Tag Archives: Black Lightning

Luke Cage: Season 2 Review

Starring Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, Mustafa Shakir, Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard, Reg. E. Cathey, Simone Missick and Finn Jones.

Spoilers for Season 1. Minor Spoilers only for Season 2.

I really wasn’t a fan of Luke Cage after season one. By which I mean the show, not Mike Colter’s character. Colter has always convinced in the role ever since he first appeared on Jessica Jones’ first season. But aside from several good acting performances (by Colter, Mahershala Ali etc.) Season 1 was very, very disappointing, and in my opinion, was one of the most critically overrated TV series (I’d give it a 2.5/5). Sure, it was a landmark event in that it was the first Superhero TV show centred around a Black Superhero and a majority Black Cast. But this doesn’t automatically make it good television, no matter how powerful its message is. It had a unique feel, sure, with a soulful soundtrack that worked wonderfully, but I wouldn’t have recommended it to anyone.

Luke Cage had three major issues in S1: its pacing, its villains and a failure to use its hero in an interesting way. Luke was often too sidelined in favour of the supporting characters throughout the first season, and his whole ‘reluctant hero’ schtick really wasn’t that interesting a character arc – it just made him seem selfish and jaded and didn’t let Colter’s natural charisma show the way it did in Jessica Jones and the Defenders. Worse, the nature of Luke’s powers meant he was completely invulnerable for the first 6 episodes, but then once a weapon that hurt him was introduced in episode 7, he kept going down far too easily (i.e. the familiar Superman/Supergirl problem). The shows pacing was all out of whack, as is usual with Marvel’s Netflix shows, and was definitely 3 episodes too long. The biggest problem, however, was the villains. S1 had 4: Cottonmouth, Diamondback, Shades and Mariah. Although the actors did their best with each of them, we never got any reason to care about Shades or Mariah, who were really bland throughout, Diamondback was very OTT and had a really hackneyed origin story (Luke’s resentful brother, I mean seriously??! talk about cliched) and Cottonmouth (the only decent one) was killed off halfway through.

I gave S2 another chance because, as I said, I like Colter’s performance and figured the show could do a lot better. Has it?

Yes it has. Thank God!

Luke is a much, much more interesting lead this season. He grapples with more compelling themes, struggling with anger issues, his newfound celebrity status, and his desire to do what’s right even when he knows he could solve Harlem’s problems more quickly by just killing Mariah or working outside the law. While he still feels a bit too sidelined at times, the screentime Luke does get is put to much better use. Colter clearly relishes the role he’s playing this time, whether its sparring with Claire and Misty over his methods or trying to reconnect with his estranged father (marvellously played by the terrific late Reg. E. Cathey, who the series is dedicated to).

The writing has also improved a lot, mainly because it focuses a lot more on character work, so that even when the plot slows up we still get some compelling scenes. The racial politics and progressive messages are still there, but are included with far more nuance, and aren’t so jarringly on the nose as they were in season one. As Black Lightning proved, these things work far better when they are simply shown, rather than being patronisingly spelt out for the audience. In other good news, the supporting characters this season (Sugar, D.W. Piranha, Comanche, Tilda, Anansi) are all much more interesting than Misty, Scarfe or Shades were last season. Thankfully, Misty is a much easier character to like this time round, simply because she’s clued in and on Luke’s side from the start. Even more surprisingly, Shades becomes one of the shows most intriguing characters this season, as Theo Rossi gets much better material to work with and gets the chance to really show his talent as an actor. Alfre Woodard gets a better storyline as Mariah as well, as the show does a better job of transforming her into a main villain, though arguably it gets too focused on her in the latter episodes of the season.

The show’s biggest strength, however, has to be new villain Bushmaster. Not only is this villain capable of going hand-to-hand with Cage (something which Mariah, Shades and Cottomouth were handicapped by their inability to do), but he’s also played with great charisma by Mustafa Shakir, who turns Bushmaster into one of the most memorable villains in Marvel TV (he’s virtually Tennant as Kilgrave good, and that’s the highest praise I can give). His fights with Luke are highlights of the season, and the fight choreography in general seems to have taken a massive step up this year – you’ll never get bored of Luke smacking down thugs or going toe-to-toe with Bushmaster, who is the first character to ever pose a genuine physical threat to Luke. It’s just a pity that Bushmaster gets sidelined in favour of Mariah in the last few episodes of the series, as he was definitely the stronger adversary of the two.

