Skip to main content

You know, strength has its limits.

Luke Cage
Season One

(SPOILERS) The tepid response to the fourth Marvel Netflix series seems to have caught up with my general apathy towards their output, such that I’m almost left thinking, well, it wasn’t really that bad, was it? And Luke Cage isn’t bad, it’s just that it’s about eight episodes too long (so that’s about four longer than average Netflix season is too long) and takes most of them going nowhere especially interesting with what story it has. You’d be forgiven for thinking Netflix’s approach to TV superheroes hasn’t really made any leaps and bounds since The Incredible Hulk forty years ago.


Those were self-contained, Littlest Hobo reset plotlines, of course, whereas this is almost exhaustingly serialised. I’ll never go back to wishing for such unmotivated days, but you have to actually have an ongoing story worth telling. Luke Cage has a number of solid bedrock essentials; Mike Colter is an instantly more winning lead than Charlie Cox in Daredevil, and he isn’t beset by an irritating supporting cast like Cox.


On the other hand, most of his supporting cast lack especially strong characters, from Simone Missick’s all-over-the-clichés cop Misty Knight to the selection of villains, local crime boss Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali, from House of Cards, giving probably the best performance here), his ineffectively corrupt politician cousin Mariah (Alfre Woodard) and most of all the tiresomely OTT, Bible spouting loon that is Luke’s half-brother Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey, like Cox ex of Boardwalk Empire).


Rosario Dawson is more successful as the returning Claire, and the most diverting interlude during the thirteen-episode slog has the wounded Cage taken to the doctor (Michael Kostroff) whose experiments imbued him with his super skin. But so little offers anything in the way twists, turns or surprises that would justify the show’s obstinate length; it lacks even the up-the-ante quality that usual happens with these Marvels about the midpoint. That’s when Diamondback enters, but he’s so risible a cardboard psycho, and his means of inflicting injury on Luke so uninspired, it made it difficult to muster even the dedication to even see the show through, all the way through to the limp showdown. Everyone here plays to expected types, from Frankie Falson being a loveable old goat to Frank Whaley turning out to be a bad seed (there was a time, a few decades’ past, when he also played good guys, but those are long since over).


Luke Cage is the kind of show that even plumbs such corny depths as having a villain stop short of killing a lead character with “I’ll hurt you later. You’ll suffer more that way” (that might work in a comic strip panel, but the show is so devoted to faux-realism and a non-heightened milieu, it comes across as simply amateurish), when he has a clean shot, and bases a whole episode around a siege situation (in which bad guys don’t immediately deduce there must be a basement after Luke vanishes into thin air), something the most formulaic cop shows usually wait a season or two to fall back on. And what Theo Rossi, one of the least threatening or imposing actors around, is doing cast as a heavy, is beyond me. Removing and replacing his sunglasses mostly, while trying not to blink.


Still, the music from Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge is exemplary, and this at least feels like the most comfortably brought to life of the Marvel series to date. Unfortunately, Luke Cage just hasn’t found a decent story to tell; the pre-hype was big with “the world is ready for a bulletproof black man”, but was it ready for a show that does absolutely nothing of note with him, other than spouting rote platitudes ad infinitum?


It’s unfortunate that Luke made a better supporting character in Jessica Jones, but without superheroic face-offs and fireworks these Marvel shows absolutely require dense twists and turns of plotting and sustained arcs to justify themselves, the sort of thing Joss Whedon did week in, week out across Buffy and Angel for nine years. Perhaps he’s answering his phone now the trauma of Age of Ultron is easing somewhat? Luke Cage probably isn’t any lesser than Season One of Daredevil, but fatigue with the Netflix formula has now firmly set in, so it really feels its sluggishness. Is “That’ll do” really their yardstick?


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

If you never do anything, you never become anyone.

An Education (2009)
Carey Mulligan deserves all the attention she received for her central performance, and the depiction of the ‘60s is commendably subdued. I worried there was going to be a full-blown music montage sequence at the climax that undid all the good work, but thankfully it was fairly low key. 

Alfred Molina and Olivia Williams are especially strong in the supporting roles, and it's fortunate for credibility’s sake that that Orlando Bloom had to drop out and Dominic Cooper replaced him.
***1/2

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

Everyone who had a talent for it lived happily ever after.

Empire 30:  Favourite Films of the Last 30 Years
Empire’s readers’ poll to celebrate its thirtieth birthday – a request for the ultimate thirty films of the last thirty years, one per year from 1989 – required a bit of thought, particularly since they weren’t just limiting it to your annual favourite (“These can be the films that impressed you the most, the ones that stuck with you, that brought you joy, or came to you at just the right time”). Also – since the question was asked on Twitter, although I don’t know how rigorous they’re being; does it apply to general release, or does it include first film festival showings? – they’re talking UK release dates, rather than US, calling for that extra modicum of mulling. To provide more variety, I opted to limit myself to just one film per director; otherwise, my thirty would have been top heavy with, at very least, Coen Brothers movies. So here’s they are, with runners-up and reasoning:

You want to investigate me, roll the dice and take your chances.

A Few Good Men (1992)
(SPOILERS) Aaron Sorkin has penned a few good manuscripts in his time, but A Few Good Men, despite being inspired by an actual incident (one related to him by his sister, an army lawyer on a case at the time), falls squarely into the realm of watchable but formulaic. I’m not sure I’d revisited the entire movie since seeing it at the cinema, but my reaction is largely the same: that it’s about as impressively mounted and star-studded as Hollywood gets, but it’s ultimately a rather empty courtroom drama.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…

What happens at 72?

Midsommar (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ari Aster, by rights, ought already to be buckling under the weight of all those accolades amassing around him, pronouncing him a horror wunderkind a mere two films in. But while both Midsommar and Hereditary have both received broadly similar critical acclaim, his second feature will lag behind the first by some distance in box office, unless something significant happens in a hitherto neglected territory. That isn’t such a surprise on seeing it. While Hereditary keeps its hand firmly on the tiller of shock value and incident, so as to sustain it’s already more than adequate running time, Midsommar runs a full twenty minutes longer, which is positively – or rather, negatively – over-indulgent for what we have here, content-wise, and suggests a director whose crowned auteurishness has instantly gone to his head.

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…