TV Review: ‘Luke Cage’ – Season 2 Premiere

Netflix take viewers back to the streets of Harlem as Marvel’s bulletproof hero returns…

 

Luke Cage 2-01

Harlem’s protector is back: Mike Colter returns in season 2 of the Netflix Original of Marvel’s ‘Luke Cage’ (image belongs: Marvel/Netflix, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Rosario Dawson, Alfre Woodard

Series created by:  Cheo Hodari Coker

Written by:  Cheo Hodari Coker / Episode directed by:  Lucy Liu

What’s it about?

As he finds himself dealing with new-found fame, Luke Cage continues his fight against the criminals of Harlem…

Episode review

Marvel’s bulletproof ‘Power Man’ is back for his sophomore solo outing in the second season of the Netflix Original, Luke Cage.  An enjoyable start to the season, “Soul Brother #1” is very much a continuation rather than a reinvention as it evokes that same stylish sense of gritty urban soul that characterised the previous season.  There are some slightly cartoonish and surprisingly stereotypical elements that creep in every now and then (plus the liberal use of a certain derogatory term is not particularly clever) but generally, through its exemplary casting and themes of heroism as well as an exploration of the current social and political landscape, there’s enough drama and intrigue to get viewers invested.

In the wake of The Defenders, we see Luke Cage as something of a reluctant celebrity, cheered and adored by the people as he continues his fight to clean-up the crime-ridden streets of Harlem.  Whilst he’s a little uneasy with being compared to the likes of Malcolm X and Barack Obama, Cage is non-the-less committed to a cause that he truly believes in but is grounded by everyday troubles, whether it be financial woes (there are plenty profiting from the Luke Cage ‘brand’, but the man himself isn’t seeing any of it), worries about endangering the lives of those he loves (Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple in particular) or the strained relationship with his father (played by House of Cards’ Reg E. Cathey), who denounces his son’s actions as he preaches the virtues of the everyday person finding the hero within themselves as a more ideal alternative to making the world a better place.

Mike Colter slips back into his role with ease and demonstrates that he can deftly convey both the physical and inner strengths of Luke Cage whilst skilfully delivering hints of emotional vulnerability.  Rosario Dawson is equally adept in her reprisal of Claire Temple, as her relationship with Cage grows and facilitates some of the moral debate about how far Harlem’s hero can push himself, reminding him that he’s not completely indestructible.  Simone Missick delivers another fine portrayal as Misty Knight as she deals with the scars of her injury in The Defenders and Theo Rossi turns in a reliably devious performance as Hernan ‘Shades’ Alvarez.  A fine cast indeed and one that’s made even more notable with an awards-worthy effort by Alfre Woodard who makes a welcome return as the devilishly unhinged Mariah Dillard who seeks to tighten her grip on the criminal underworld in the absence of Cottonmouth.

Series creator Cheo Hodari Coker writes this premiere and it’s a solid enough start (despite those aforementioned flaws) that’s enhanced by the slick direction of Hollywood star Lucy Liu.  It remains to be seen how the rest of the season fares and if the inconsistent pacing that tends to plague Marvel’s Netflix shows draws things out, but with the introduction of a promising new villain (Jamaican gangster John ‘Bushmaster’ McIver, played by Mustafa Shakir) with abilities that may prove a challenge for the central hero, there’s definitely potential for season 2 of Luke Cage.

The bottom line:  Luke Cage season 2 gets off to a decent start that’s bolstered by a great cast, well-written characters and some interesting themes.

All 13 episodes of Luke Cage season 2 are available to stream now via Netflix.

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Comics Review: ‘The Man of Steel’ #3

Brian Michael Bendis raises the stakes for the Last Son of Krypton…

Man of Steel #3.jpg

Cover art for DC’s ‘The Man of Steel’ #33 by Ivan Reis & Joe Prado (image belongs: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Ryan Sook, Jason Fabok & Wade Von Grawbadger / Colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

Rogol Zaar arrives on Earth and is ready to take on the Man of Steel…

In review

After a slightly patchy second issue, this week’s instalment of The Man of Steel kicks things up a gear as Brian Michael Bendis sets the stage for the impending conflict between Superman and his new nemesis: Rogol Zaar, the maniacal brute who may have been involved in Krypton’s destruction.  The fact that Bendis has taken such a creative risk and shakes up the established Superman mythos is a gutsy one but impactful and will no doubt have readers debating for some time.

Via flashbacks in the first two issues of The Man of Steel, we’ve learned of Zaar’s hatred for the Kryptonian civilization and his desire to eradicate it completely – a ‘quest’ that now brings him to Earth is pursuit of the Last Son of Krypton.  Zaar is a formidable force and Bendis pulls no punches in that respect, the book’s opening pages depicting the decimation of the Fortress of Solitude at the hands of the deranged ogre.  It’s a dramatic and emotional blow that is going to change Superman’s world forever.

