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

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…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

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.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.