Quick Review: Marvel’s ‘Luke Cage’ S1 EP01 “Moment of Truth”

Starring:  Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard

Series created by:  Cheo Hodari Coker

Written by:  Cheo Hodari Coker / Episode directed by:  Paul McGuigan

What’s it about?

As tensions on the streets of Harlem rise, Luke Cage finds his attempts to live a quiet life becoming more difficult and a hero’s calling hard to ignore…

Episode review

Marvel TV brings a nifty, gritty urban vibe to Netflix with Luke Cage, the latest in their run of adult orientated street-level comic book shows, following the success of Daredevil and Jessica Jones.  Judging by this first episode, Marvel/Netflix have afforded the same care and attention to Luke Cage as they did with those previous series with another strong and deftly executed production that once again boasts some great casting.

Mike Colter’s Luke Cage already made his mark on the MCU as an integral part of Jessica Jones and certainly demonstrated promise for a series of his own.  Following what transpired in Hell’s Kitchen, Luke Cage opens with Marvel’s indestructible ‘Power Man’ (and eventual hero for hire) maintaining a low-profile in Harlem, working two jobs as he struggles to live day-to-day and keeping himself uncommitted to tackling the city’s growing crime problem.  It’s not necessarily essential to have seen Jessica Jones but it certainly helps in understanding where Cage has come from and how events have led him to this low-point, as he continues to be haunted by a past that left him with unwanted abilities.

Mahershala Ali (House of Cards) is appropriately menacing and dislikeable as ‘Cottonmouth’, club-owner and crime boss who beneath a demeanour of grandeur there seethes a fearsome rage of Wilson Fisk proportions.  His influence is enforced by his cousin, corrupt Councilwoman Mariah Dillard – played by Alfre Woodard (completely unconnected to her role in Captain America: Civil War) whose gravitas provides this series’ element of star power.  As Cottonmouth connects with former convict ‘Shades’ (Theo Rossi) we’re also introduced to Simone Missick’s Misty Knight, a potential ally for Cage and who may be more than she first appears.

Written by showrunner Cheo Coker (Ray Donovan), “Moment of Truth“ favours a slow-burn approach in setting the scene and establishing the key players and status quo but by the closing credits there’s a sense of threats brewing and a storyline building (with promising hints that we’ll get to explore that back story alluded to in Jessica Jones), leaving no doubt that Cage won’t remain on the side-lines for much longer.

The bottom line:  Marvel/Netlix deliver a promising and enjoyable start to Luke Cage that on first impressions looks to evoke the same quality as their previous efforts.

All 13 episodes of Luke Cage season 1 are available to stream now via Netflix.

Bulletproof and ready for action: Mike Colter is Luke Cage in the latest Marvel/Netlix venture.

Bulletproof and ready for action: Mike Colter is Luke Cage in the latest Marvel/Netlix venture.

Quick Review: ‘The Tick’ – Amazon Pilot

Starring:  Peter Serafinowicz, Griffin Newman, Valorie Curry, Jackie Earle Haley

Series created by:  Ben Edlund

Written by:  Ben Edlund / Episode directed by:  Wally Pfister

What’s it about?

Accountant Arthur Everest learns that long-thought dead supervillain the Terror is back…if only there was a hero who would dare to oppose such an evildoer…

In review

Wicked Men!  Ben Edlund’s zany superhero parody returns in another new iteration for Amazon’s pilot season and while it’s a little different from what fans of The Tick will be familiar with from the 1990s cartoon and the short-lived live action series from 2001 it’s a smart reinterpretation for modern audiences.  From the outset, it’s clear that for this newest take on The Tick Edlund has taken a darker, more mature (and even, to an extent, grounded) approach that mixes the adult themes and character deconstructions of the Netflix Daredevil series with the cartoon violence and madcap antics of Kick-Ass.

Unusually for a show called The Tick, Amazon’s pilot, at least initially, focuses mainly on his (eventual) sidekick, accountant Arthur Everest who thanks to a childhood trauma, revealed neatly via a series of flashbacks, suffers from mental health issues.  When Arthur discovers that purportedly deceased supervillain ‘the Terror’ (Watchmen’s Jackie Earle Haley) may actually be alive he becomes obsessive about uncovering the truth which soon leads to him crossing paths with the titular blue hero…who may or may not be a figment of Arthur’s imagination.  As Arthur, Griffin Newman provides a likeably dark, neurotic, yet rather funny protagonist that has real problems the audience can identify – or at least get on board – with that’s in tune with the pseudo-realism Edlund is going for with hints of the ‘hero’ he is to become.

