After the team-making-and-breaking events of The Defenders, one by one the Marvel heroes of the small screen are coming back. We had it first with Jessica Jones in March, and now it’s Luke Cage’s turn. Brief warning up front, while this review does not contain any spoilers for Luke Cage season 2, there are some minor spoilers for The Defenders.
Also, if you’d like to skip my waffling and skip down to the end of the review, you can watch Nick wax lyrical in a video review instead.
Ok, so if you’re still with me, here goes. Picking up roughly a year or so after the events of The Defenders, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is busy being, well, Luke Cage. Harlem has its hero, the unbreakable man, and everywhere Cage goes he’s recognised as a celebrity. This comes with its downsides though, as Cage tries to be himself, which proves more and more difficult in light of his quasi-superhero status. This leaks into other parts of his life as well, as his relationship with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) starts to suffer, and his estranged father (Reg E. Cathey in his final role) comes out of the woodwork to add more stress.
Meanwhile, Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is still trying to recover from the events that went down at Midlands Circle. Minus an arm and all of her police detective gusto, she’s trying to distance herself from the kinds of actions, and people, which caused her serious injuries. Of course, she can’t stay out of the game for too long, when the criminals of Harlem are still active and being tested and bested by Cage.
Speaking of criminals, Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) is still on the scene, though with the “help” of Herman “Shades” Alvarez (Theo Rossi) she is trying to go legitimate. Unfortunately for Dillard, Cage, and Harlem in general, this puts her in the crosshairs of John McIver (Mustafa Shakir), aka Bushmaster. A longtime enemy of Dillard’s family of origin, the Stokes, Bushmaster is determined to take over Harlem, and by extension, Dillard’s empire.
Well, that shouldn’t be too much for Luke Cage to handle, right? I mean, he’s unbreakable. Unfortunately for Harlem, Bushmaster is not only as unbreakable as Cage, he’s also faster, stronger and a whole lot more ruthless. And that’s our set up for Season 2.
I think we can all agree that the first season of Luke Cage is a tough act to follow. It was distinctive, socially conscious and, with the outstanding performances of its stellar cast, wholly engrossing. Sadly, and I’ll let you in on this now, Season 2 doesn’t quite step out of the long shadow that Season 1 cast.
The acting is still fantastic as the cast has brought their A-game. Colter is a gem as the titular character and Missick is particularly emotive in her struggles. There aren’t really any faults to be mentioned there, though Bushmaster’s heavy Jamaican accent was admittedly tough to follow at times. There’s also a mini-crossover with another one of the Defenders (regrettably, my least favourite one) but the nods to the comics that the crossover brings are wonderful and will make fans of the comics very happy.
Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker once again emphasised the music in the season, bringing Adriane Young and Ali Shaheed Muhammed back to compose the blues- and reggae-infused score. The music is honestly one of the highlights of the show, with various artists performing throughout the season and each episode named for a song – this time from Pete Young & CL Smooth, the 90’s hip-hop duo.
The main let down in season 2 is honestly the story. It’s very drawn out, and unusually serious. I’m not saying that Luke Cage can’t have his more heavy moments, but it seems like a lot of what made season 1 so great has been sacrificed to achieve this. Season 2 delves into some heavy topics, like blood feuds, religion, family dynamics and so on. While this in itself isn’t a problem, they’ve also removed a lot of what we love about these Marvel shows: the action scenes. The epic coordinated fights are still there, and still awesome, they’re just too few and far between.
And, weirdly, so is Luke Cage. For being the main character, his screen time is oddly limited. The addition of Bushmaster leads to an interesting dynamic, as a hero/criminal ménage à trois (of sorts) forms between Cage, Dillard and McIver. But this also means the focus of the show is constantly shifting back and forth between these three, and the more minor characters as well.
I think that’s my main problem with Season 2, is it’s just not as focused as its predecessor. It’s still a strong season, and totally worth watching, just perhaps not as tightly put together as the first. Maybe if they’d taken themselves less seriously, or shown more of Luke Cage in the show named after him, it would have been as great, if not better.
Here’s Nick’s take on the show:
Last Updated: June 15, 2018