"He was like, 'Did you guys just kill movies?'" Spellman told SYFY WIRE ahead of the show's March 19 premiere on Disney+. "I don't think it's comparable to anything and it's because, in my opinion, [Marvel has] some of the best — if not the best — in the movie space, and this series is made by those people. All they know is Marvel movies and they brought that skill set to it."
Anyone who's watched the troupe of action-packed, quip-filled trailers and TV spots Marvel Studios has rolled out for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier since that first sneak peek late last year already has a grasp on what Spellman's talking about. The series' budget, reportedly sitting at $150 million, has lent itself to the kinds of cinematic action sequences and international locales to which MCU fans have long been accustomed. Whereas WandaVision, the first MCU-connected series on Disney+, was (mostly) contained to a single New Jersey town and focused on Wanda Maximoff's personal journey through grief, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is bigger, flashier, and tackling some world-spanning issues.
In short, it's the exact kind of spectacle fans expect from a Marvel Studios-produced TV show. The six-episode series follows the buddy cop-esque adventures of Sam Wilson's Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes' Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame. There are firefights and action sequences and two fan-favorite characters poking at each other's buttons like bratty 4-year-olds. So it's no mystery as to why this was originally meant to be the first MCU-connected series out the door at Disney+ before it was delayed due to the coronavirus; it's familiar.
"There was about a 12-second moment [in Captain America: Civil War] where it feels like every single Marvel fan, Kevin Feige, and all his cabal partners knew that these two guys were gonna be able to support a movie or a franchise," Spellman said at a global press conference, referring to often-memed moments, including the scene in which Sam and Bucky take on Spider-Man (Tom Holland) at the airport and full-on Odd Couple it up ("You couldn't have done that earlier?" "I hate you."), and, of course, the now-legendary "Can you move your seat up?"
However, it's not all that simple. "It's not obvious," as Spellman emphasizes to us when reflecting on the biggest question the series seems to be posing — the one fans have been clamoring for an answer to since Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) handed Sam the shield in Endgame: Who's the new Captain America?
The "obvious" answer seems to be Sam; he's the one Old Man Steve handed the shield to, outright telling him that it's his now. At the start, though, Sam's not so sure.
"Does he want to hold that shield, does he want to be Captain America?" series director Kari Skogland says. "What does that mean for a Black man? And we go into some of his history, which echoes the Black history and racial issues that he faces that are unique to him."
Further complicating matters is the introduction of Wyatt Russell's John Walker, aka U.S. Agent. He's the guy you see in the trailers hamming it up at a football stadium with the cheerleaders and the fireworks, like the 21st-century version of the shows Steve used to put on after he first became Captain America but felt more like a dancing monkey than a hero.
Despite the spectacle, anyone with Marvel Comics knowledge likely had a big "oh, no" moment when Walker's name first came up. U.S. Agent has canonically explored the darker sides of Captain America's patriotism, playing with themes of nationalism and what it means — warts and all — to love your country. It's a particularly heady topic to tackle in 2021, and one Skogland says is particularly important to Sam's storyline.
"There's no way to avoid 'yes' or 'no' to that shield," Spellman says. "As a Black man, there was going to be no avoiding the journey he has to go on… It is an incredibly difficult thing for him to confront. Yeah, obviously the shield represents a best friend who is gone, but it's also who he is and where he comes from. He can't in good faith just throw on the stars and stripes."
He continues: "Everything is relevant. And there ain't no hiding from that, but none of it is done in a way that's going to alienate anyone. Everything is done in a way that's honest and we don't blink or hide from it. And at the same time, the fun and the action and the liveliness keeps it going, and that's sort of the magic of what they chose to do. Like before I showed up, Marvel knew it wanted a buddy two-hander. And those kinds of stories have always been the perfect vehicle to tackle relevant, present-day issues while being able for all the audience to join in and have a good time."
The goal, he concludes, was to make something "utterly modern," a story that's "present and relevant today," and to create "a superhero project that feels like it's of the times… And we associate the snap or the blip, whatever you want to call it — half of the world's population suddenly disappearing [and] reappearing after five years, that is a global problem. That is a problem that unites everybody, rich, poor, Black, white, everyone has to deal with it, very similar to something we're dealing with today. And those kinds of connections and comparisons are inescapable, and we didn't try to escape from them. We didn't let it drag us down either."
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premieres on Disney+ on Friday, March 19.