Anthony Mackie is the best choice for Falcon that the film directors could have made. I liked him right from the get-go. And, while I sympathize with the actor’s wish that his costume was more like the comic book hero’s, the thing is that he still has a neat outfit.
Like his part in The Winter Soldier, Mackie’s Sam Wilson is still “doing what [Cap] does, just slower.” In this film, however, his role in Steve’s life has grown and changed somewhat from its initial parameters. How do we know this?
While Natasha is the only Avenger from the previous iteration of the team to remain an active member, Sam’s position on the new team actually seems higher than hers. Natasha is acting as Cap’s second as a trainer for the “New Avengers.” On the battlefield, though, Sam Wilson is Steve’s right-hand man.
During the fight in Lagos, Falcon consistently acts as Steve’s second. His close bond with the First Avenger has strengthened by this time. Where the two were casual war buddies in The Winter Soldier, they have now upgraded to trusting teammates. Sam followed Steve in Soldier. Now, in Civil War, he backs his friend up on and off the field of combat. It is not following so much as “sticking with” his close friend.
It is interesting to note just how vehement is Sam’s refusal to sign or acknowledge the authority of Accords. In Civil War, Sam and Rhodey have a loud, angry argument about the Accords. Their best friends sit this part out. In comparison to their heated exchange, Steve and Tony argue far more calmly. If they had been having an on-air debate, they would have been the ones on the TV screen, not Sam and Rhodey.
Sam does not need his drone Redwing to tell him that the Accords are chains with hungry maws, determined to steal his freedom and that of his friends. He can read between the lines just fine. When Steve asked Sam if he was happy “to be back in the world” in Winter Soldier, Falcon replied that the number of people “giving [him] orders [was] down to about…zero? So yeah.”
Wilson has shown he is a responsible, calm, and clearheaded man. He can make his own decisions and live with their results. The fact that the U.N. thinks he is a brash, swaggering teenager not only rankles his self-respect; it is a downright insult to him.
“How long will it be before they LoJack us like a bunch of criminals?” he asks Rhodey pointedly after Ross’ visit. War Machine, the “model” soldier accustomed to taking orders without question, is horrified by Sam’s claims. Falcon knows that what Cap says a few minutes later is perfectly true: agendas change. And when the agendas of the people in power change, the agendas of those who serve them have to change as well – whether those people like it or not.
Everyone is startled when Steve gets up and leaves after he receives a text message telling him Peggy Carter has died. When we next see him, Sam is sitting beside Steve in the church, attending Peggy’s funeral. The silent statement is that he will support Steve anytime, anywhere. No matter the crisis, he is not going to abandon his friend.
It is kind of cute when he elbows Steve after noticing Sharon is the niece of the other’s now deceased girlfriend. Cap is not particularly happy to have this secret exposed so publicly, which Sharon knows. Her speech is as much an apology/explanation to Steve as it is public praise for her dearly departed aunt.
But the poignant point for Sam here is that he saved Steve some minor embarrassment. Once Sharon started talking, Steve would have looked up immediately and had less time to compose himself. Sam saved him and Sharon that trouble. His quick action kept the matter discreet for all concerned.
This rapport between the two makes it hard for Sam to adjust to Steve’s friendship with Bucky. Of course, part of this is the fact that Bucky has never been very nice to Sam. If my calculations are correct, he tried to kill Sam at least twice: once on the Insight Helicarrier in Soldier, and again in Germany after Zemo reactivated his programming.
It is not that Sam really hates Bucky. He says, “I hate you,” later on but I do not think he truly meant it. It was just a way of blowing off steam and annoyance. No, Sam’s problem is that he is Steve’s close friend, too. Sam’s wariness of Bucky is due to the fact that he has only known him as a bad guy. He has none of Steve’s memories of the numerous times Bucky saved Cap from being worked over by a big bully in a back alley. Sam and several others fear/accuse Steve of being too blinded by his affection for Bucky to see how dangerous the former assassin is.
