We’re still not over Avengers: Endgame, and neither is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Every single show and movie released since the MCU’s Thanos showdown has reckoned with the fallout from the Blip, whether that’s through comedy (Spider-Man: Far From Home), meta hijinks (WandaVision), or political commentary (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier).
Each of those stories featured superheroes dealing with the trauma incurred during Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, but only The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has been able to fully explore the broader ramifications of what Thanos did — and it makes WandaVision look a little superficial by comparison.
What Falcon and the Winter Soldier gets right
When it comes to its villains, Falcon and the Winter Soldier gets a lot wrong. Baron Zemo is fun, but if you think about it too hard, we’ve basically been watching a mass-murdering war criminal make clever jokes and cut it up on the Madripoor dance floor. The Flag-Smashers are even worse, serving as a completely shallow villain that also manages to play into Marvel’s worst tendencies. But buried somewhere deep in the Flag-Smashers is an interesting idea.
We’re supposed to think the ending of Avengers: Endgame is a happy one. Despite a few major deaths, billions of people are brought back to life. On the surface, that’s a good thing, but in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we see the dark side of that story.
Five years is a long time to wait. In the gap between Infinity War and the end of Endgame, people moved on. Entire nations moved on. With a dramatically lowered population, borders were loosened to allow easy travel. Nationalism and xenophobia fell by the wayside to keep the economy from collapsing.
This alone is a fascinating idea that we’ll probably never really see explored onscreen in the MCU. But what happens next is even more interesting. With the Blip undone, the billions of people who turned to dust return, and nationalism returns with them. The chaos starts to subside, but not everyone is happy about it.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is doing something that feels unprecedented, at least for a big-budget superhero story. It’s exploring the socio-economic ramifications of a story like Avengers: Endgame. Even if the Flag-Smashers turn out to be basic bad guys in the end, it’s impressive that the series even tried.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier vs. WandaVision
WandaVision was never going to be that type of show for multiple reasons. For one thing, it’s set just a few weeks after Endgame. The wounds of that movie are still fresh. It takes six months after the Blip for groups like the Flag-Smashers to start gaining momentum in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
WandaVision was also a more personal show, focused entirely on the emotions of its characters. And it was a localized show, set almost exclusively in one New Jersey town. Sure, the town appears to be struggling economically, but we have no idea if that has anything to do with Thanos or if it’s just classic American decline.
Instead of exploring the broader ripples of Endgame, WandaVision focused on the immediate impact. Sometimes that was powerful (like Wanda dealing with the grief of losing Vision), but a lot of the time it was pretty silly. (Kat Dennings and Randall Park arguing over which members of the Avengers fought best against Thanos in the final showdown is fun fan service, but it’s not very deep.)
WandaVision was never going to offer a macro perspective on life after Endgame, and that’s fine. But in the context of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, what the earlier show was able to do looks shallow by comparison.
The simple idea that some people preferred life during the Blip alone is fascinating. Expanding outwards to understand why that might be is even more interesting. And while Falcon and the Winter Soldier probably won’t offer any actual answers in Episode 6, the fact that it’s even asking these questions in the first place reveals just how different these two shows really are.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision are streaming now on Disney+.