Audiences for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier expected the worst from John Walker’s Captain America, but he might not be so bad after all.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 2, “The Star Spangled Man”, now broadcast on Disney +.
In preparation for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, fans braced alongside the two main characters to hate Captain America’s replacement, John Walker. Steve Rogers left behind big enough red boots to fill. So when the show’s debut episode ended with the news that the United States government had unveiled a new Captain America, complete with the original’s shield, it was best to expect the worst. But in actually getting to know the character from “The Star Spangled Man,” there was a big twist: the new Captain America is really nice.
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The John Walker from the comics is the character most fans expected. The ultra-patriotic super soldier first took Captain America’s place during the hero’s own crisis. Over time, Walker established his own individual personality that represented the worst of the country that Steve Rogers loved so much. He could get angry quickly, be brutal in his problem solving, and even jingoistic when it came to accepting outside points of view. He became known as Agent of the USA, and those qualities are what the live-action adaptation could still embody over time. But for now, the Marvel series is going in a completely different direction.
Unlike his comic book counterpart, the show’s John Walker is an obedient soldier who is somewhat reluctant to learn the trick of disguise his country has imposed on him. He does not go about his business with arrogant self-assurance, but rather with an almost grim and burdened approach. At the same time, he sits on paper naturally, providing the responses expected of a government puppet during his television interview. He visits his old high school for the media launch of his new role and references his past as a sportsman in the schoolyard, but he has none of the intimidating quality that came to define his character on the printed page.
Sam and Bucky are also reluctant to work with him, refusing his help when he first offers it after his failed mission against the Flag-Smashers. Throughout the episode, John makes repeated offers to work alongside the two heroes and, resentful of what he stands for and the government’s betrayal of Sam’s trust by passing Steve’s shield to John, the two reject his offers. . A hint of John’s more aggressive side shows up when he warns them to stay out of his way, but for the moment, he seems to be completely well-intentioned.
Perhaps the quality that makes John the easiest to like is his lack of superpowers, which makes him struggle to keep up in the role of the superhero to the best of his ability. While he is a highly trained soldier and wields the star-sequined shield with incredible skill, as soon as he sacrifices the shield in the middle of a fight to save his partner, it becomes clear how sadly he is outmatched by anyone with powers. Therefore, there is something noble about their efforts.
This sets up the character to be much more dimensioned than many fans may have expected, and could make a fall from grace that much more dramatically alluring. Rather than taking an idiot and turning him into a worse idiot over the course of the series, audiences get to see a potentially really cool guy pampered by the power and influence imposed on him. Much of Falcon and the Winter Soldier focuses on the world’s struggles to fill the void left by Steve Rogers’ absence. If Bucky and Sam are going to be successful in their own fights, what better way to highlight them than to have a different hero fail?
Directed by Kari Skogland, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier stars Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Wyatt Russell, Noah Mills, Carl Lumbly, and Daniel Brühl. New episodes debut Fridays on Disney +.
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