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

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

The past is a statement. The future is a question.

Justified Season Six
(SPOILERS) There have been more than enough damp squib or so-so show finales of late to have greeted the demise of Justified with some trepidation. Thankfully it avoids almost every pitfall it might have succumbed to and gives us a satisfying send-off that feels fitting for its characters. This is a series that, even at its weakest (the previous season) is leagues ahead of most fare in an increasingly saturated sphere, so it’s a relief – even if there was never much doubt on past form – that it doesn’t drop the ball.

And of those character fates? In a show that often pulls back from giving Raylan Givens the great hero moments (despite his maintaining a veneer of ultra-cool, and getting “supporting hero” moments as he does in the finale, 6.13 The Promise), it feels appropriate that his entire (stated) motivation for the season should be undermined. He doesn’t get to take down Boyd Crowder, except in an incarcerating sense, but as always he is sanguine about it. After…

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…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

You’re only seeing what’s in front of you. You’re not seeing what’s above you.

Mr. Robot Season 2
(SPOILERS) I suspect my problem with Mr. Robot may be that I want it to be something it isn’t, which would entail it being a much better show than it is. And that’s its own fault, really, or rather creator and writer-director of umpteen episodes Sam Esmail’s, who has intentionally and provocatively lured his audience into thinking this really is an up-to-the-minute, pertinent, relevant, zeitgeisty show, one that not only has a huge amount to say about the illusory nature of our socio-economic system, and consequently the bedrock of our collective paradigm, but also the thorny subject of reality itself, both of which have been variably enticing dramatic fodder since the Wachowski siblings and David Fincher released a one-two punch at the end of the previous millennium.

In that sense, Mr. Robot’s thematic conceit is very much of a piece with its narrative form; it’s a conjuring act, a series of sleights of hand designed to dazzle the viewer into going with the flow, rath…

It’s the Mount Everest of haunted houses.

The Legend of Hell House (1973)
(SPOILERS) In retrospect, 1973 looks like a banner year for the changing face of the horror movie. The writing was on the wall for Hammer, which had ruled the roost in Britain for so long, and in the US the release of The Exorcist completed a transformation of the genre that had begun with Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby; the realistic horror film, where the terror was to be found in the everyday (the home, the family). Then there was Don’t Look Now, which refracted horror tropes through a typically Nic Roeg eye, fracturing time and vision in a meditative exploration of death and grief. The Wicker Man, meanwhile, would gather its reputation over the passing years. It stands as a kind of anti-horror movie, eschewing standard scares and shock tactics for a dawning realisation of the starkness of opposing belief systems and the fragility of faith.

In comparison to this trio, The Legend of Hell House is something of a throwback; its slightly stagey tone, and cobweb…