After the spectacle, the Rubik's Cube, the mystery that was WandaVision, one can easily scoff at the notion of returning to something so familiar as Falcon and the Winter Soldier. After all, this a superhero 101 type of tale, fit with all the pomp and circumstance you'd expect, but does not go above and beyond that pretty clear framework.
It's familiar almost to the point of the mundane, as we've been told similar tales, even with similar characters before. While this does affect the overall impression of the series' first episode, it shouldn't immediately keep you from watching, because just like the tales that led to the events of this particular series, it's still satisfyingly put together, and entertaining to boot.
Like WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes place in the almost-immediate aftermath of the events of Avengers: Endgame. Billions have returned after the "Blip" was undone, but the global society is still fractured, unmade, broken, and especially the heroes that helped undo those fateful events are struggling to make ends meet, and find purpose. Both Sam Wilson (Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier) seem stuck in their respective semi-depressive conditions, but out in the distance a new threat emerges, a mysterious organisation that wants to return the world to its "pre-Blip" state.
However, that organisation, as well as main antagonist Helmut Zemo is nowhere to be found in this first episode, that's all about reintroducing us to Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and how they attempt to live healthier lives after Endgame. One extended scene gives us a glimpse of the breath-taking action sequences in store for the rest of the series, with Falcon swooping in and out of canyons with enemy helicopters hot on his tail, but other than that, it's all about steely stares and despondent sighs, as our two heroes attempt to settle.
It's clever world-building for sure, but perhaps all too familiar for some. This opening episode feels like the opening half hour of Captain America: Winter Soldier to a tee, fit with international espionage, and a more personal take on our main characters. Sure, it's familiar, but it's not just familiar from a superhero perspective, as this could just as easily be a Jack Ryan-type introduction, or even something as legendary as 24.
So, familiar? Check. But that does not mean that it's bad in any way, far from it. Both Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie deliver impressive deep performances here, imbuing their characters with new facets and ideas, which is exactly what these MCU series should be all about. The surrounding cast also does an impressive job here, almost every scene is perfectly choreographed, positioned and executed. It's professional work, perhaps even clinically so, but entertaining it is indeed.
WandaVision taught us that superhero tales can be wildly different from the approved and established formula, and therefore it does end up seeming a bit backwards to now return to a formula we know so well. But that does not mean that it isn't effective, and despite this first episode being rather empty calories, who doesn't love a good Big Mac now and again?