While Steve is lenient toward Bucky, he also does not completely trust him. Their old friendship does not blind him to his friend’s ability to commit more heinous crimes. It simply means that he is not going to recoil from Bucky and treat him like a ticking time bomb. He is wary but not in a way that will reinforce his friend’s feelings of guilt and loneliness. After all, readers, Sam and Steve were in the warehouse where Bucky woke up following their escape from the German Special Forces base. And Sam did not finagle Bucky into that vise on his own!
Sam’s suspicions mean that he does not behave in his usual warm, friendly manner to the former HYDRA operative. One of the best demonstrations of this is when, while they are both seated in the VW Bug, Bucky asks him to move his seat up and Sam says, “No.”
Now, Bucky knows he has thrown Sam around a fair bit in the past. At the least, he remembers their battle on the Helicarrier. So to Bucky it makes sense that Sam would distrust and dislike him. He does not really like and trust himself, either, proven when he practically asks to be put in cryostasis in Wakanda at the end of the movie.
But this hardly dispels his aggravation with Sam. After all, Bucky knew Steve before Sam was even born. Sam does not know Steve nearly as well as Bucky still does. The clown car the three used as a “getaway car” is representative of the small space which they share in orbit around Steve. They are both close to him, but to get too close to each other in the process will lead to a catastrophic collision!
Can one have two best friends who do not feel at least slightly jealous of each other? This question is never really settled within the film. But the scenes which show Bucky and Sam skating on the edge of shoving each other away from Cap are unbelievably fun!!!!
There is also a rather big discrepancy in the smiles Sam and Bucky give Steve after he kisses Sharon. Bucky’s smile is large and awkward; mostly because he is reminded once again of how “invisible” he is compared to Steve. Sam’s smile is much smaller, more relaxed, and happy. His friend is getting more accustomed to his place in the world and is finally showing interest in someone other than those who help him with his job. Progress is slow, Sam figures, but that does not mean it is impossible.
When Sam shows up again, it is in the parking garage where Hawkeye and Wanda are waiting to join the fight. Then Clint kicks a sleepy Scott Lang out of the van, and Sam gets a questioning look from Steve as the new recruit completely geeks out.
Sam knows Scott does not look like much to the others, but he also does not want to explain how he knows Ant-Man can be of use to the fight. Sure, the guy is a newbie who is too enthusiastic. But Sam is NOT going to admit he got beat by a guy who can shrink to the size of an insect. It was embarrassing enough when none of the others were there to see it. If they found out, he would never hear the end of it.
The next proof we have that Sam is Cap’s second-in-command comes during the airport battle. He is the one who finds the quinjet Team Iron used to get to Germany. And when the opposing Avengers finally face each other, it is Sam who asks, “What do we do, Cap?”
Natasha and Spider-Man both throw Tony an “Are we really going to do this?” look, which he ignores. No one on Team Cap looks at Steve that way. They know what they have to do, although they do not want to do it. Sam’s question was for all of them, “Do we have to do what we think we have to do?”
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes. Zemo has to be stopped, and the only way to get to him is to find some aerial transportation. Clint’s chopper is out of commission, and the other planes on the tarmac are either not fast enough or they are too far away. The only viable transportation the team can get their hands on is the quinjet.
And Team Iron is standing in their way.
As the Avenger vs. Avenger battle progresses, it becomes clear to Sam and the others that the only way to win this fight is for Steve and Bucky to go to Siberia as a duo. They cannot all get to the quinjet; the other Avengers are too powerful and know them too well for them to simply knock them out and keep them down.
When Cap states they need to draw out the flyers, adding that he will take Vision, Sam puts the kibosh on the plan, both as Steve’s second-in-command and as his close friend. “No, you go!” he replies. “Both of you! The rest of us aren’t getting out of here!”