If all this sounds dark and depressing, it isn’t – it’s just gripping and compelling stuff that makes comics a great reading experience.  Bendis retains a strong hook on the character of Superman and all that he stands for, but like the world we live in things can often seem hopeless and even DC’s first hero can face those situations.  There’s still a little fun to be had before the emotional gears begin to turn as Superman continues to investigate the mysterious rash of fires in Metropolis, this time enlisting the help of a certain Dark Knight Detective in an enjoyable – and quite funny – cameo from one of DC’s other mainstays.

Ultimately, Bendis gives us a Superman that isn’t completely invulnerable (and exploring those vulnerabilities is what makes the character more relatable) as he soars to the Fortress to discover the damage, joined by Supergirl it’s an effective sequence of scenes that engages the reader and leads to the book’s finale as the Kryptonians face off against Zaar – which ties nicely into Bendis and Jim Lee’s short in Action Comics #1000 and sets anticipation for next week’s issue rather high.

In terms of the art, it’s surprisingly good – Ryan Sook’s style is not too dissimilar from that of Ivan Reis, sure it’s not quite as lavish but his characters are powerful and emotive and the action is epic and exciting.  Jason Fabok returns to pencil the continuing interlude concerning the absence of Lois and Jon that’s being threaded throughout the series.  It’s a tantalising tease and Fabok’s work is always a highlight – given that he’ll be pencilling the whole of #6, it promises that the series should conclude on a high, so long as Brian Michael Bendis continues to deliver the goods.

The bottom line:  The Man of Steel starts building momentum as it heads toward the half-way point and Brian Michael Bendis’ first Superman story continues to show promise.

The Man of Steel #3 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Film Review: ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

J.A. Bayona picks up where Colin Trevorrow left off in the sequel to 2015 hit, Jurassic World… 

Jurassic World - Fallen Kingdom

Get ready to run: Chris Pratt faces danger in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’, from Universal Pictures.

 

Spoiler-free review 

Starring:  Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Ted Levine, Toby Jones, James Cromwell, Jeff Goldblum

Directed by:  J.A. Bayona / Written by:  Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly / 128 minutes

What’s it about?

Owen Grady and Claire Dearing join an expedition to rescue the dinosaur residents of Isla Nublar when the island’s volcano threatens its destruction…

In review

Life once again finds a way in the sequel to Colin Trevorrow’s smash relaunch of the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World.  With J.A. Bayona – director of The Impossible and A Monster Calls – at the helm this time out, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn’t nearly as good as the first Jurassic World (which in all fairness did set the bar exceptionally high) although it still delivers plenty of gripping dino-fuelled action and mayhem to keep the majority entertained.

It’s been three years since the disaster that befell Jurassic World and the park’s genetically engineered dinosaurs have been left to roam free and live out their own existence without any interference from humanity.  This of course all changes once Isla Nublar’s once inactive volcano begins to erupt, threatening to destroy the island and leading to a rescue mission of sorts as philanthropist Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), an old colleague of John Hammond, devises a plan to capture as many species as possible and transport them to a new home.  As is always the case though, there are sinister forces that have other plans for the creatures.  The scenario is perhaps a little familiar and does lead to some predictable plot beats but there are still a few surprises thrown into the mix that keeps it all from becoming too stale.

Leading the cast once more is Chris Pratt’s dino-wrangler (more accurately, animal behaviourist) Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard as Jurassic World’s former park manager, Claire Dearing.  Both are as solid as they were previously and continue to have great chemistry and are joined by Daniella Pineda as dino-veterinarian Zia and comical technology whiz Franklin, played by Justice Smith.  Rounding out the supporting cast is Isabella Sermon as Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie and a trio of slightly cartoonish villains played by Rafe Spall, Toby Jones and Ken Wheatley.

James Cromwell is a tad underutilised as Lockwood but certainly serves a purpose and a small cameo from Jeff Goldblum is welcome yet seems a missed opportunity to include Dr. Ian Malcolm in a more active and more significant capacity (he was the best thing about Independence Day: Resurgence after all) – maybe in the already announced third instalment then?

However, it’s arguably one of the film’s non-human characters that steals the show – the velociraptor called ‘Blue’ who makes a heroic return and who audiences had already become attached to in the previous film.  The character of Blue is deepened further with an exploration of the bond between the raptor and Owen that’s actually quite believable and endearing.

One aspect of Fallen Kingdom’s narrative that works particularly well is that it treats it’s dinosaurs as living, breathing animals and not just bloodthirsty monsters, granted there is an element of that and how else could the threat of the ‘Indoraptor’ – the film’s central ‘nasty’ created using the DNA of Jurassic World’s Indominous Rex – be made effective, but it’s also refreshing that we end up rooting for ‘characters’ such as Blue and Tyrannosaur ‘Rexy’ (Jurassic Park’s original T.Rex who was also a triumphant addition to Jurassic World) as much as main stars Pratt and Dallas Howard and actually caring about the plight of these creatures who are being callously exploited in the pursuit of wealth.

