Marvel’s extensive Disney+ slate sees a number of secondary heroes and villains earn a spell in the spotlight, a notion that began with Phase Four opener, WandaVision. The baton has now been passed to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and with Loki (June), Ms Marvel, Hawkeye (both late 2021), Moon Knight and She-Hulk to come, the blueprint is clear, but where does James Rhodes come in?
Ultimately, these characters have played second fiddle to the MCU’s main roster on the big-screen, so the Disney+ platform enables them to earn their stripes, where a solo film wouldn’t. There just wouldn’t be enough support or demand for a Falcon or a Bucky Barnes solo movie.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, as the title suggests, will further explore the abilities of the two heroes, and their relationship in a post-Endgame world.
Episode One of the series aired for the first time on Friday, and while it was Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson that took centre stage, there was also room for a minor appearance from another Avenger.
Colonel James Rhodes, aka War Machine, rejoins the MCU ranks here – played once again by Don Cheadle.
Rhodes fronts up as an ally to Wilson within the US Air Force, where Sam now operates; though Rhodes’ influence within the narrative may extend further than we are initially led to believe.
In December 2020, Marvel announced the addition of ‘Armor Wars’ to the Phase Four roster, a series that will give Rhodes his own small-screen playground. But that doesn’t mean he can’t also play a significant hand in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Much of the series will focus on both Wilson and Barnes’ trauma. They lost a close friend and ally in Steve Rogers, while they each have their own personal issues to overcome.
For Falcon/Wilson, his continued reluctance to accept Captain America’s shield will haunt him. He just doesn’t feel as though the shield belongs to him. Meanwhile, Barnes’ woes date back a little further amid his struggles to adapt to modern life, whilst attempting to rid of his brainwashing code for good.
Rhodes can help on both fronts. He’s undergone the trauma himself of losing Tony Stark and now has to follow in his footsteps. No one else can truly understand what Sam is currently going through – not even Bucky. Furthermore, his military and government responsibilities mean he can provide mentorship for Wilson.
Following in the footsteps of Captain America is something no-one has had to do before, and Wilson is out of his depth. Having a character like Rhodes alongside him will help keep him grounded and focused on the mission at hand.
We’ve seen just how much damage a rogue super soldier can do in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so the notion that there are others running riot within the Flag Smashers is a considerable threat.
Rhodes will no doubt also play an important hand in convincing Wilson that taking up the Captain America mantle is no bad thing. The MCU will adopt a new Captain America, and it certainly won’t be the carbon-copy unveiled by the US government at the end of Episode One.
Should Rhodes also assist the pair in the battle against the Flag Smashers, might they later feel obliged to return the favour and aid Rhodes in Armor Wars? That said, if Cheadle is to play any significant part in the remainder of the series it is likely to be as James Rhodes rather than in the full War Machine armoured get-up.
One of the most fun things about the MCU is the intertwining of events and storylines, meaning anyone can show up anywhere. And now that the MCU has taken a step onto the small screen, there’s no reason at all to suggest that any of the frontline Avengers can’t make that transition too.
Things were left delicately poised at the end of Episode One of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier with the US government unveiling their new Captain America figure in John Walker (Wyatt Russell).
Bucky’s immediate reaction to the broadcast is not yet known, but Wilson’s was one of horror. Expect the two to reunite to address the latest threat to their friend’s legacy in Episode Two this coming Friday.