There's an interesting question at the heart of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: What happens when Captain America dies—and the next in line for his shield is a black man?
Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aftermath of a comic book cataclysm that saw half of all life in the universe disappear then reappear and the original Captain America meet his end, the show wants to be a solemn look at American power and racial identity. But instead of insight, it offers little more than dull platitudes about diversity.
It's not that the material isn't ripe for political treatment. From his inception as a Nazi-punching avatar of American military might and moral clarity, Captain America has always been a political figure. Clad in a costume designed to look like the American flag, he has often served as an earnest symbol of the nation's values. He stood for what was right about America, whatever that was.
The passing of the shield, then, might have served as an opportunity to investigate just what those values are, and how they have changed over the decades. A new hero might represent those values in different ways—and might even interrogate the use of national power Cap has long represented.
Sadly, the show whiffs on this question. Instead of questioning government power, it simply shrugs and suggests that it's fine so long as it's wielded by a diverse group of people. Potentially interesting issues—how to manage the sudden reappearance of half the world's population, say—are raised and discarded.
In a cringe-inducing climactic speech, Falcon, as the new Cap, actually criticizes a lawmaker for noting that an issue is complex, then declares that his own critique is improved by the fact that he doesn't know the details of government policy. Captain America deserves better.