Despite the way Falcon & the Winter Soldier dips into "typical" Marvel fare, it's surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly, considering its subject matter) the most sobering MCU title, perhaps ever.
The first episode comes in with a high-octane aerial battle that presents great feats of real life aerial acrobatics and fantastic CGI, then drops the reality of structural economic prejudice skewing heavily against Black people in America without missing a beat.
The way this series delves into issues most Marvel titles are unwilling to address sets it apart from many other titles. Wandavision did a fantastic job with its insight into personal, emotional, and psychological crises through a fantasy lens, but Falcon And Winter Soldier covers societal crises relevant to the US with surprising nuance often missed in wide-appeal MCU action films.
The reveal of John Walker at the end of the first episode captures the feeling of dread and helpless anger perfectly, with Sam's rightful position as bearer of Steve's shield transformed by the American government without his knowledge or consent.
Even only two episodes in, the introduction of Isaiah Bradley, though brief, also delves into the role of real life American war crimes and racism seeping into every aspect of the storytelling. Isaiah Bradley's story as a super soldier with a flawed serum reflects the real life experimentation on Black people in the USA. In a few short lines, his history as an actual superhero and his long-term incarceration despite this, nails how many Black and other POC in the USA were historically treated despite enormous contributions to the country.
Even after this scene, the hits keep coming, with Sam immediately profiled by wandering police patrols while arguing with Bucky, and only able to get out of the situation favourably due to his status as a superhero.
Beyond Sam and Bucky, the Flag Smashers, who were introduced as dangerous insurgents in the first episode, are shown to be sympathetic and selfless individuals with a cause they and other civilians care about, putting their actions in a much more complex light than previously assumed.
In contrast, John Walker as the new Captain America is shown to be both more empathetic and earnest than initially expected, while also being subtly dangerous in his and the American military's influence.
It'll be interesting to see the direction it takes at the end of its run, but every episode so far has so much to say. More so than even most Marvel films before it, touching on darker themes not seen since the Netflix Marvel series, in which Jessica Jones tackled themes of rape and PTSD, among others.
With four more episodes to go, hopefully each instalment can land with as much weight and purpose.