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.

TV Review: ‘The Defenders’ Season 1

At long last, Netflix assembles Marvel’s street-level heroes…

 A note on spoilers : whilst this review doesn’t delve into major plot points there may be some light spoilers.

Starring:  Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Elodie Yung, Jessica Henwick, Rosario Dawson, Scott Glenn, Simone Missick, Sigourney Weaver

Series created by:  Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez

What’s it about?

Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist unite to protect New York from the threat of the ancient order of The Hand…

Season review

Having established their core street-level heroes in their own individual series, Marvel and Netflix reach the culmination of their plans with the much anticipated team-up of Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand/Iron Fist in The Defenders, a highly enjoyable – albeit not completely flawless – eight episode arc.

Like some of the other Marvel/Netflix shows, The Defenders gets off to a relatively slow start that’s somewhat burdened by its reintroduction of the principal characters in a manner that serves to both reacquaint established viewers with our heroes whilst striving to be accessible to those coming in fresh.  In terms of the latter it’s not entirely successful given that so much has happened to the individual characters in their respective series (particularly in the case of Daredevil who has two whole seasons worth of story) which supplies The Defenders with a pretty solid foundation for viewers who have already followed Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  It also presents a few initial narrative problems, the most cumbersome and disappointing being Luke Cage’s all-too quick and all-too convenient release from prison, which on the plus side does facilitate the introduction of Elden Henson’s Foggy Nelson into the story.

The series opener does most of the work of re-establishing the main players and their current status quo – Matt has locked away his billy club in favour of carrying out pro-bono legal work, Jessica is still hitting the bottle but has a weakness for those in need of help, Luke is dead-set on protecting the innocent and Danny, together with Colleen, continue to track and fight The Hand, the central threat of the Marvel/Netflix universe as seen in Daredevil and Iron Fist.  We’re also introduced to the current leader of that organisation – the mysterious ‘Alexandra’, played by screen icon (and Academy Award Nominee) Sigourney Weaver.  The artificially produced earthquake at the climax of “The H Word” provides suitably high stakes and a cause for our heroes to eventually unite against and Weaver is excellent in a role that’s atypical for an actor largely known for her more heroic turn as Lt. Ellen Ripley in the Alien films.  The writers provide Alexandra with a good measure of complexity yet there are moments when the character feels a little weak and never seems to fully develop into as powerful and formidable a foe as initially promised.

Where The Defenders doesn’t disappoint is when it comes to gathering the team itself, which happens organically without being forced or rushed and the dynamics of the group are explored wonderfully in the confines of a Chinese restaurant in “Royal Dragon”.  By having the main protagonists simply sit down at a table together we get to see some great chemistry on display, they’re a dysfunctional group for sure and there’s plenty of conflict in viewpoints but it all feels natural and there’s a sense that they all want to get on the same page and put aside any differences in order to battle against The Hand for the greater good.  “Royal Dragon” really sets things in motion, with the team galvanising as the series progresses and there’s a good dose of wry humour (Krysten Ritter on top form as she delivers Jessica’s sarcastic jibes) and plenty of light hearted put-downs, affording Mike Colter and Finn Jones the opportunity to build the budding friendship between Luke and Danny.

Overall, the focus on each of the principal cast is well-balanced (although Charlie Cox is arguably the standout) and Finn Jones certainly gets a chance to expand his character and placate those critical of Danny Rand’s characterisation in his own series with a definite sense of growth and a stronger positioning of him as the ‘Immortal Iron Fist’ as he finds himself being targeted as part of the enemy’s unfolding plans.

Supporting characters are served fittingly in accordance with the story.  Rosario Dawson’s role as Claire Temple is generally more prominent, which is understandable given here connective appearances in the other shows but there’s still a welcome presence (among some other familiar faces) from Simone Missick as Misty Knight and the superb Scott Glenn as Stick.  Of course, with The Hand presenting the threat in The Defenders and given the events of Daredevil season two we get to see Elektra’s rebirth as ultimate ‘weapon’ the Black Sky and Elodie Yung tackles this rather well, offsetting the brutality of a lethal assassin with emotional nuance as she grapples with her true identity.

The series features, like previous efforts, some slick and decently choreographed martial arts action (including another corridor fight sequence that can’t match those seen in Daredevil but is still a highlight non-the-less).  It does become a bit overly frantic at times and even difficult to follow in some of the darker scenes but for the most part, it delivers.

Structurally, there was always the fear that eight episodes would end up being too short a run.  Despite some occasional pacing issues, it actually works out just about right – in fact it’s also evidence that Marvel’s other Netflix series could benefit from slightly shorter episode counts, which really would have benefitted Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  Things slow down a little in the penultimate episode but The Defenders reaches an increasingly tense and satisfying climax in its finale (aptly titled “The Defenders”), with an epilogue that helps tie up loose ends whilst setting up the future course of Marvel’s Netflix universe.

The bottom line:  The Defenders is a reasonably enjoyable team-up event that successfully unites the street-level heroes of Marvel’s Netflix shows.

All 8 episodes of The Defenders season 1 are available to stream now via Netflix.

Defenders S1

Taking it to The Hand: Marvel’s street-level heroes assemble to save New York in ‘The Defenders’.

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.

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’.

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