Tony Leung’s Wenwu Is One of The Best Marvel Villains Since Killmonger
Spoilers for The Falcon and The Winter Soldier finale below.
After its quick run, the first season of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has come to an end. Now, it is an excellent time to reflect on how well the show delivers on the development of its two main characters, Sam Wilson a.k.a. the Falcon and James ‘Bucky’ Barnes, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier. The Falcon becoming Black Captain America, indeed, is a cultural moment made possible with over-the-top speeches and a canon superhero suit (I am kind of worried about Sam’s head though. Steve Rogers was a supersoldier, and even he wore a full-on helmet). Even with a degree of preposterousness, Sam’s metamorphosis into Captain America also felt earnest and timely in a way.
The Winter Soldier arc of the show, on the other hand, is rather frivolous and underdeveloped. That is a shame considering that Sebastian Stan actually possesses that boyish charisma to pull attention to his character, which, along with Stan’s chemistry with Chris Evans, made The Winter Soldier my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date.
Marvel went with 6 episodes for this season of the show. It was a fast and intense ride filled with action scenes on almost every corner. Perhaps, less commitment to pompous storytelling modeled after its films and more intention to take advantage of the space that TV offers would have helped to slowly weave out the complexities of its main characters throughout the course of a longer season.
Compared to his partner, Bucky is left to sort of flail about. Except for maybe two moments in the whole season, he does not get into his trauma of being left by Steve, who literally became a criminal to save him but then suddenly, just as Bucky has freed his mind and was ready to heal, abandoned him for that heteronormative bliss with Peggy Carter. There was so much build-up to the potential of Bucky’s character, starting from The Winter Soldier and continuing into the Civil War. When he and his relationship with Steve were completely disregarded in the last two Avengers movies, one could only have hoped that a series with Bucky as one of the leads would circle back to it (even without Steve being present on screen). Alas, Marvel Studios seems to have profited enough from queerbaiting the relationship between these two.
Instead, we are expected to deduce how badly Bucky might be dealing with his new life by seeing him sleep on the floor and by appreciating Sebastian Stan’s excellent skill of tightening his jaw. The finale also wants us to believe that this 106-year-old man who only conquered his inner serial killer 6 years ago is just fine now. Bucky returns his little notebook with the names of the people he hurt to his therapist clearly indicating that he is not coming back for another session. Someone should really tell him that this is not how therapy works.
What could have been an insightful take on restorative rather than punitive justice became one minute barely a dialogue between Bucky and Yori, the father of the man the Winter Soldier killed years ago. Did Bucky actually explain why he had to kill Yori’s son, thus giving this old man some peace? Did he offer some ways to amend for taking an innocent life? Why make us feel invested in that storyline only to sloppily put a neat bow on it at the very last minute? So many questions.
Even though I am happy to see Sam’s character finally shine and step away from the designated Black sidekick role he has been given all these years, I wish we had seen way more of Bucky’s PTSD and healing journey than a couple of dramatic conversations. There was so much potential for this character to go beyond the oversimplified bad-guy-turned-good-guy narrative and to finally face the queer-coded way in which he has been presented to the fans since Bucky’s first introduction on the big screen. Granted, Sam’s nephew’s use of Bucky’s arm for pull-ups did almost compensate for the lack of character development but even that wasn’t enough.
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