The series still isn’t perfect however. While it feels like you could get 13 episodes of story from the plot, each episode weighs in at 50-65 minutes, so the episodes do feel stretched out in places, normally because police incompetence or Luke’s reluctance to kill keeps some villains in play longer than they need to be. If you fancy a drinking game, have one everytime there’s an interlude mid-episode for a musical performance at Harlem’s paradise – it happens like every bloody episode and probably adds at least a good half-hour of runtime over the season. There’s also an Iron Fist crossover episode, which has its moments, but feels more like fan-service than actually adding anything to the plot (though I’m happy to say Finn Jones is much more likeable as Danny Rand now).

Overall, the shows character-driven scripts and cool fight scenes, in addition to a more subtle and nuanced approach to its political message, make this a huge improvement over season 1. However, it still feels stretched out and arguably focuses on the wrong villain in the final few episodes. Despite this, its probably up there with Jessica Jones’ second season in terms of quality, so I’ll give it the same rating.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Final Thought: Make sure you watch S1 of the Defenders before you watch this, because there’s a lot of references to the events of that crossover series here, particularly regarding Misty and Danny Rand’s role in events.

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Black Lightning Review

Starring Cress Williams.

Minor Spoilers Follow.

With Black Panther making waves on the big screen, it felt like an appropriate time to try Black Lightning, the first DC TV show to have a Black Superhero as its main focus. It’s only the second Superhero show I can think of to have done this apart from Luke Cage. While the producers of Black Panther should be commended for what they’ve done, I can’t really credit the MCU much for boosting black representation in the superhero genre. Black Panther is the 18th MCU film – its taken them that long to have a film based around a Black Superhero, and they STILL haven’t released one with a female superhero taking the lead. Given the presence of War Machine, Falcon, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch in the MCU, this lack of representation is utterly pathetic. This is made especially evident by DC films, given that DC’s THIRD FILM featured Will Smith as lead character Deadshot and their FOURTH film gave us Wonder Woman. DC have done better (on representation, if not scripting) in 4 films than Marvel has in 17. Shame on you Marvel.

Marvel TV has admittedly done a better job of this, with Agent Carter and Jessica Jones catering for female Superheroes and Luke Cage giving us a show with a predominantly black cast. Unfortunately, Luke Cage was one of Marvel’s worse efforts (only outdone by Iron Fist) because of its poor writing, uneven tone and totally on the nose politics. Though Mike Colter has done a stand out job with the character on the Defenders and Jessica Jones, he still hasn’t got the material he deserves on his own show.

Fortunately, when it comes to both representation and TV shows in general, DC is far, far better than Marvel. John Diggle/Spartan has been a key fixture on Arrow since S1, and all four Arrowverse shows have had diverse casts (both in terms of ethnicity, gender and sexuality). Now we have a fifth DC show: Black Lightning. Not only is it DC’s answer to Luke Cage, but so far, its a damn sight better!

Cress Williams is a revelation as lead character Jefferson Pierce, a man who fought as a vigilante in his youth, but gave it up after his wife left him for the sake of his daughters and became the headmaster of a local school to try and combat the gangs a different way. Black Lightning sees him reluctantly forced back into action when his youngest daughter is targeted by a member of the local ‘100’ gang. While this kind of plotline veers close to cliché, its carried off with such panache and good scripting that you won’t really care. The rest of the (predominantly black) cast is equally good, with Jefferson’s daughters both likeable characters, and even his ex-wife is largely sympathetic (could this FINALLY be the show where DC doesn’t give us a crap love interest? Fingers crossed). The only white character of any note is Jefferson’s old mentor Peter (who acts as a cross between Alfred and Lucius Fox). While it seems easy to predict the arcs some characters will head down during this first series, they’ve all got plenty of potential.

One area the show completely trumps Luke Cage is in its use of Superpowers. Black Lightning’s electrical attacks are awesome (anyone whose played the Infamous video games will appreciate them!) and give the action scenes plenty of spark and heft. Luke Cage was always held back by the fact that being bulletproof and strong don’t make for particularly exciting powers. Black Lightning doesn’t have this problem – he’s powerful but still vulnerable, which is always the best superhero combination.

I also liked how Lightning isn’t a ‘White Knight’ style hero (the DC shows have enough of those on the Flash and Supergirl) but is happy to get his hands dirty, and in one memorable sequence, blows up a police car to send a message to two racist cops. Police brutality/racism is one of several issues highlighted here, but its done so in a much more sensitive and less on-the-nose way than in Luke Cage and comes across as less heavy handed as a result.

There are one or two issues: the dialogue can be a bit clichéd and corny in some places, and its first few episodes follow familiar plotlines to most other superhero/vigilante dramas, but overall its a cut above the current load of superhero offerings. Hopefully the rest of the season lives up to this promising start.

Rating: 4 out of 5

My review of Black Panther will be out sometime next week. Can an MCU film finally get 5/5?