Mild spoilers are ahead. There’s a moment in Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s second episode, “The Star-Spangled Man,” when everyone should cheer. The Disney+ series’ heroes, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), are getting their butts handed to them by new villain syndicate The Flag Smashers. All seems to be lost… until a red-white-and-blue shield comes whizzing into the frame. Within a millisecond, a bad guy goes flying off of a speeding truck. Clank. Captain America is here to save the day!
“He’s so annoying,” I screamed at my kitchen table.
Because, Captain America is no longer the Cap that Marvel Cinematic Universe fans have grown to love over the last decade. He’s not Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers (who escaped our timeline for a happy life with Peggy Carter at the end of Infinity War). He’s also not Air Force veteran Sam, who was in possession of Cap’s shield until the beginning of Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Instead, there is a new “Captain America” on the block and his name is John Walker (celebrity son Wyatt Russell).
If the introduction of Cap 2.0 — whom many across Twitter are nicknaming “Walmart Captain America” for his knockoff style — feels off to you, there’s a reason for your apprehension. The decision-makers inside of Falcon and the Winter Soldier are treating the “Captain America” gig a lot like the Bachelor mantle. Hear me out.
When “Star-Spangled Man” opens, we meet John in the locker room of his small town high school. He reminisces on his former sports prowess while pondering the difficult journey ahead of him. A trusted advisor — in this case fellow serviceperson Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett) — appears to give John a pep talk before he steps out in front of cameras (ask former football player and 2021 Bachelor Matt James, this part of the process is necessary). After smiling at his adoring public, John goes on Good Morning America, of all shows (GMA, like Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the Bachelor-verse, is under the Disney umbrella). Sara Haines, a real-life GMA star, is the interviewer.
John’s conversation with Sara makes the Bachelor similarities even more concrete. The conversation isn’t one built to explain how a seemingly average — if talented — white man ended up with the shield of a superpowered World War II icon; the goal here is to “rollout,” to use the host’s own words, a new pop culture personality.
It feels like the entire Captain America machine — led by the shadowy post-Blip Global Repatriation Council — is trying to convince audiences to tune into the new season of Captain America. All the Bachelor-y stops are pulled out to make this point. We hear about John’s capital-V Values and Sara lists his resume over glossy, well-edited footage of him Doing Soldier Stuff in his uniform. We see a shirtless John hitting a punching bag in a boxing ring and expertly wielding Steve's shield. The video is nearly indistinguishable from a traditional Bachelor intro package. The only thing missing is a Chris Harrison voiceover (which is something I can live without).
Even John’s explanation of his connection to Steve, “I followed his career very closely as an Avenger,” sounds like something a new Bachelor would say about a previous Bachelor Nation star. Everyone cheers for John — white, blonde, blue-eyed, Army veteran John — and his pithy remarks.
All together, John comes off as the market-tested pick to fill Captain America’s shoes, if the market was specifically made up of the people who believed real-life air force veteran Mike Johnson wasn’t “the best overall choice” for The Bachelor. Mike Johnson, for those who don’t watch The Bachelorette, is a Black man. White pilot Peter Weber was taped for Bachelor over Mike Johnson, leading to an absolute mess of a season in 2020. In Falcon and the Winter Soldier that limited decision making creates a world where no one asked Sam — who saved the world countless times alongside the real Cap — if he would like to at least apply for the apparently open Captain America gig. After so much approval without any real understanding of what it means to become Captain America — like jumping on a grenade without the aid of a reinforced helmet — it’s no surprise John approaches Sam and Bucky like they’re equals in the world saving business.
“Just because you carry that shield doesn’t mean you're Captain America,” Bucky tells John. “Look, I’ve done the work, okay,” John shoots back. I wonder where I’ve heard that one before.