Family Guy‘s Patrick Warburton (who serves as producer on this pilot) was pretty much a note perfect lead in the 2001 series, so what of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Peter Serafinowicz?  Well, he does a commendable job of succeeding Warburton and whilst he doesn’t quite have that hulking physicality he certainly has the voice (he was Darth Maul after all) and together with the wackiness of Edlund’s script we get a Tick that’s as zany and insanely verbose as ever, although the more intricately designed suit does at first take a little getting used to.

Visually this is a lavish and beautifully shot production (that boasts a cameo from Whoopi Goldberg no less!) on a scale that far surpasses that of the more confined, sitcom like feel of the 2001 series with The Dark Knight trilogy’s cinematographer Wally Pfister bringing an epic, film like quality to the 30-minute pilot.  Overall Amazon’s The Tick is a fresh but faithful reinterpretation for modern times that deserves the chance of going to series.

The bottom line:  Ben Edlund brings The Tick to Amazon Studios and their pilot is a darkly comic riff on the well-worn superhero genre that shows promise for a potential series.

The Tick is available to stream now, exclusively via Amazon.

What did you think of the Amazon’s pilot for ‘The Tick’?  Share your thoughts below!

Peter Serafinowicz is ready to face those wicked men in Amazon's pilot of 'The Tick'.

Peter Serafinowicz is ready to face those wicked men in Amazon’s pilot of ‘The Tick’.

First Impressions: ‘Daredevil’ Season 2

This article contains light spoilers for season one of Daredevil as well as the first three episodes of season two (titled “Bang”, “Dogs to a Gunfight” and “New York’s Finest”).

The Marvel/Netflix Daredevil series has returned for its highly anticipated second season and based on the first three episodes it seems safe to say viewers (or at least those who haven’t already binged on the entire season by now) are in for another exhilarating ride.

Season two hits the ground running and wastes no time in neatly establishing the central characters (a skippable recap of key moments from the first season preceding episode one assists), their status quo and the escalating crime rate in the wake of Wilson Fisk’s fall from power.  The fledgling firm of Nelson and Murdock has no shortage of clients but very few who are able to pay legal bills with monetary currency, leaving the honourable and altruist lawyers with more fruit baskets and home baked pies than they can keep up with.  Matt continues his night time mission as protector of the innocent and vulnerable of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and whilst Foggy has become more supportive of his best friend’s alter ego, he still bears a heavy dose of worry and concern and is becoming weary of covering up Murdock’s frequent absences and injuries to N&M’s faithful secretary, Karen Page.

It was great to see the growth of the ensemble of Charlie Cox, Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Woll and their respective characters throughout season one, the dramatic peaks and troughs of their relationships only making them stronger as a team, a family even.  Secrets are being kept from Karen only for her own protection but as the attraction between Matt and Karen continues to blossom there’s the potential for things to become even more complicated.

Charlie Cox slips back into the role of Matt Murdock/Daredevil with relative ease (as does Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page) but we are also reminded that Elden Henson’s ‘Foggy’ Nelson is an essential component of the series.  Considering the character could have easily become mere comic foil, Henson and the writers have delivered a well-rounded and compelling character that has deserved moments in the spotlight, from gutsy verbal jousting with a rival lawyer, to diffusing potentially lethal situations, the latter facilitating the return of ‘Night Nurse’ Clare Temple (Rosario Dawson).

With a power void left by the now imprisoned Wilson Fisk leading to the resurgence of various criminal gangs, DD has his work cut out for him yet these problems only mount when another vigilante rises, one who has fewer morale boundaries…enter Marvel Comics anti-hero the Punisher!  Last seen onscreen in woeful 2008 film adaptation Punisher: War Zone, Marvel’s Netflix universe is the right place to reintroduce the character and The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal is, likewise, a perfect fit for the role.  This is a no holds-barred and no punches pulled interpretation of the character.  A man on the edge and a literal one man army with a zero tolerance for crime and Bernthal brings all of those qualities powerfully to the fore.

