is that I thought they were, from the material they dropped in before, setting GRC up as a semi-bad, imperialistic organization that had ordered Walker to not only go after the super soldier terrorists but get one captured and get the serum if he could, which he could then take to become fully Captain America.

    Instead, it turned out that Walker has been left to pretty much just direct things on his own and try to be Captain America, which Sam and Bucky show him that he is very much not, and then the Dora show him further. So he takes the serum vial and hides it and debates taking it, rather than letting the GRC know he has it. And rather than capture one of the super soldiers for study, he kills him in a rage over the loss of his friend. Walker is still a grey character but has done horrible things (in the name of American imperialism.) Being Captain America was for him a sort of redemption, which is more the theme of the series, it seems, than that seeking superpowers are bad. Sam is trying to redeem himself with his family and what he lost, Bucky is trying to redeem what he’s done, Walker is trying to redeem what he’s done, Zemo is trying to redeem out of survivor’s guilt re his family, etc.

    But Walker has just thrown away his redemption shot. Apparently episode 5 is going to be pretty full of stuff so that will be interesting. Did love that Zemo got to pick the hotel and use his money for it and thus had a sewer escape set-up after bribing children with Turkish Delight. Bucky and Sam make lousy guards.

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