Friday, July 6, 2018

Review: "Luke Cage" season two is one of the better Netflix Marvel seasons

Luke Cage season two Review

As much as I've been a Marvel fan, their television endeavors have just not jumped off the screen the way their movies have. I like their TV branch, but I definitely don't love it, and that has been somewhat frustrating because I feel like I should love it. "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is a fun show that is hit or miss with its storylines most of the time. And for Marvel's darker, grittier TV branch, the Netflix Marvel experiment has only produced one all-around great show, and that's "Daredevil." Plus, the big Netflix Marvel mash-up, "The Defenders," seemingly came and landed with a wet fart. Vanishing without a trace on the way out the door. It's really no wonder that there are no plans for a second Defenders team up on the streaming service. It's been a mystery to me how Marvel continues to not do much with its TV side, especially with the rich characters they've been given access to.

Actually, let me stop. I know why Marvel has been fumbling the football with Netflix recently. They've never been able to tackle pacing, and its been a real issue since the beginning. They have these stories built for a movie and they are spreading that story across eight to thirteen hours. That simply doesn't work. No matter how many times Netflix has tried with their Marvel shows, it ends up coming short in a big way. I always just figured that was how it was always going to be. Its been a problem so noticeable that it easily derails any good will these Marvel shows have mustered over at their streaming platform.

The first season of "Luke Cage" in particular, was fun to watch all the way throughout, but the moment they decide to kill Cornell Cottonmouth, the show just comes to screeching halt. The villain that replaces Cottonmouth is visually dorky and totally uninteresting that you are mentally begging for Cottonmouth to rise from the dead somehow. If the Netflix shows have any other sort of problem, its making sure the villains are interesting like the heroes. The first season gave us Cottonmouth, Mariah Dillard and Shades, but Diamondback was dud, through and through. I was scared with Cottonmouth gone, how they'd move forward in a second seasons.

Blame my low expectations, blame whatever you want. I am going to come out and say that the second season of "Luke Cage" was lots of fun. The big thing I notice, and I can't believe there are legit TV critics arguing this point, but the pacing is actually a non-issue this season. The story being told moves at a generous pace and the few filler episodes the season has are actually interesting, they never feel thrown away or just there. They've been made to matter and that makes a big difference. I never really felt bored across the thirteen hours of this season.

Out of all the Netflix Marvel shows, this one seems to embrace the comic world moreso than ever before. What's interesting is the gritty realism of the Netflix world has stayed intact despite all the fanatical elements happening around the characters. Misty Knight returns this season, and after losing her arm in "The Defenders," she's now got the bionic arm from the comics. Luke Cage teams up with Danny Rand for a couple episodes. Mustafa Shakir plays a character who goes by the alias Bushwacker and he's truly a foil to Luke Cage. He's got the bullet defense system in his body, even though its not nearly as strong as Cage's, its effective and it gets the job done. Plus, he's got a superhuman agility which makes him Cage's equal in many fights. All of this plays into why I liked this season, it keeps the comic side intact. No, nobody is really wearing costumes. But you know what, the characters in this show had costumes in the comics and they all looked stupid. So maybe there's a reason for that.

Shakir's work as Bushwacker is strong and he makes a great breakthrough with the character. He's not just an empty character needed so that Luke has a fight. Bushwacker comes from Jamaica, and rises within the Jamaican Yardies of New York (yes, the Yardies are a real ethnic gang, something I've had to explain to many people already.) He's got a history with Mariah Dillard, and he's ready to get some revenge on her. This proposes a problem because Dillard is in the mist of actually trying to become a legitimate businesswoman. Luke Cage reluctantly teams up with Mariah, and other times teams up with Bushwacker. It may sound like it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but fear not. There is a story being told here. I liked that it was story that was continuously keeping me on my toes throughout. 

We also meet Mariah's daughter, Gabrielle Dennis plays Tilda Johnson, who is good with elixirs and potions, again the embracing of comic origins has been lots of fun. It's a totally revision of the character from the comics, but that's okay. The main theme of the character is left intact, and that's what is most important. It's actually amazing how much family and those relationships affect this season. Tilda feels a newfound epiphany when she sees her daughter, an old moment with Cottonmouth revitalizes how much he actually meant to Mariah. Luke Cage focuses with his birth father what it actually means to be a true hero. Family and their dynamics plays big into this new season.

But the new season is much more than just storyline. There is some good action set pieces. The show is clever and smart in the way it reacts to Luke Cage and his power base. This is a guy is bulltproof with super strength, so you got to do something to make up some drama within the show. It can't just be a repeat of what they did last weekend. That gets old real quick. The new characters and the new dynamic definitely helps though, giving the characters more to do makes up for anything that doesn't fit here. Everyone makes strong choices in their performances. The action scenes are well staged, which I felt were boring in the first season. Because let's face it, when a guy has super-strength, its tough to keep that interesting across thirteen hours. The ending lands with some major questions, and this isn't a case of just killing everyone. But there is one major death in particular which will make the future interesting moving forward.

But the big thing for me is that this season kept my interest throughout. This time, that means more than most. They had a story that didn't feel like butter stretched across too much bread. They had a story that was character-driven and fun in equal measure. One story that wasn't afraid to embrace the books in which this series is based upon. I hope this is a new leaf for Netflix Marvel, because it could make this experiment last much longer.

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