Wield the Shield

Falcon and the Winter Soldier does one incredible trick with Cap’s shield

Here’s why the shield feels so different in the Disney+ series.

Symbols have always been important in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the symbol is clear: it’s all about Captain America’s shield and what it represents.

From the very first scene, Cap’s signature weapon has been at the center of this story and the source of conflict between Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), and John Walker (Wyatt Russell).

The series has explored complicated discussions about what the shield symbolizes both in and out of the Marvel Universe, but there’s something more subtle happening with the shield that’s worthy of attention — something visual, something mechanical, making all those weighty metaphors land even harder.

In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Cap’s shield finally feels heavy.

Captain America’s Shield in Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Marvel Studios

Watching the first five episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it’s difficult not to be struck by just how heavy the shield suddenly feels. The series is littered with cutaway shots of it falling, rolling, or being placed on the ground, all of which are accompanied by deep thuds or the loud, whining ring of vibranium making contact with the floor. The show’s filmmakers clearly want you to notice the weight of the shield.

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It’s a technique that feels reminiscent of the way Peter Jackson depicted the One Ring in the Lord of the Rings trilogy — namely, the way he made sure it didn’t bounce when it was dropped by magnetizing the floors underneath it. That decision resulted in the ring feeling heavier in those films than it actually would be. That, in turn, made it easier for Jackson to visually communicate the emotional and psychological burden the Ring has on its bearers.

The shots in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier all work to evoke a similar response in us as viewers — the shield just feels heavier.

Marvel Studios

Even the way the shield is held or thrown in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier feels different than previous Marvel films.

The show’s characters all seem to throw their entire weight behind every swing and sling of the shield. That’s not to say that Chris Evans didn’t put some force behind it either, but there’s a clear visual difference between the way he handled the shield and the way Anthony Mackie does.

When Mackie throws the shield, he turns his entire body to do so, and he visibly prepares himself for the force of catching it when it comes back to him. Where Chris Evans handled the shield with an ease and grace that made it feel weightless, Mackie and Stan carry it in a way that achieves the exact opposite effect. You feel the weight of the shield when the characters in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier hold it.

And that’s because they feel it too.

The Weight of a Legacy

Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger.Marvel Studios

So much of the drama in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is about coming to terms with the reality of the Captain America legacy — both the good and the bad sides of it.

For Sam, Bucky, and even John Walker, holding the shield means accepting the burden of trying to live up to the legacy of Steve Rogers. And so, extra weight is added to the shield.

That also explains why Steve — in addition to his super strength — didn’t communicate the shield’s weight as much as the characters in Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Steve didn’t feel the emotional or physical weight of the shield because it was his. He had no legacy of a previous owner to contend or reckon with. For Sam, Bucky, and even John Walker, Steve’s ownership of the shield is the only thing that gives it weight and importance.

In truth, the one moment in the previous MCU films when the shield ever feels quite as heavy as it does in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is when Steve drops it after his fight with Tony at the end of Captain America: Civil War. And why does it feel heavier there than any of the other times it’s shown in the films? Because it’s the only moment when it felt that heavy to Steve.

Marvel Studios

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is streaming now on Disney+.