Though the Disney+ limited series primarily centers on its titular protagonists, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” also serves as John Walker’s origin story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As revealed in the final scene of the premiere, the decorated U.S. Army member — who’s also known as U.S. Agent in Marvel comics lore — is revealed to be the United States government’s chosen successor to the original Captain America (played by Chris Evans). As Walker, Russell plays an even larger role in the show’s second episode, “The Star-Spangled Man,” where some of his backstory and motivations are revealed.
While John’s depictions in Marvel comics have been varied — the character has been portrayed as a superhero, antihero, and villain — the character is typically a contrast to the original Captain America and embodies the darker elements of American patriotism; he’s known for using guns, his emotional instability, a predilection for violence, and sporting nationalist perspectives. Russell noted that though Marvel Cinematic Universe projects don’t always closely follow their source material, the John in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” has experienced traumatic events that have informed his worldview.
“The show explores, regardless of what your political affiliation is, what everybody’s version of wrong and right is,” Russell said. “What Marvel does so well is they don’t always take what literally was in the comics, they amalgamate a lot of it and use it to inform their character decision-making process. Right now, what John believes is that [he’s responsible to take] any and all means to get the job done to defeat what he believes is evil. He has been a Marine. […] We tend to celebrate our military without really trying to understand what they went through to be celebrated like that. They had to go through some pretty disastrous stuff that would be very affecting as they move on with their life. How do you deal with that? That’s where John is at now. His version of right and wrong has been affected by this lifestyle.”
Russell’s character is a stark contrast to Evans’ Captain America. Though the latter superhero essentially served as a government pawn throughout much of “Captain America: The First Avenger” (which marked the character’s introduction in the MCU), Evans’ character gradually grew to question many of the values and authorities that he answered to in subsequent films. Russell noted that there was a disparity between Captain America and John, who has only recently donned the shield and uniform.
“There’s an interesting contrast in what Steve’s understanding of what Captain America came to be — [it’s] an evolving thing. It started off one way, and it ended in one way. John is sort of at the beginning of that journey. Of course it’s nothing like he thought it would be,” Russell said. “There’s a built-in dichotomy to his personality. He is very volatile. Characters like that have a lot to learn and go through to get to the other side. Troubled characters are rich with material to play and can go in a lot of different directions.”
Russell joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe several years after his father, Kurt Russell, portrayed Ego the Living Planet in the James Gunn-directed “Guardians of the Galaxy 2.” Russell noted his father was relatively detached from the franchise outside that film but added that he was motivated to participate in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” after conversing with Gunn.
“He had less experience than I did with the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he joined on and I gotta be honest, I don’t know if he has much more experience beyond ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 2.’ I know he’s seen a couple [films], but it wasn’t something that he had talked about very much. I had spoken to James Gunn about doing this part [and] I really trusted his sense of what Marvel could bring. He said, ‘Look, if you’re gonna take your bet, you take it with Marvel because they don’t accept anything less than great.’ When I heard that from him it was really a vote of confidence because I really trust James.”
For more, check out our full video interview with Wyatt Russell above. “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” releases new episodes on Disney+ each Friday.