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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier release date, cast and story

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is set to make its greatest leap yet: onto your television in episodic format. Yes, there have been MCU-adjacent efforts like Daredevil and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but nothing quite as ambitious as taking A-list superheroes (and the A-list stars who play them) from the big screen and placing them in sprawling, multi-part narratives delivered straight to your living room. Iterative episodes with greater long-term character investment has always been a benefit television has had over film, and Disney is ready and raring to go and try something that has never really been done before with Marvel's slate of original series on the Disney+ streaming service.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier certainly has our attention, bringing Steve Rogers' two well-loved sidekicks into their very own spotlight. After a frosty first encounter in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and a begrudging alliance in Civil War, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes now find themselves on their own as villains both new and familiar rise in a post-Endgame world. Can these fractious frenemies come together to save the day? Here's everything we know about The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

What's the release date for Falcon and Winter Soldier?

The current official release date for the much-anticipated spin-off featuring Steve Rogers' besties is "Fall 2020," about a full year after the Disney+ streaming service is set to launch in November of 2019. Per the usual for both Disney and the MCU, exact details are difficult to pin down this far ahead of time due to insistence on secrecy as long as possible, but the series will, for certain, run six episodes. Eager-beaver MCU fans might think this a long wait, but the series will be the first of Marvel's post-Endgame streaming releases — Loki, Wandavision, and Hawkeye come after, in 2021. 

All these shows are confirmed to be canon-compliant with the films, so based on the general slate shown at SDCC in July 2019, a good guess would be September or October, before Eternals is released in theaters that November. It will be of our especial curiosity to see if whatever plot is revealed in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will become a two-way street, feeding into the plot of Phase 4's big-screen adventures.

Anthony Mackie flies again in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Anthony Mackie will, of course, be reprising his role as Sam Wilson, the Falcon. Though Steve Rogers bequeathed Sam his shield at the end of Endgame, it isn't clear yet just how or when he will be adopting the mantle of Captain America. In an interview with MTV News, Mackie teased about going to a costume fitting for his own Cap uniform, offering a cheeky "it looks good" to whet the collective appetite. 

Falcon is not inherently super-powered and up until now, has utilized his wicked-cool birdlike jetpack system and Redwing drone to accompany his serum-enhanced supersoldier buddies. But that's no weakness: it creates a new, interesting dimension and added complexity for our new Captain America. To quote our favorite avian-themed hero in The Winter Soldier: "I do what he does, just slower." You have to get creative when you can't lift multi-ton I-beams and casually take bullets.

Sebastian Stan: Armed and (less) dangerous

Sebastian Stan will also be reprising his role as Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier. After some time spent quite literally chilling with King T'Challa, followed by a blip to the afterlife and back, we have a new and frankly untested Bucky to meet. He's lucid, his luscious hair is shiny and conditioned, his goats back in Wakanda are thriving. Nothing can stop this psychologically-recovered former assassin… or so we hope. What the Falcon lacks in superpowered brawn, Bucky more than makes up for with his fresh Wakandan-made prosthetic arm.

Curiously, both Mackie and Stan took turns holding the iconic shield at the SDCC panel announcing their show and its release date. Is it a tease of things to come? Both Sam and Bucky are well-known for having worn the mantle of Captain America on the comics page at one point or another, and both have been shown on-screen to be competent in wielding the shield as a death frisbee, just like Steve.

Daniel Bruhl returns to scheme against the Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Daniel Bruhl will be reprising his role as the cunning Helmut Zemo, last seen in Captain America: Civil War. At he moment, we do not know if Zemo was "blipped," per the term introduced in Spider-Man: Far from Home, but he has a new look! Longtime fans may know that original-flavor comics Zemo had a bag accidentally glued to his head (yeah, it's a whole thing). We doubt his screen costume will have origins quite so silly, but Bruhl posted a teaser image on his Instagram from the SDCC 2019 presentation featuring him in that iconic purple mask and goggles. 

Bucky in particular will have a bone or two to pick with him after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Will he be safe now from the special trigger words Zemo used on him before? And what has he been up to in the interim, blip or no blip? When we last left him, King T'Challa had stayed Zemo's suicidal hand, ensuring he would stay alive and imprisoned for his multiple crimes — not the least of which being the murder of King T'Chaka.

Emily VanCamp joins the cast of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

A bigger surprise than the return of our two heroes and their nemesis is the revelation that Emily VanCamp is reprising her role as Sharon Carter, a.k.a. Agent 13, in the cast of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, though in how deep a capacity is unknown. Sharon didn't feature in Infinity War or Endgame at all, and VanCamp currently stars in the medical drama The Resident on Fox. She's kinda busy, and her presence may end up being intermittent (even if Disney technically signs both of those paychecks).

Nonetheless, her character's inclusion in the cast is interesting. We don't know whether Sharon was affected by the Blip, or how she has been coping since then, five years hence. And with S.H.I.E.L.D. now famously defunct, has she been continuing to operate as an under-the-table liason for Sam and Bucky in their new buddy-cop capacity against the wishes of the government, much as she had been for Steve in Captain America: Civil War? Or has she taken up some kind of independent contractor career? Then, of course, there's the question no one really wants answered: how does she feel about her one-time love interest peacing out to an alternate timeline to live happily ever after with her aunt?