Instead of reprimanding his friend, Steve accepts his sharp retort and his reading of the situation. He allows Sam to call the next play. Sam does not break a sweat as he is handed command of the four Avengers who will remain behind, telling them that what Cap and Bucky need is a distraction.
Scott Lang answers the team’s need for a diversion by reversing his shrinking ability to become Giant-Man, perfectly distracting Iron Man, Spidey, and Rhodey. Clint holds T’Challa at bay, allowing Cap and Bucky to make a run for it.
Sam watches as Ant-Man and Hawkeye are knocked down, followed by Wanda after she prevents a building from dropping on the two men’s heads. Once the jet takes off, Tony and Rhodey make a run for the engine.
Falcon, the only operative member of Team Cap, goes after them. That is when Rhodey calls on Vision to get Falcon off his back. Vision, distracted by his concern for Wanda and his sudden doubts over the rightness of the fight, misses Sam and hits Rhodey’s arc reactor. In a telling move that shows the high-mindedness of Team Cap, Sam dives to save War Machine at the same time Tony does.
Neither man is able to make the save. Their suits cannot go that fast toward the ground without getting them killed in the process. Rhodey crashes into the dirt and suffers severe spinal injuries as a result.
The scene must bring back some pretty bad, ugly memories for Sam. He saw his old wingman, Riley, shot out of the sky on a night mission in a similar way. Knowing how hard it is to lose a friend, Sam empathizes keenly with Tony, summed up in his statement of “I’m sorry.”
Tony’s response, unsurprisingly, is to childishly shoot Sam in the chest via his right repulsor.
When we next see Sam, though, he does not hold any ill will toward Iron Man for being shot. He understands how hard it is to watch a friend die; it is no stretch of the imagination to think of how hard it is to see a friend injured for nothing. No, Sam shows more concern for Rhodey than for his own injury at Tony’s hand. What gets him mad is Tony’s apparent attempt to play the “good cop” to Ross’ “bad cop.”
Of all the Avengers in the Raft, the one Tony goes to for information about Cap’s whereabouts is Falcon. Why? Because of the incarcerated Avengers, Sam is the one closest to Steve. Of all the scenes in the movie which show Falcon as Steve’s right hand man in Civil War, this is the absolute clincher. All four members of Cap’s team knew they were supposed to go to Siberia to stop Zemo.
Only Sam knew precisely where in Siberia they were going to go.
Our final look at the Falcon is at the end of the movie when, for some reason, he turns around in his cell. Slowly, Sam starts to smile at someone the audience cannot see. We can guess from the mess in the rooms leading to the cells who the person is, but we get positive confirmation when Steve steps out of the shadows and smiles back at his buddy. The other Avengers, while not losing confidence in Steve, have probably begun to wonder if maybe it would be safer for him if he left them in prison.
Sam alone is absolutely certain Steve will wade into the Raft, ready and willing to punch his way through the U.S. Navy guards watching them, to get his people out. His smile is not a non-verbal “what took you so long?” so much as it is a, “This is a really stupid thing to do from some people’s perspective. But you will never think it’s stupid. Nice to see you, Cap.”
Steve’s answering smile says, “Nice to see you, Sam. Those bars look bendable. Or would you prefer I used the key?”
Wherever Steve chooses to go between Civil War and the Infinity War films, Sam will still be “do[ing] what he does, just slower.” The two will never be as close as Steve and Bucky are, but that does not prevent them from being strong friends. Steve has enough room in his heart for Bucky and the Avengers; no one can say he has a “heart which is two sizes too small.” It is not even one size too small. Steve cares about all of his friends. Just because he understands and connects with some better than others does not mean his affections are limited. He cares about them all equally – even those on the side of the Accords.
Sam and the others will probably be “off screen” until Infinity War. If they show up in the films in between, I will not be complaining but celebrating! It would be awful to have to wait so long to see them! But, whether they appear in the intervening films or not, they are still the Avengers.
Ever higher, readers!
The Mithril Guardian