In 'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' finale, a new Captain America takes flight
By David Betancourt
This story contains spoilers about Episode 6 of "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier."
It was never a matter of if Anthony Mackie was going to become the next Captain America. Just a matter of when.
From the moment Mackie's Sam Wilson was handed the shield by an elderly, time-traveling Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in 2019's "Avengers: Endgame," the clock had been ticking toward the moment Sam would wield the shield as the next star-spangled Avenger.
That moment is now streaming on Disney Plus in the series (or season?) finale of "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier."
There is officially a new Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic (and streaming) Universe. And he is a Black Captain America. Although, just call him "Captain America." Not "Black Captain America." This isn't a '70s comic book.
But just because the original Captain America gives you his shield and tells you it's yours doesn't mean becoming his replacement is that easy.
The first five episodes of "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" paved a path of doubt and reluctance for Sam before he could embrace his new superhero destiny.
First there was Sam giving the shield back to the government, believing no one could be the next Captain America.
Then the government showed their appreciation the only way it knew how, by giving the shield to John Walker (Wyatt Russell) and appointing him the next Captain America.
When the new Captain America went rogue and killed a member of the Flag Smashers (one of the many antagonists on this show), he was relieved of the Cap mantle and told to take a hike.
But before Sam could give any thought to whether he should finally take the shield for himself, he got a history lesson from the first Black Captain America, Isaiah Bradley, played by veteran actor Carl Lumbly in an emotional performance. It was Lumbly who delivered this series' most powerful line in last week's fifth episode:
"You think things are different? You think times are different? . . . They will never let a Black man be Captain America. And even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever wanna be."
In a series full of super-soldiers tossing heavy things, there was no more powerful a moment than the uttering of that truth. It's no coincidence the penultimate episode was titled "Truth," a nod to the groundbreaking comic-book miniseries from Robert Morales and Kyle Baker that introduced Isaiah Bradley into the Marvel universe.
Before Sam was going to fly as Captain America, he needed to hear what he refused to see. Perhaps blinded by being an Avenger and having fought so many battles as Captain America's sidekick, he needed to know what the optics of wrapping himself in the American flag meant to so many who wouldn't want a Black man in that position - as well as the Black people who didn't think such an ascension was worth the trouble.
Why would any Black person want to be a superhero in America?
Centuries of history - and the vitriol that greets a Black person when they gain power - suggest it isn't the best idea, if you've been paying attention.
It's one that just a few years ago, no one would have thought would be asked in a show produced by Marvel Studios.
But Sam's taking of the mantle does help us inch ever closer to a new Avengers roster that ideally will look much more like the true America they protect.
And he's already prepared for the resistance he knows is coming for him and his shield.
"Every time I pick this thing up I know there are millions of people out there that are going to hate me for it . . . No super serum. No blond hair or blue eyes.
The only power I have is that I believe we can do better," Sam said in his introduction to the world as the new Captain America.
This series was supposed to debut in 2020 and was delayed by the pandemic. But there's something eerily timely about a Black Captain America flying in the sky days after the verdict in the murder of George Floyd, and Bucky having a potential Asian love interest at a time when Asian Americans don't feel safe in America because of racist attacks.
It doesn't fix anything, but you can't help but feel something when you see it.
The show's producers should get credit for Sam's Captain America superhero suit coming from Wakanda and not the United States government. It's a not-too-subtle way of saying the United States government still isn't ready for such imagery and never would have passed the baton itself.
In the end, Sam decides if he descends from the people who built this country for free, at the very least he can fight to protect that same country.
It's not a sentiment that everyone will agree with, but what is Captain America if not a consistently polarizing figure?
And in case the changing of the guard wasn't clear, the finale ends with a title change. Gone is "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" - this series is now called "Captain America and the Winter Soldier."
Now the question remains just where will this Captain America go with his new suit and shield? According to The Hollywood Reporter, a fourth Captain America movie is in the works - it'll be written by "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" head writer Malcolm Spellman, along with Dalan Musson.
There is undeniably more story to tell. Sam and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) are still partners.
John Walker has a new black suit and is finally tapping into his comic book roots, being renamed U.S. Agent by a shadowy organization led by Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
Former Cap love interest Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) is now evil but no one knows it.
And it is laughable to think the dancing machine otherwise known as Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) will be held in the super-prison he's currently in.
After a historic debut on Disney Plus, the new Captain America looks to be headed back to the big screen.