Dropping at midnight, the Kari Skogland directed Disney+/Marvel series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier opener picks up not long after the events of 2019’s Avengers: Endgame blockbuster with the world and its superheroes trying to come to terms with the reemergence of billions of people who mega villain Thanos had seemingly killed in Avengers: Infinity War. Specifically, the less than one hour first episode profiles Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier trying to move on with their lives following the loss of Captain America and its ramifications for them and the nation. While Captain America has left the shield for Wilson to take up, he finds it rather heavy initially compared to the flair of his wings. More on that as the series unfolds through six episodes. Daniel Bruhl’s villain Zemo has returned and there’s a scramble for the secret soldier serum which has so powered Cap. Be sure to watch Dominic Patten’s review of the first episode here. Below is our interview with Falcon and the Winter Soldier head scribe and EP Malcolm Spellman.
Amid all the action in tonight’s episode, there’s a subtle moment that’s pretty profound, when Don Cheadle’s Rhodey tells Sam Wilson ‘It’s a crazy world out there’. Does he mean ‘crazy’ as in the last 12 months which we just experienced or does he mean ‘crazy’ in a post-Thanos world? How did #BlackLivesMatter and the Capitol Riots work its way into the vernacular of the series?
Malcolm Spellman: With me there and with over half our writing staff being Black and with our Marvel exec in the room being Black, that was a requirement that if you’re going to tell an honest story, Sam is a decidedly Black character. We were aware when you put Sam and Rhodey on screen together, we are aware of this is Marvel’s, too. They’re not African, they’re not from Wakanda. These are Marvel’s two African American heroes on screen together and how much they could do in moments of silence. None of that’s by accident.
Given how the production had to pause due to Covid, were you in a situation where you literally scrapped the script and began anew, i.e. cut out and rewrote act 2?
I’ll say one of the things I’m most proud of with this project is how prescient it was before all this stuff. I dream of the day when Kevin (Feige) talks about the versions of this series that did not go forward because you would think we had a crystal ball, and that’s one of the things I think that happens when you let people of color be involved with the creative process is we have a pretty unique grasp on society and culture. When we came together and picked the Blip as the primary source of conflict, meaning this whole series is defined by villains who are responding to the Blip and the people in the world who are responding to what’s happening in the Blip. We did that because we already knew that that chaos in the Blip felt like the anarchy that we were just feeling in general in the world at the time.
So, when COVID hit and we got shut down, we were able to actually, with a very light hand, draw even more connectivity between the MCU and the current world we live in. But I think it’s a testament to our creative team how close we were to it from the beginning, from the first time we ever sat down.
HBO’s Watchmen limited series used the Tulsa 1921 massacre as a jumping off point. Can you point to any specific current events which served as inspiration for Falcon and the Winter Soldier?
I mean, I think it’s just too much to lean into specifically because it’s not by accident that the character, Sam is a Black man from the South, right? It just creates a shorthand and an understanding. I mean it is the existence of African Americans at the fingertips of that storyline and it’s everything. It’s people taking a knee. I don’t want to get too specific but it’s all right there.
The secret soldier serum is that a reference to the opioid crisis that’s going on now?
No. But I will give it to you because…I don’t know if I should say this: Zemo has a very specific perspective on that and I’m not going to spoil it, but you will know why and when he appears. You’ll know what it’s a reference to because he’s going to use the words.
And the state of Stark Industry, what do we know about it post Endgame and Tony’s death? Will we learn any details in Falcon and the Winter Soldier? Is Pepper Potts still in charge?
This particular series is so tangled into just the aftermath of the Blip. We don’t get there in it.
Which comic books served as your inspiration?
So, here’s where it starts off. Truth obviously was a big one, the Truth run with Sam was obviously a big one. You had to pull John Walker, U.S. Agent out of the books he appeared in. But what ends up happening is at Marvel they partner you with a creative producer and that creative producer knows every single book ever written and every single film ever made. Now, to be fair, I am pretty damn steeped in Marvel books and definitely know the MCU inside and out, but I don’t compared to what Kevin, Nate (Moore), and Zoie (Nagelhout) can do. So by them working with me at every step of this thing, we’re pulling from various books from all over, at all times. Of course, you have to veer off because the rules of the MCU are different than the rules of the comic book world, but the spirit of those comics are in every single Marvel project including this one.
I understand when you were working with Nate, you went to pitch Kevin and fumbled the pitch. Can you talk more about that?
I think it’s a testament to how much Marvel is not like Hollywood. In Hollywood as a screenwriter, a moment like that is the end of you because the execs in Hollywood are operating from a completely different culture than the execs at Marvel. Marvel, Nate’s been jousting with Kevin for over ten years. So, Nate is perfectly comfortable saying, ‘Hey, Kevin, I know this dude crapped out on the pitch because I had a migraine, but I believe in him. I want us to roll the dice on him.’ I just think it’s just a unique culture out there. They respond to passion. They respond to gut instinct. They don’t check.
In a normal Hollywood production there is a checklist of writers who you can choose from. You don’t even have to read their samples. You’re just going to check their name in the box; who’s available, who’s not.
Can you tell us about the specific details of the pitch you fumbled?
I’ll tell you at the end of the season. I really want somebody to get Kevin to talk about the original run because it was so on point. It was so on point it was like ‘Oh, no, we can’t do that.’
Anthony Mackie teased on Sunday that he wanted to see a spinoff of Falcon and Black Widow. Do you know anything about that?
It’s so funny. When you say Black Widow, which Black Widow do you mean?
Well, either it would be the events before she dies, or something has to happen for her to come back to life, which we understand isn’t possible at the end of Endgame.
Anything is possible in the MCU so I’m not allowed to speak on things like that. But Anthony (Mackie) also said he wants an appearance in Blade, which I actually think is much more likely, although Blade is going to have much less chemistry with him than either of the Black Widows would.