The writers of Daredevil have wisely made the Punisher part of this season’s story from the outset and collided Daredevil’s and Punisher’s worlds quickly, their initial confrontation having great consequences for Murdock and culminating in some welcome moral debate in episode three that echoes classic Garth Ennis story “The Choice”, adding narrative depth in between the visceral action (which includes a sequence to top that infamous hallway fight from season one).

With the rest of the Punisher’s story to unfold and the impending introduction of iconic Daredevil character Elektra and a heightened sense of Matt Murdock’s vulnerabilities, the signs all clearly point to this being another great season of Daredevil, every inch as compelling and exciting as its first.

All thirteen episodes of Daredevil season two are available to stream now worldwide exclusively on Netflix.

Charlie Cox amkes an assured return as the 'Devil of Hell's Kitchen' in seaon two of the Netflix Original Series of Marvel's 'Daredevil'.

Charlie Cox makes an assured return as the ‘Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’ in season two of Marvel/Netflix’s ‘Daredevil’.

Comic Review: ‘Daredevil’ #1

The devil fights again…

Written by:  Charles Soule / pencils by:  Ron Garney / colours by:  Matt Milla

What’s it about?

Blind lawyer Matt Murdock has returned to the streets of New York to fight the criminal underworld as masked vigilante Daredevil…

In review

Daredevil #1 is the latest addition to Marvel Comics’ All-New, All-Different initiative and a relaunch for another of their long established characters.  Taking over the reins from Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, writer Charles Soule and artist Ron Garney reset the world of Matt Murdock post-Secret Wars and return him to New York after relocating to San Francisco during the latter part of the Waid/Samnee run.  Fans of Mark Waid’s (generally) lighter, happy-go-lucky take on the character may find this relaunch a little jarring at first as Soule and Garney bring back the grit and darkness of the days of writers Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker (perhaps partly instigated by the success of the Netflix series launched earlier this year?) and as refreshing and fun as Waid’s approach was, it’s a welcome return to form for the Man Without Fear.

Given his experiences as a lawyer, Charles Soule is an ideal fit for Daredevil and seems to have a good handle on the established character of Murdock whilst deftly weaving new elements into the status quo.  Whilst Murdock is now acting as prosecutor for the state, as Daredevil he must contend with the lurking threat of new villain ‘Tenfingers’ but it looks like he won’t have to face this alone as Soule introduces us to Blindspot, DD’s new crime-fighting partner/vigilante-in-training.  Early on, Soule rightly relinquishes much of the narrative focus to this new partnership as Murdock (donning his new, darker Daredevil suit that’s befitting of the title’s overall tone) trains his ‘sidekick’ as they conduct a brutal face off with a street gang that has links to Tenfingers.  With reference to Murdock’s own training by Stick, there’s a pleasing sense that the pupil has now become the teacher with Murdock’s Daredevil playing irascible sensei to Blindspot’s misguided protégé.

Ron Garney’s rough and inkless pencils matches Soule’s writing perfectly and complemented nicely by Matt Manilla’s subdued colour palette that (the odd effective highlight aside) allows only hints of washed-out crimson and cool blues to seep through, bringing the violent, grimy and decaying underbelly of New York to life.  A far cry from the clean lines and vivid colours of Waid/Samnee’s tenure to be sure and a welcome visual refresh that’s more reminiscent of Alex Maleev and Michael Lark whilst establishing a look that’s still of its own.

As with the rest of Marvel’s All-New, All-Different relaunch, a leap of faith is required by the reader as we know nothing of what has transpired in the eight month gap following the conclusion of events in Secret Wars (which still has two issues left to go) but no doubt that in good time the missing details will be fleshed out.

The bottom line:  Marvel’s ‘Man Without Fear’ makes a welcome return to darker and grittier times that only serves for greater dramatic and artistic potential, courtesy of a promising new creative team.

Daredevil #1 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Cover art for Marvel Comics' 'Daredevil' #1 by Ron Garney.

Cover art for Marvel Comics’ ‘Daredevil’ #1 by Ron Garney.