Fallen Kingdom boasts some exciting action (although surprisingly, far less time is actually spent on Isla Nublar than the trailers might suggest) and J.A. Bayona handles it all with skill and whilst there’s naturally a lot of CGI on display there’s still a decent amount of practical effects being utilised.  There are numerous laughs (some moments funnier than others) and a great deal of fun to be had but Fallen Kingdom is a touch darker than the first Jurassic World and the terror has been pushed up a notch, delivering some genuine heart-pounding scares and sweaty-palm tension – the film’s atmospheric opening sequences (which easily ranks as one of the franchise’s finest moments) and pulse-pounding final act being the biggest highlights.

When it comes down to it Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn’t a sequel that exceeds the greatness of what’s come before, but it’s definitely more a case of The Lost World than Jurassic Park III and neatly sets the scene for part three.

The bottom line:  Not quite as successful as Colin Trevorrow’s beast, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is still an entertaining addition to the Jurassic Park saga that has some great moments despite an overall lack of originality.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is in U.K. cinemas now and opens in the U.S. and worldwide from 22nd June.

Comic Review: ‘The Man of Steel’ #1

Bendis takes on the Man of Steel… 

Man of Steel #1.jpg

Cover art for DC’s ‘The Man of Steel’ #1 by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Alex Sinclair (image belongs: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / art by:  Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Jason Fabok / colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

A powerful threat from Krypton’s past looms as it’s Last Son prepares to face his greatest challenge…

In review

Following his short stories in Action Comics #1000 and DC Nation #0, former Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis presents his first full DC comic with The Man of Steel #1, commencing the weekly six issue series that will lead into Bendis’ run on Superman and Action Comics beginning next month.

Most would argue that Superman is in no need of a creative relaunch given that Patrick Gleason, Peter J. Tomasi and Dan Jurgens have been doing just fine with the character and given readers some of the strongest Superman comics since before the New 52.  Coupled with the fact that some people love Bendis and more and more these days seem not to, it’s understandable that a number of fans will be approaching this title with caution.  There needn’t be any worry because on the basis of this first issue, Brian Bendis clearly loves the character and has a strong handle on the Last Son of Krypton, whether he is soaring into the skies as protector of the innocent and vulnerable or seeking truth and justice as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent.  Unlike John Byrne’s 1986 Man of Steel mini series this one isn’t a reboot, just a little bit of a refresh and a new start without undoing any of the work produced over the last couple of years.

Bendis paces things gently in The Man of Steel #1 which functions very much as a scene-setter as he establishes the basics and teases the larger overarching narrative.  Via flashbacks, we’re reintroduced to Rogol Zaar, the brutish new villain designed by Jim Lee and introduced in the Bendis/Lee short in Action Comics #1000 and whereas that dropped readers straight into an all-out brawl here we get more character depth, an idea of his motivations and ominous hints at an intergalactic conspiracy relating to the destruction of Krypton.  Zaar could turn out to be both an imposing and personal threat for Superman (and his adopted home) with potentially high stakes so hopefully Bendis delivers.

Those set-ups aside, Bendis keeps things fairly simple (there’s some wordy exposition here and there but nothing too dense) as we see Supes tackle Gotham criminals Firefly and Killer Moth, out to cause trouble in Metropolis, whilst he investigates a series of electrical fires.  In these scenes, Bendis nails the core tenets of the character – conveying that sense of strength and inherent good but also dipping into those subtle nuances of loneliness that can occasionally haunt him.  Brian Bendis proves equally adept when dealing with Clark Kent as mild-mannered news reporter and family man, scenes with Lois and Jon being both heartfelt and fun.

The art by penciller Ivan Reis and inker Joe Prado (with Jason Fabok contributing the final two pages of the book) is pretty solid as is to be expected.  There are a few spots where it feels a little rushed (and unfortunately the red trunks are still here) but otherwise it’s business as usual from the pair with powerful, emotive characters and beautifully composed environments enriched by Alex Sinclair’s colours.

Anyone expecting explosive all-out action and gripping drama from the outset will likely be disappointed by this premiere issue, but if every Superman (heck ,any) comic was like that it’d soon become boring, right?  With The Man of Steel #1 Brian Michael Bendis and collaborators Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Alex Sincalir and Jason Fabok provide readers with a taste of potentially exciting things to come.

The bottom line:  A promising new beginning for Superman, The Man of Steel #1 demonstrates that Brian Michael Bendis has a good handle on the character and gives tantalising hints at what’s ahead.

The Man of Steel #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.