One of the key visuals in Luke Cage has always been a character wearing the crown. That’s fitting as Luke Cage Season 2 seizes the crown and throne as the best Marvel Netflix season yet.
There’s never been a better year for black superheroes than 2018. It’s ironic as society is crumbling in the real world. Black Lightning quickly became a force on the network front providing CW strong viewership. Black Panther shattered box office records and the myth that black films can’t be mega blockbusters. Luke Cage Season 2 completes the trifecta with a confident, bold and compelling 13 episode run.
The beauty of these three projects is they all have something unique to offer and approach similar themes of cultural racism, portrayals of black men and relationships from very different, thoughtful positions. Luke Cage series creator Cheo Hodari Coker has crafted something special here that at times feels like a cross between a street level Game of Thrones — complete with decapitations — and modern day superpower edition of The Godfather.
Unlike most of its Marvel Netflix peers, Luke Cage’s first season didn’t neatly wrap up everything. There were bad guys still running free, relationships weren’t fully explored and some subplots had room to grow. It was set up more like an old school TV season with a mini hook to make you come back for more.
The one knock on this approach was some very important developments occurred on The Defenders. Namely Luke getting out of prison, forming a friendship with Danny Rand aka Iron Fist and Misty losing her right arm. Soul Brother #1 probably needed a ‘Previously on Luke Cage and The Defenders’ tag to catch viewers up to speed.
Luke (Mike Colter) is loving life as Harlem’s reluctant hero. He’s far more comfortable in his relationship with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who saw him at his worst and is loving him at his best. His buddy DW is making a comfortable living selling Luke Cage merchandise. His ally, Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is rehabilitating and starting to get the itch to return to police work.
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Season 2 benefits from having established main characters with clear agendas. There’s no doubt Season 1 somewhat lost its way with the death of Cottonmouth. In part because Mahershala Ali is incredibly talented and Cottonmouth was such a layered, complex character. There’s no such drop-off this time as Alfre Woodard throttles the spotlight and every scene she’s in as Mariah Dillard.
Mariah doesn’t have superpowers like Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave, special ninja abilities like The Hand or even an imposing physical mass like Wilson Fisk. What she does have is a desperate need to escape her family legacy in her quest for legitimacy. Mariah is the Michael Corleone of this story although in her case, we’re not cautiously rooting for her. With her boy toy/co-conspirator Shades (Theo Rossi), Mariah is ready to clean up the family name no matter who gets in the way…even her daughter Tilda (Gabrielle Dennis).
Dealing with Mariah would be enough trouble for Luke, but he’s also got to contend with John McIver aka Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), who has a longstanding beef with the Stokes family. Bushmaster makes for an interesting villain as he’s not preoccupied with the hero. Cage is a distraction at best and nuisance at worst. Their fights still make up some of the best action sequences in the season. Bushmaster’s main focus is humiliating and destroying Mariah. As the season unfolds, Bushmaster has an increasingly justified case for wanting payback.
Family is a major theme of the season for the three main characters. Mariah has her family shame to deal with, which causes some strife with her efforts to start over with Tilda. Bushmaster attempts to honor his family in a way that has some questioning his methods. Luke has his own family drama as his father (Reg E. Cathey in his final role before his death) tries a reconciliation. The breadcrumbs we got in Season 1 helped explained Luke and Mariah’s take on family and Season 2 proves even more revelatory.
Music remains a cornerstone of Season 2 although there’s no stop and Shazam songs like Jidenna’s Hail to the Chief and Charles Bradley’s Ain’t It a Sin.
If there’s one storytelling element that gets tiresome it’s those episodes where Luke is holed up in one location to avoid trouble. There’s a challenge with a bulletproof hero in coming up with challenges for him and the writers tend to lean on Cage as bodyguard too often. That’s a minor problem however.
Cage also boasts the best supporting cast of the Marvel Netflix shows. Woodard really has to be in the Emmy conversation for her work this time, but Missick and Rossi remain reliable players who have some of the season’s best scenes. Shakir has a strong presence with a certain charisma that makes Bushmaster a unpredictable and entertaining villain. Cathey is great and provides a fresh elder statesman voice while Dennis more than holds her own. Iron Fist stars Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick have some fun cameos sure to thrill fans of their characters’ respective pairings.
The writers always manage to throw in some subtle and not so subtle Easter Eggs for comic fans. There’s an outright Power Man & Iron Fist reference and a less obvious shot out like Misty and Colleen wearing their trademark comic book colors. Like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Marvel Netflix shows don’t use thee comic book nods as jokes to slyly bash the source material, but an acknowledgement of the character’s origins.
Staying consistent with the previous season, the conclusion ends on another ominous cliffhanger. What’s so compelling about this ending is it was foreshadowed all along without feeling like a twist out of nowhere. Just as intriguing is the thought of how this payoff could play out not just in Luke Cage Season 3, but throughout the rest of the Marvel Netflix shows.
Enjoy the throne Luke. You and your crew have definitely earned it.
Rating: 9.7 out of 10
Photo Credit: David Lee/Netflix