First Impressions: Marvel’s ‘Jessica Jones’ (Netflix Original Series)

Enter the next Defender…

Jessica Jones is the latest Netflix series chronicling the exploits of another of Marvel’s street level characters and having viewed the first two episodes, “AKA Ladies Night” and “AKA Crush Syndrome” I thought I’d offer some quick first impressions.

I must confess that unlike Daredevil, I came to Jessica Jones with limited knowledge of the character created by Brian Michael Bendis with only a passing familiarity gained via Bendis’ run on New Avengers from the mid/late 2000’s.  I had never read Alias, the title that introduced the super-powered private investigator – something that on the strength of this series I now plan to rectify.

Given the quality of Daredevil I still had high hopes for Jessica Jones and I’m certainly not disappointed.  Marvel and Netflix have ensured that anticipations would be met and Jessica Jones (at least thus far) achieves what was established with Daredevil and manages to push the envelope further.  This is dark, gritty stuff and all the more compelling for it.

Once again we are taken to the crime ridden streets of Hell’s Kitchen and this time we are introduced to private investigator Jessica Jones, a world weary ‘gifted’ individual who turns to drink in an effort to cope with a traumatic past event and chooses not to embrace her extraordinary abilities as a force for good.  As Jones, Breaking Bad’s Krysten Ritter proves to be perfect casting as she effectively conveys a complex mix of sarcastic wit, cynical world view and general brashness whilst also letting subtle hints of heroism seep through (we learn that her one weakness is that she sometimes cares).  Jones’s methods as a P.I. are at times questionable (falling foul of lawyer Jeryn Hogarth, played by The Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss) but she gets the job done.

Also introduced is another of Marvel’s street level heroes as Mike Colter brings the indestructible Luke Cage (due to receive his own Netflix series in 2016) to the screen and in these first two episodes Ritter and Colter are able to establish good chemistry and get the chance to put their abilities to use in a bone crunching bar fight – their first of undoubtedly many team-ups to come.  The building storyline concerning Jones’s manipulation by supervillain Kilgrave is mysterious and intriguing, although largely unseen, former Doctor Who star David Tennant makes his presence felt from behind the shadows, with unsettling flashbacks that plague Jones a prelude to Kilgrave’s re-emergence in the present as the mysteries of Jones’s latest case begin to unravel.

This is the seedy underbelly of the Marvel universe and is a perfect counterpoint to the family orientated (but no less entertaining) cinematic ventures of The Avengers and I’m looking forward to watching more.

All thirteen episodes of Jessica Jones season one are available to stream now worldwide exclusively on Netflix.

More perfect Marvel casting - Krysten Ritter in the latest Marvel/Netflix series 'Jessica Jones'.

More perfect Marvel casting – Krysten Ritter in the latest Marvel/Netflix series ‘Jessica Jones’.

First Impressions: ‘Daredevil’ (Netflix Original Series)

Yesterday saw the long awaited worldwide release of the Netflix Daredevil series and having viewed the first two episodes, titled “Into the Ring” and “Cut Man” – both written by series creator and executive producer Drew Goddard (who exited as showrunner to pursue Sony’s now defunct Sinister Six feature film) – I can safely report that, so far at least, it’s yet another hit for Marvel.  Being a huge fan of the horned defender of Hell’s Kitchen there is a level of bias (there’s even a place for the maligned Ben Affleck film from 2003 in my books) yet beyond the series perfectly capturing the essence of the character and drawing heavily from the very best of the source material, viewers will find that Daredevil is well scripted, well cast and beautifully realised.

Drawing heavily on iconic and fan favourite comic book runs by writers Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker (working with legendary artists Klaus Janson, David Mazzucchelli, Alex Maleev and Michael Lark), Daredevil is exactly as it should be – dark, gritty and brutal yet not without heart and a smattering of humour (reminiscent of Mark Waid’s current tenure).  Boardwalk Empire’s Charlie Cox looks, sounds and feels the part as blind attorney Matt Murdock  – a tortured soul whose tragic back story is presented through a series of flashbacks and is ably supported by law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who provides ‘Murdock and Nelson’ with their first case.  “Cut Man” also introduces us to another citizen of Hell’s Kitchen – Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, the woman who will patch and dress the wounds Murdock sustains in his fight against the criminal underworld.

