The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Action;
Not rated.
Stars Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Wyatt Russell, Erin Kellyman, Danny Ramirez, Georges St-Pierre, Adepero Oduye, Clé Bennett, Carl Lumbly, Daniel Brühl, Emily VanCamp.

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has earned a reputation for excellence when it comes to superhero entertainment in general, the “Captain America” movies in particular have emerged as the best sub-franchise within it.

Indeed, within the vast expanse of the MCU, the “Captain America” trilogy has been the most consistent in elevating the source material into something more than mere spectacle, infusing common themes of duty, honor and loyalty into complex political allegories with deeper meaning than most comic book movies, while also serving as fantastic action thrillers in their own right.

The story of Captain America, of course, continued beyond just the movies that bore his name, with Steve Rogers growing from a skinny kid in Brooklyn to the ultimate soldier in World War II to a man frozen in time, parlaying his values into becoming the leader of the Avengers.

Along the way, two of Steve’s allies would stand out above the rest. First was his childhood best friend, Bucky Barnes, who would seemingly die in WWII, only to return as a super soldier, like Steve, but brainwashed into aiding the forces of evil. Rescuing Bucky from his curse as the Winter Soldier became one of Steve’s primary goals, particularly in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.

Steve’s best friend in modern times was Sam Wilson, the unassuming former soldier who had settled into a life counseling veterans suffering from PTSD before finding himself joining Steve’s fight in 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier. By the end of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, Steve was ready to retire, and chose to pass on his famous shield to Sam.

In picking up that story, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a show as much about the legacy of the “Captain America” movies as it is about the legacy of character.

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Set several months after the events of Endgame, the show reveals that Sam (Anthony Mackie) has decided he’s not worthy of taking on the mantle of Captain America, preferring to carry on as the Falcon, taking on various missions for the U.S. government. Instead, he donates the shield to the Smithsonian, believing it will inspire more as a symbol.

Bucky (Sebastian Stan), now freed of the programming that forced him to be an assassin, spends his time trying to make amends his victims and their families.

Their reality is soon shattered on two fronts. First, the U.S. government appoints a new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell), and gives him the shield. Second, efforts to rebuild world governments in the wake of Thanos’ attack in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame are threatened by a growing political movement called the Flag Smashers, who are stealing medicine and other resources and seem to have access to new sources of super soldier serum.

And so, Bucky, upset at Sam for turning down the mantle of Captain America, reunites with him to learn the secrets of the Flag Smashers and contain the serum. Along the way, the duo reluctantly crosses paths with Walker, who is after the same thing but not as understanding as what it means to be Captain America as Sam and Bucky would like.

This sets off a globetrotting adventure that brings back a number of characters from the “Captain America” movies, and offers a few surprise cameos, while also touching on a number of political themes relevant to today.

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This is a much different show than the previous MCU Disney+ entry, WandaVision, which was much more of a mystery box gimmick. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier plays like a more conventional action drama, though very much in the tone of Captain America: Winter Soldier, itself among the very best of the MCU movies. Also, where WandaVision was more about exploring some of the minor characters from all over the MCU, TFATWS is very much playing in the “Captain America” sandbox. It even brings back Henry Jackman to do the music, and using the same character themes from the movies only enriches the show’s feeling as the continuation of an epic “Captain America” story.

Sam and Bucky, often paired together while working with Steve, are now forced to carry on without that binding element, and the show often feels like a fun buddy cop movie with their clashing personalities and styles. The underlying subtext, of course, is why Sam shied away from taking on Steve’s mantle, and the show is not afraid to dive into the question of what it means for a black man to serve as Captain America. But it also ably demonstrates why Steve thought Sam was the perfect choice to do it.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, while presented as six hourlong episodes, when binged plays like an epic movie that will leave Captain America fans cheering for the continuing adventures of these characters.

Doctor Sleep

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Horror;
Box Office $31.58 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use.
Stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood.

It’s not exactly a secret that Stephen King didn’t much care for Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of King’s 1977 novel The Shining. King’s distaste for the film was even a plot point in the 2018 film version of Ready Player One.

