TV Review: Marvel's Luke Cage - Season 2

Luke Cage, Marvel's Luke Cage, Marvel, Marvel Studios, Netflix, Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, The Defenders, Alfre Woodard

Click here to read our previous reviews for Marvel's Luke Cage

This is a spoiler free review of the second season of Luke Cage.

SYNOPSIS: After clearing his name, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) has become a celebrity on the streets of Harlem with a reputation as bulletproof as his skin. But being so well known has only increased the pressure he feels to protect the community. With the rise of a formidable new foe, Luke is forced to confront the fine line that separates a hero from a villain.

Luke Cage, Marvel's Luke Cage, Marvel, Marvel Studios, Netflix, Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, The Defenders, Alfre Woodard

REVIEW: With the first season of each Marvel/Netflix series, I found something unique that I really enjoyed. Even the lackluster Iron Fist offered the cool callbacks to martial arts pulp movies of a bygone era. The shows also crossed over with each other in organic and natural ways, something that came to an anticlimactic conclusion in last year's The Defenders. But, as much as I enjoyed the first seasons, so far the sophomore runs have failed to grasp that same success. Daredevil's second season was disappointing while Jessica Jones tread the same waters without doing much to elevate the material. Luke Cage manages to somehow make the same errors as Jessica Jones' second season did and just barely redeems itself thanks to a risky narrative decision at the tail end of the thirteen episode run. All in all, if you enjoyed Luke Cage's first season, you will enjoy the second which is just as packed with references to the Marvel Comics character and his supporting players.

Picking up from where we last saw Luke and Claire Temple at the end of The Defenders, Luke Cage's second season sees the Hero of Harlem returning to protect his neighborhood and trying to take down Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard). Holed up in Harlem's Paradise along with Shades, Mariah has evolved from last season and is becoming the gangster she always chastised Cottonmouth for being. At the same time, a new threat presents itself in the form of Bushmaster, a Jamaican criminal with connections to the Stokes family who also has enhanced strength that puts him on par with Luke Cage. We also have Misty Knight dealing with the loss of her arm protecting Colleen Wing during The Defenders. There is also the tumultuous nature of Luke and Claire's relationship in the face of the ever present dangers he has to endure despite having bulletproof skin.

But, this second season actually feels less focused on Luke and more on the supporting players around him. Specifically, this season serves as a showcase for Alfre Woodard. Already an acclaimed actress, Woodard was a highlight as Mariah Dillard in the first season of this show. Here, partnered with Shades (Theo Rossi), Mariah ascends to the top of the Harlem underworld in an effort to succeed Cottonmouth and, in many ways, exceed the legacy of Mama Mabel. There is also a lot of time spent with Shades and the layered friendship he shares with Comanche (Thomas Jones). There is also a very interesting connection with John McIver/Bushmaster that evolves over the course of the season. And yet, through all of the gangster dealings, the show barely scratches the surface of who Luke Cage actually is. This entire thirteen episode run is packed with characters but never quite feels like it is going anywhere. The late Reg E. Cathey appears as Luke's estranged father and steals every scene he appears in. This season was the last credited role for Cathey and he does a great job adding depth to how Carl Lucas became Luke Cage.

Luke Cage has a fair amount of action, much of which is the goriest and most violent in any Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Each Netflix series seems to get closer and closer to the equivalent of an R-rating and Luke Cage may be the closest to garnering that rating. But, the action feels very repetitive. There are only so many times we can see Luke get riddled with bullets and then kick everyone's ass before it starts to feel rote. Mike Colter fully inhabits Luke Cage as a character but there just isn't much for him to do here. Through the entire season, characters repeat the same lines of dialogue over and over and often withour any change to the words. You could make a drinking game out of virtually everything said by Bushmaster and Mariah Dillard. There are also few standout moments from this season that will stick with you after you finish watching. In fact, the best moments seem to be the ones featuring Colleen Wing and Danny Rand. That's right, Iron Fist actually is worth watching in this series more than in his own.

Luke Cage, Marvel's Luke Cage, Marvel, Marvel Studios, Netflix, Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, The Defenders, Alfre Woodard

What is most interesting about Luke Cage this time around is his struggle with fame and celebrity. We saw how hard it was for Jessica Jones to deal with the impact of taking down Kilgrave, but Luke's defeat of Diamondback and Cottonmouth has been much more public. He also has to deal with what it means to be a hero. Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker mines familiar territory from MAN OF STEEL and forces Luke to question whether or not to kill those who kill others. It is a deep topic and the dual nature of being a vigilante is a central focus of this season. But, with so much time spent on the rise of Mariah Dillard and the quest to take her down, it is not until the final episodes of the season that the show takes a very interesting and unexpected turn. In fact, the final episode sets up a very different third season that may have major repercussions for both the character of Luke Cage as well as the future of The Defenders. Keep an eye out for a very well placed homage to THE GODFATHER.

Overall, I found the second season of Luke Cage to have some interesting moments but nothing that really improved on the first season. In many ways, this feels like the second half of the story started in season one and wraps up in a way that leaves a lot of new story possibilities for the third season. Even with some cool decisions made in regards to Shades, Misty Knight, and new character Tilda Johnson, most of this season suffers from a not very compelling villain and too much time spent doing the same thing over and over again. I would have scored this season even lower if not for the very risky choice that concludes the season. It was enough to redeem the entire run for me and definitely has me intrigued for what comes next. There is a lot of timely political and social commentary throughout the show which will absolutely keep you entertained for all thirteen episodes, but the season as a whole falls short of what it could have been. The music throughout the season is phenomenal, so at least you will come away with a worthy soundtrack. Otherwise, Luke Cage's second season is as underwhelming as Daredevil's.

All Season 2 episodes of Marvel's Luke Cage debut on Netflix on June 22nd.

Source: JoBlo.com



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