Murdock’s night time pursuits (beautifully shot by cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd) as the vigilante who will become known as ‘Daredevil’ fulfil the brutal element of the series.  Not being hindered by the constraints of television censorship, Daredevil is not family entertainment and handles the bone-cracking violence (and general adult themes) appropriately.  It’s certainly not gratuitous, but, appropriate.

I’m very much looking forward to the full reveal of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk (aka ‘Kingpin’), who is teased during the premiere episode and the further development of the Murdock/Nelson/Page ensemble and the evolution of Murdock’s Daredevil persona – especially the costume that Murdock teases is “a work in progress”.

Daredevil is the first of five Marvel/Netflix Original Series with A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist due to follow, culminating in a crossover for Marvel’s street-level heroes in a Defenders limited series.  If the quality of Daredevil is anything to go by then these are exciting times to be a Marvel fan and indeed, a Netflix subscriber.

All thirteen episodes of Daredevil season one are available to stream now worldwide exclusively on Netflix.

Charlie Cox is perfectly cast as the defender of Hell's Kitchen in the gritty and brutal Netflix Original Series 'Daredevil'.

Charlie Cox is perfectly cast as Marvel Comics’ defender of Hell’s Kitchen in the gritty and brutal Netflix Original Series ‘Daredevil’.

TV Review: ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ S1 EP8 “The Well”

Starring:  Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, Ming Na-Wen as Melinda May, Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, Chloe Bennet as Skye, Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons

Series created by:  Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

Episode directed by:  Jonathan Frakes / Written by:  Monica Owusu-Breen / aired in the UK:  22/11/2013

What’s this episode about?

Agent Ward’s darkest memory resurfaces when he becomes exposed to a piece of an Asgardian staff…

Episode review

So how is AoS progressing so far?  The best I can say is just above adequately entertaining, certainly there is room for improvement yet I still find myself enjoying each episode and look forward to seeing how the concept and the characters continue to grow.  After all, how many shows are truly great in their first season?  Given that AoS isn’t even halfway through its premiere run yet I feel it’s still worth sticking with if only at the very least to keep the Marvel flame burning between films.

Eight episodes in and the writers and actors are starting to get a handle on the dysfunctional (yet functionally efficient) team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.  Coulson continues to be the glue with May his now less reluctant right-hand woman, Skye’s loyalties are settled and Ward ever the resourceful Alpha Male.  Ironically, it’s the two characters who at the outset seemed would be the weakest that are proving the most enjoyable – Fitz and Simmons are proving to be the real heart of the series.

With heavy focus on Fitz and Simmons in the previous two episodes, “The Well” highlights the show’s connections to its big screen siblings by following up the events of Thor: The Dark World whilst allowing Brett Dalton to tackle some background material for his character.  Does it work?  Well (no pun intended…or then again was it?) yes and no, Ward serves a purpose and I’d be interested to learn more about the troubled past that’s hinted at, but I found myself more interested in the ‘Fitzsimmons’ moments peppered throughout and yearning to learn more about Coulson’s mysterious ‘death’ and recovery.  I’d also like to see more revelations surrounding Agent May who clearly has an interesting story to tell (between bouts of kicking backside) – but all in good time I suppose!

The Asgardian connection is fun and 24’s Peter MacNicol (or Ghostbusters II for true geek recognition) is a solid guest star bringing a playful and eccentric quality to the wise Professor Randolph.  Thus far though there is a little something missing from the series to make it compelling appointment television but as I’ve cited it needs time to grow as the footings of the writers and actors become firmer and all those wider story arcs alluded to come to the fore.

With the recent news of Marvel’s deal with Netflix to develop a number of series based on lesser known street-level characters such as Daredevil and Luke Cage it’s well worth sticking with AoS and given time I have faith that it will more than fulfil its role as more than just filler between chapters of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.

The bottom line:  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is easy going and enjoyable entertainment and whilst there’s potential for improvement, it’s a perfectly watchable companion to the Marvel Studios film series.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs in the UK on Fridays at 8pm on Channel 4.  US viewers can catch it Tuesday nights on ABC.

What did you think of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far?  Share your thoughts below! 

Also on Geek Blogger UK:

–          Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Pilot” review 

–          Thor: The Dark World review