Last weekend saw the release of Marvel and Netflix’s fourth binge-watch series Luke Cage, which gives one of Marvel’s most important heroes the spotlight he deserves. Last month, I pulled together a review of the first seven episodes and called it “Marvel’s best television effort yet”. After viewing the second half over the weekend, I more or less stand by that statement.
I have a few scattered thoughts about the second-half and then I wanted to open the floor and get everyone else’s thoughts on the show, as I’m seeing some interestingly divided opinions out there.
FIRST THINGS FIRST – if you haven’t watched all of the series, and I can’t blame you if you haven’t (I, myself, was at a big advantage here), bookmark this piece and come back. We’re gonna get real spoilery here, and I don’t want to ruin your experience. Before I make that leap, here’s a photo buffer of steely-eyed Mike Colter in one of my favorite shots from the show:
- I think the second half of the show is a slight step-down from the magnificent heights of the first, a big part of that is the switch-up of villains. Through the first seven episodes, Mahershala Ali’s Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes was arguably the best character on the show, even outclassing the title star. Once he’s taken off the board and replaced with the less interesting Diamondback, played by Erik LaRay Harvey, the show kinda veers a bit more towards typical action-revenge fare. That’s not an inherently bad thing, as that injection freshens things up just a tad, and there was no way the series could maintain the pace it was running at in the first half, and Diamondback certainly grew on me after his REALLY iffy debut appearance (after awhile I started to appreciate this cartoony villain being dropped in the middle of this grittier action). But losing Ali was a tough blow, and the brother against brother facet of Luke and Willis’ relationship was an added complication that never seemed necessary.
- I sure loved Diamondback’s costume at the end. Holy cow, what a fun little nod! As a matter of fact, the final two episodes were some of my favorites of the season. Cornball in all the right places, while also tying together Cheo Hodari Coker’s themes in a way that I found poetic. The appearance of Method Man, when then in turn produced a Luke Cage support movement among the Harlem citizenry was powerful, especially that imagery of the hoodie with the bullet holes in it. Stirring stuff. Episode 12 might be my favorite of these Netflix-Marvel hours of television. Both fun to watch and thematically resonant.
- The flashback episode to Luke’s origins is a close second, it’s a nice little piece of pulp that I think, in turn, strengthens some of the areas involving Riva in Jessica Jones and gave her a sense of character that she didn’t really have before, while also filling in some blanks. Also, getting to see Luke in the full blown tiara and yellow shirt costume was a nice touch.
- One of the only low-lights of the season was the return to Savannah, which I’m a little torn on. Luke in the tank veered just a tad too silly (“let’s throw salt in there!”, “No wait! Make it hot!”), and had a lot of CW superhero-type logic. It also was the point where I recognized this as the “biding time” portion of the season – Misty being interrogated was another point these thoughts came up – which every one of these Netflix-Marvel shows have. They’d all benefit from being about 2-3 episodes shorter, though luckily Luke Cage is on the lesser end of that struggle.
- Rosario Dawson finally gets something to do that isn’t just playing nurse and sticking out as the crossover character! Hooray! Though her scenes earlier on left me a little cold and had some really shoe-horned Defenders set-up, once she gets actively involved in the plot, she provides the series with another very good supporting player and much like Simone Missick, has solid chemistry with Colter. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a bit hit and miss with romantic entanglements, so I’ll savor anywhere when these things actually click.
- While I don’t expect it to stick too long, all the pieces are in place for it to get reversed right away, Luke being taken back to jail was a surprising and admirable choice for a genre that always aims to play it as safe as possible. Sometimes the good guys don’t win.
- This has the best music in a Marvel effort by far, composed by Adrian Younge (who you might know from the score for the brilliant Black Dynamite) and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest. Between the actual score and the “live” musical performances, this is an album I would buy in a second.
In the final analysis, this is my favorite of these Defenders series thus far, which for me currently ranks as:
1. Luke Cage
2. Daredevil Season 1
3. Jessica Jones
4. Daredevil Season 2
It’s kind of a game of inches for the first three and then a BIG gap. Iron Fist, the ball is in your court now!
But I’m curious what everyone else thought, let me know and I’m looking forward to reading!
Entertainment Editor for The Beat covering film, television and the occasional comic book. His work can also be found at GeekRex.com and can be heard on the GeekRex podcast. Also, your go-to Grant Morrison/Love & Rockets/Hellboy/Legion of Super-Heroes expert.