(Welcome to Great Moments in MCU History, where we fondly recall great little bits that made us fall in love with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.)
Not everything in the Marvel Universe works out according to a master plan handed down from on high. It’s just that 99% of it does appear to arrive that way. Maybe that’s because they’re all just super geniuses over there. Or maybe it’s because they are quick to take advantage of happy accidents. Or maybe sometimes it’s just a matter of being patient enough for a bad idea to find proper application.
Today’s moment offers a good example of all three approaches. It’s an extremely minor scene from Captain America: Civil War, which is now an ancient five years old. Civil War is a movie with a whole lot of business to conduct. You have to get Captain America and Iron Man at odds with each other, dramatize everyone else in the MCU picking a side, and make a little headway on the brewing romance between Wanda and Vision. Then you have to introduce major characters like Black Panther and the shocking inclusion of a new Spider-Man. Oh, and there is a villain to worry about too. Plus, all the heroes have to fight for like 20 minutes at some point.
So there’s a lot of movie to stuff into this movie. Which is why it’s important Marvel (or in this case, the Russo Brothers) utilize a deft hand at quick moments of characterization. Each quirk has to run a mile, which is basically what happens in this very brief scene.
The scene’s narrative utility is extremely simple. Cap, Falcon and Bucky are on the run, but they won’t get very far without their gear. And that’s it. Somehow they have to get their stuff.
Luckily, Cap is friends with Sharon Carter, his old fake neighbor from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and great niece of his life’s one big love, Peggy Carter. She’s still right with the government, and as such, is able to smuggle out all their stuff. It’s not exactly plausible, but we would all be complaining if this already too-long movie stopped for a whole mini-heist justifying how difficult it was for her. Best to just accept it and move on.
Speaking of moving on, the film doesn’t do that. Not quite yet. Having burned through business in about 10 seconds, we spend the remainder of this minute on character work. Falcon and Bucky bicker. Cap kisses Sharon. Falcon and Bucky put their bickering aside to give their boy approving smiles like two happy parents.
So 10 seconds of business, 50 seconds of character frosting. Except what was a fun little scene in 2016 is now kind of the basis for a whole dang Disney+ mini-series.
Why It’s So Great
A lot of people really love Bucky. I never quite understood it because there is so little to grab onto with him. The Bucky Barnes we met in Captain America: The First Avenger is long gone. And Bucky wasn’t really Bucky in Winter Soldier, either. Civil War was our first chance to get to know the character he’d come to occupy in the MCU, and – at the risk of enraging all you Bucky fanatics – he’s kind of a snore. His fringe living and heavy guilt hardly make him a character you want to spend six episodes of a television show with.
The one bright spot, however, is his funny antagonistic relationship with Sam Wilson, AKA the Falcon. These interactions offer far more displays of Bucky’s humanity than his somber, stoic scenes with Steve. Irritation isn’t the most charming character trait, but at least it’s something.
Falcon’s a better character, but not by much. There’s just not much for him to do, and the MCU has had to work around his stance as a powerless Avenger with a piece of technology literally anyone could learn to use by focusing on that humility. He’s not rich, he’s not super-powered. He’s basically just a good person Steve believes in, and, crucially, he knows it. His best scene is not soaring through the air, saving the day, but rather getting his ass kicked by Ant-Man.
The two characters don’t like each other, but they have Steve’s respect in common. That’s plenty, and as a result, we now have a fun buddy action-comedy where all they do is bicker. It’s shallow, but it’s also the best utilization of these characters we’ve seen so far. Falcon’s limitations make him relatable, while Bucky’s grumpiness brings out his humanity.
And then you have Sharon Carter, Marvel’s bad idea. Probably long before anyone knew Captain America’s story would end with him going back in time to marry Peggy Carter, they tried to stir up a romance between him and Peggy’s distant relative. It’s an icky image, something no one wanted and Marvel didn’t have time to explore anyway.
But did they throw away this bad idea? No, they held onto it, just in case. And here we are, three episodes into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, getting an update on Sharon. On the run thanks to this equipment drop-off, surely affected in some way by the blip, and temporally jilted in a major way by Captain America, Sharon’s much less chipper than we remember. Maybe she’ll appear in further episodes, maybe she won’t. Either way, whatever jolt audiences received from seeing her again was built on the work done in this one minute of Civil War. Which, combined with the referenced bickering between Falcon and Bucky, makes this a surprisingly important minute to the 2021 MCU.
What if Bucky and Falcon liked each other? Their bickering is fun, but can you imagine a version of this where they bonded immediately and feel overcome with joy each time they see each other? So much so that it becomes weird to see them apart? I enjoy the character dynamic we got, but occasionally wish we got something like this instead, especially three episodes into a show where all they do is argue.
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