So it’s a bit remarkable, then, that King, serving as executive producer of the adaptation of his 2013 sequel Doctor Sleep, would allow the film to quote so much of Kubrick’s work.

Somehow, director Mike Flanagan has managed to make a film that both faithfully follows Kubrick’s version of The Shining while reconciling the differences between the source material and the film that irked King to begin with. The result is one of the better King adaptations, a terse game of supernatural cat-and-mouse that manages to be far more interesting than other recent King-to-screen efforts such as the bloated It: Chapter Two.

Like the book, the film picks up the story of young Danny Torrance, the little boy tormented by his father in The Shining, as he grows into a troubled adulthood (where he’s played by Ewan McGregor). Like his father, Dan has descended into alcoholism, turning to booze to drown out the traumas of his experiences at the Overlook hotel.

But he has also learned to deal with the ghosts that sought him due to his telepathic powers, and after reaching rock bottom manages to sober up and get a job at a hospice, where he uses his powers to help the terminally ill die peacefully, earning the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

His telepathy also puts him into contact with others with the shining power, including a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran). She alerts Dan to a cult of shiners led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) who seek immortality by murdering innocent children to claim their youth.

Dan then must take steps to protect Abra when the cult decides to come after her next.

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Flanagan re-creates sequences from The Shining, albeit with different actors embodying the spirit of the original film, to effectively bridge the time gap between the two stories. The use of different actors can be a bit uncanny for those familiar with Kubrick’s film, especially if watched back to back with The Shining, since Flanagan admits he didn’t feel the need to go down the rabbit hole of digital re-creations of the original actors as long as he stayed true to the characters. He does a nice job matching Kubrick’s visual style, however, re-creating specific scenes and even using the original film’s music to good effect. Flanagan’s script also references plot elements of the second book that weren’t fully carried over into the film version.

As much as the film is a journey for Danny to reconcile traumas of his youth with the potential for using his abilities to help the world, so too it seems is it a chance for King to embrace the legacy of Kubrick’s version, which is often considered one of the greatest horror films of all time. In interviews before the theatrical release of Doctor Sleep, he spoke to elements of Flanagan’s screenplay that redeemed Kubrick’s version for him, and he echoes those sentiments in the home video bonus materials, in which he seems very much to have softened his stance toward the original film.

Indeed, the sequel does provide some deeper context for what transpired at the Overlook in the first film while giving Dan a chance to atone for his father’s demons.

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The Blu-ray includes a three-hour director’s cut, which runs about a half-hour longer than the theatrical cut. There aren’t really any scenes that change the meaning of the work, but the new material does give the story a chance to breathe by developing the characters a bit more. There are also more scenes of young Danny and his mother that take place shortly after The Shining, deepening Danny’s personal story and enhancing the film’s effectiveness as a psychological thriller while making it more of a bridge between King’s and Kubrick’s interpretations of the first novel.

Really, the director’s cut is the definitive version of the film, so anyone who hasn’t seen it should probably just start there.

The Blu-ray combo packs of Doctor Sleep include the theatrical cut on one disc and the director’s cut on another — so the 4K Ultra HD combo pack has just the theatrical cut on a 4K disc, with the director’s cut on a standard Blu-ray. The bonus materials are presented on the theatrical cut disc in both the 4K Ultra HD and standard Blu-ray combo packs. Each combo pack is only two discs, so the 4K pack doesn’t have a theatrical cut or extras on a standard Blu-ray.

However, the digital redemption code gives access to both the theatrical and the director’s cut, and all the extras as well, with the digital code from the 4K Ultra HD combo pack providing a 4K digital copy of the director’s cut.

Included are three featurettes running a bit more than a half-hour in total that are aimed at fans intrigued by the prospects of a King-approved sequel to Kubrick’s Shining. The 14-minute “The Making of Doctor Sleep: A New Vision” deals with the general making of the film, the five-minute “From Shining to Sleep” provides an overview of how the filmmakers went about trying to connect the disparate movie and film versions of King’s vision, while the 15-minute “Return to the Overlook” focuses on re-creating the iconic sets of the first film.