What’s exciting about “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is that the limited series format on Disney+ provided a great opportunity for director Kari Skogland to dig deeper into the Captain America mythology than the previous Marvel features. She had a vision for a gritty psychological thriller and took full advantage of the nearly six hours to explore the legacy of the shield on micro and macro levels, with Falcon Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) finally taking on the mantle as a unifying racial force.
Indeed, it’s about Sam’s crucible to become the first Black Captain America in a chaotic, post-Blip world, and teaming up with Bucky/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) after disastrously relinquishing the shield to John Walker (Wyatt Russell).
From a visual standpoint, the shield was the driving force for cinematographer P.J. Dillon. “Kari definitely wanted to take a slightly rougher approach than the features, and she wanted the aesthetic to be a little darker,” he said. But the shield dictated the color palette to a large extent, especially for the scenes in Madripoor [the fictional island in Southeast Asia shot in Prague]. The blue and red influenced the saturation level and the color choices. The lighting and production design [by Ray Chan] were rich.”
In keeping with the other “Captain America” films, Dillon chose the widescreen anamorphic style. He shot with the Panavision DXL2 8K camera and T series Panavision anamorphic prime lenses. But he had the lenses de-tuned to accentuate the look of the older Panavision C series from the late ’60s and ’70s. “The lenses are imperfect,” he added. “We didn’t want it to look too pristine and, in terms of the lighting choices, we shot low light a lot and used a lot of smoke. That’s what gave it texture.”
Since the main emotional conflict revolves around Sam and Bucky trying to resolve the legacy of the shield, the director and cinematographer came up with different lighting strategies. For example, the early scenes with Sam and his sister, Sarah (Adepero Oduye) in Louisiana (shot in Savannah) are warm and inviting, whereas Bucky’s world is cold and austere in keeping with his isolation and loneliness. But, for the most part, the compositions were situation-based in all of the emotional encounters between the various characters. They put the actors in a scene, and played with different approaches based on their performances. “Kari was very organic in that way,” Dillon said.
The most powerful subplot involves Sam’s encounters with Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), an elderly super soldier who served in the Korean War and has gone into hiding. Their back and forth about racism and duty serves as the catalyst for Sam’s ultimate decision to become Captain America. “It was a really interesting dynamic between them and we tried to be as free with them as we could,” said Dillon. “When the dynamics changed, we’d reshoot the master.”
The action was varied as well. The in-flight sequences utilized real skydivers with Black Magic cameras strapped to their chests and GoPros on their wing suits and VFX in Atlanta with Mackie shot against blue or green screen. But Dillon’s favorite action sequence, in which Sam and Bucky take back the shield from Walker, provided him with more creative freedom because of the circumstances.
“That was funny because of various location problems in Atlanta that we had,” Dillon explained. “We found the [warehouse] location for that sequence only a couple of days before we shot it. So it wasn’t as well prepped, but the stunt team had to find the moves and clearly define the fight choreography and how we made that fit into the space. We actually figured it out as we went along.”
While the suspenseful struggle between the trio was exciting enough, it was enhanced by warm, streaming shafts of light that were serendipitous. “I knew there was always the potential for those shafts of sunlight to come through from that side of the building at a certain time of day,” Dillon continued. “But there was no guarantee that you’d actually get the sun.”
But they did and at just the right moment when Bucky picks up the shield and hands it to Sam, who wipes the blood off. “Luckily, we got this magical shaft of light coming into space,” Dillon said. “We immediately dropped everything and put the characters into it and filled it with smoke.” Along with a fitting Captain America aura.