Who will be directing The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?

Kari Skogland will be directing all six episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. She is most lauded for her work on The Handmaid's Tale, earning an Emmy nomination and winning a BAFTA for the Hulu series. Many of her other directorial credits are either tense political thrillers or dark genre fare, with episodes of The Borgias, Boardwalk Empire, and The Walking Dead under her belt. If her apparent specialized skill set is going to be exercised, that would be something of a tone change for the MCU. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is certainly an espionage thriller of a kind, but beyond perhaps Bucky's visceral memory-wiping scene, it's not terribly dark, overall. Captain America: Civil War, with its interpersonal Shakepearean tragedy set within a sepulcher-like Soviet bunker, is probably the grimmest plot we've seen that doesn't involve the cosmic mass murder featured in Infinity War. However, they all are still action films first. Perhaps bringing Sam and Bucky to the small screen will entail an equal shrinking of stakes to make it more about them and their own circumstances, rather than The World as Constantly Saved by Steve Rogers.

Who will be writing The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?

The first chief screenwriter attached to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier back in 2018 was Malcom Spellman, previously most recognizable for his work on Fox's music industry familial drama Empire. Early in 2019, the project also landed Derek Kolstad, original creator of the character John Wick and co-writer of the genre-changing series of glitzy, high-octane action films. It is unknown if these two writers will be working collaboratively across all episodes, or if their efforts will be designated to individual installments.

Upon considering the director and writers attached to the Disney+ series, we're somewhere between a hyper-stylized shoot-em-up and a tortured interpersonal drama set within dystopic political regimes. Some of the films in which Sam and Bucky have appeared operate as soft spy thrillers within the superhero genre, so it makes sense to continue that style of narrative tradition. Perhaps they'll just throw in more glitter-laden night club fist fights — that would be fun.

Catching up with the Falcon and the Winter Soldier

We departed Avengers: Endgame with time-traveling elderly Steve Rogers passing off the literal mantle of the circular shield to Sam while Bucky approvingly looked on. The remaining Avengers who didn't perma-die are scattered to the winds… which probably doesn't matter too much, as Sam was the only one of the two who had a good relationship with the team anyway. Steve is, as far as we currently understand, still alive in MCU canon — just retired. Chris Evans does not currently have any public credit to suggest he will cameo in the series, but Marvel would likely be keeping such a huge spoiler under wraps, so we won't rule it out entirely. 

On top of all these facts, it's entirely possible that Steve's actions in returning the Infinity Stones and literally living his life twice has plinked the interdimensional glass too hard, so to speak, and permitted the multiverse to leak in on his own world. Quentin Beck may have been lying about his background in Spider-Man: Far from Home, but we can't be sure we wasn't using the truth of alternate realities as a cover for his faked identity. After all, we know now that Doctor Strange is about to enter The Multiverse of Madness. Anything and everything is up for grabs in Sam Wilson's new heroic capacity.

Falcon v. United States of America

A reported rumor suggests an overarching plotline in the series will be the idea that the U.S. government doesn't approve of Sam becoming Captain America. Now that everything is (mostly) back in place as it was in a post-blip MCU, it is probably safe to assume that not just Steve Rogers, but the very idea of Captain America is still persona non grata to the United States government, as it was following the events of Captain America: Civil War. 

However much general public opinion may have improved of Steve, the Avengers, and the now-dead Tony Stark, that would probably mean little to someone like Secretary Ross (did he get blipped? Is he still Secretary of State?), and, well… Bucky is an enemy of the state, y'know? Manipulation of public opinion is a growing theme in the MCU, and has always been a problem for Bucky during his journey towards recovery. Zemo was, after all, the original architect of the fake news about Bucky's seemingly dangerous ways.

Thunderbolts... assemble?

Though this isn't a rumor so much as a possible suggestion based on Zemo's comics history, it is very much worth noting that the supervillain did try to start his own Avengers-like organization once upon a time: the Thunderbolts. Originally, they intended to gain public trust via fake aliases and then "turn" evil. Eventually, everyone turned on Zemo as their fake personas became publicly beloved, and they chose to walk away from the duplicity. 

The original character roster for the Thunderbolts is extremely obscure and unlikely to be used directly, but the concept of someone trying to fill a power vacuum post-Endgame with a new pseudo-Avengers isn't a bad one at all. The Zemo of the MCU has already exhibited the necessary skills as a master manipulator to accomplish this kind of mass public disinformation, and the movies have featured plenty of surviving but mostly-forgotten antagonists — including the Abomination, the Leader, Batroc, and Justin Hammer — who could conceivably be recruited in a vendetta against the new Captain(s) America.

In a final curious and amusing turn, the MCU character Thaddeus Ross — featured since the ill-fated The Incredible Hulk and developing deep antagonistic ties to both Bucky and Sam in Captain America: Civil War — canonically goes by the nickname "Thunderbolt."