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The Captain America villain Flag-Smasher first appeared in the pages of Marvel Comics in 1985, smack-dab in the middle of the Reagan Administration. At the time, it made sense that a character who stood against patriotism and exposed anti-nationalist views would be a villain, albeit a complex one. In 2021? Well... maybe Flag-Smasher has some good ideas after all. And actress Erin Kellyman, who plays a reimagined version of the character in the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, agrees that her character isn't inherently a bad guy.
"I feel like it's a gray area, honestly. I don't think she's good or bad. I don't know if there's anybody in the Marvel Universe who is inherently good or bad, you know?" Kellyman tells SYFY WIRE — before making one quick concession with a little laugh. "Other than Spider-Man, I think he's inherently good."
Kellyman's Karli Morgenthau makes her proper debut in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's second episode, as she and her Flag Smasher comrades (in the show it's an organization rather than an individual moniker) fight the titular heroes on top of a pair of speeding trucks. Karli and her friends — who all have super-strength thanks to some seemingly purloined super-soldier serum — are attempting to get vaccines to underserved people who need them as part of their mission to return the world to the state it was during The Blip, when people's needs trounced patriotism.
(The irony of the vaccine plotline airing now, a full year after the series was originally supposed to premiere before being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and at a time when real vaccines are making their way to the public, is not lost on Kellyman. "Who knew that it was going to come out at such a poignant time?" she says. "It's so crazy how things end up like that.")
The Flag-Smasher from the comics, a man named Karl Morgenthau, had a very different background than the show's Karli. He was motivated by his father's death while Karli and her crew lived through the consequences of Thanos' infamous snap, a five-year period where half of the population was gone and left to fend for themselves. That said, in Episode 3, we gather she's partially motivated by the preventable death of her mother figure, so they might have something in common on that front. Karli has seen things that have shaped her views, and Kellyman says we'll learn a lot more about her in the episodes ahead.
Kellyman notes that Morgenthau's switch from Karl to Karli is a big distinction as well. "Because of what they've experienced in life, their reactions to things will be different," she says. "Karli has gone from being a middle-aged white man to a young female mixed-race woman, so already their starts in life have been very different, and I think that will then make their actions different, also."
Last week's episode revealed how Karli and her friends got ahold of the super-soldier serum. Despite the fighting prowess she shows during Episode 2's truck fight, Kellyman says Karli didn't use the serum because she was intending to do a lot of fighting. "It was just a precaution," she explains. "I think it was taken as a precaution and now they're realizing they probably do need it a little bit more than they realized in the first place."
That said, now that Karli has super-strength, expect a lot more action from her in the weeks ahead.
"Karli does not stop! She's on a mad one all of the time!" Kellyman teases. "Yeah, you'll see a lot more fight scenes from her."
And, if Episode 3 is any indication, some pretty violent explosions.
Kellyman is no stranger to big genre movies. Her breakout was playing Enfys Nest in Solo: A Star Wars Story, a role she says she would love to play again but has "not heard anything" about. She'll also appear in the highly anticipated (and similarly COVID-delayed) The Green Knight this July. She also saw what happened during the last Disney+ Marvel series, when fans went wild coming up with fan theories for WandaVision. So far, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier doesn't seem to be sparking quite so many theories, but Kellyman's come across a few, even though she's not really looking.
"I haven't gone searching for it, to be honest. I've kind of tried to stay away from it all, but the people who have messaged me or commented on my posts with theories," she says. "I actually don't think I've seen anybody close yet. There's a lot of guessing, but I don't think anybody's got it just right yet."
New episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiere on Disney+ on Fridays.