Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
While the inaugural season of Luke Cage was solid, it saw a steep drop in quality after the early exit of Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth. This season, the writers had to go an entire season without the excellent-but-underused villain and prove that the show could survive without the character. Thankfully, they did just that. The cast is given good material to work with, and they take it a step farther with their great performances. Supporting characters like Misty Knight and Shades get interesting subplots, and Bushmaster, the new antagonist, is particularly brilliant. Most importantly, though, Luke Cage himself is more interesting here than in his previous appearances. While it does suffer from having too many episodes and more than a few slow scenes, Luke Cage season 2 is still a must-watch for Marvel fans.
For an in-depth and spoiler-heavy review, read on.
SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT!
Acting and Action
Calling Luke Cage’s cast phenomenal would be an understatement. Mike Colter’s fourth season portraying the hero is his best yet, as he’s given an opportunity to explore the character of Luke in new ways. His relationship with his father is finally looked at in greater detail, with Luke’s dad being brilliantly casted. The late Reg E. Cathey truly shines in the role and could not be any more believable as a parent. He’s lovable in some scenes and frustrating in others, which is exactly how he should be; every single interaction between Luke and his father feels genuine.
Luke himself also changes dramatically as a character this season, as he’s no longer perfect and incorruptible. This time around, he has some real flaws and seems so much more human than in previous seasons. He nearly kills an abusive husband and father, something that pushes Claire away from him as she fears he’s going down a dark path. His alliances with various gangs eventually lead him to where he ends up in the season’s final moments: as the leader of Harlem’s criminal empire. This anti-hero switch may be controversial to some, but it’s exciting to think about the possibilities it sets up for Luke Cage’s inevitable third season.
Misty Knight sees a big improvement this season, as she loses the arrogance that made her annoying previously. Instead, she’s badass and likable. Seeing her overcome the poor treatment she receives at the police station due to her lost arm is enjoyable, and her getting the iconic replacement arm from the books is just as fun. Shades, who was a standout character last season, gets an excellent and unexpected story arc himself. The reveal that he had a romantic relationship with his friend Comanche comes completely out of nowhere, and the fallout from that past deepens the character of Shades quite a bit. It’s nice to have a prominent gay character in a Marvel property, especially when their relationship has an impact on the plot and isn’t brushed to the side.
As for the main villains, there’s plenty of praise to go around here as well. Mariah Stokes spends a good portion of the season trying to escape her family’s legacy and step away from the criminal underworld. Alfre Woodard is good during this portion of the show, but when her character makes a villain turn and truly becomes Black Mariah, she’s phenomenal. Seeing her wipe out a rival gang or argue with the ghosts of the family members that ruined her life is far more interesting than watching her try to be good, and I wish she would have had more time as a villain.
The season’s other antagonist, Bushmaster, is just as strong. He’s both badass and likable, as his motives for revenge are completely justified. As a viewer, it’s easy to hope he succeeds; he’s not nearly as bad as Mariah, and he never wants to hurt anyone that isn’t a member of the Stokes family. This characteristic is shown best when he’s going against Luke, as Bushmaster has a certain level of respect for him. With great lines like “I’m not looking forward to killing you” and a quick team-up, the relationship between Bushmaster and Luke is wildly entertaining from beginning to end. Their fights together are just the icing on the cake.
Luke Cage’s fight scenes are a major step up from the first season, as the choreography is far more refined and fun to watch. Luke is much less stiff now, dodging hits and slamming his enemies, and Bushmaster’s fighting style is super cool. Constantly kicking, jumping, and sliding, he’s the best Marvel Netflix villain when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. While Daredevil still has the best fight scenes by far, it’s good to see Luke Cage make some noteworthy progress in this area.
Power Man and Iron Fist
Speaking of making progress, this season managed to achieve something incredible: it made Iron Fist the lovable badass he always should have been. The iconic Heroes for Hire duo gets a team-up episode, and it’s everything a fan could want it to be. Danny Rand has clearly matured from his time with the other heroes in The Defenders, and Finn Jones finally seems comfortable in the hero’s shoes.
Gone are the days of the angsty, whiny Danny from previous appearances. Now, he’s just like the Iron Fist in the books: funny, calm, and wise. Mike Colter and Finn Jones have the same level of chemistry they did in The Defenders, and their exhilarating fight scene in this crossover episode helps to make it the best of the season. More Iron Fist is finally something to be excited about; all he needs now is the costume.
Slow and Steady
Luke Cage has always moved at an intentionally slow pace, and that’s no different this season. Nearly every episode has at least one slow moment. Whether it’s a musical performance, a lengthy conversation between a parent and their child or a villain plotting their revenge, there is always something breaking up the action.
Sometimes, this is fine; the slow moments often work. When the music is backing some big events on screen, it adds to the moment. Mariah telling her daughter about her real father is a long conversation, but it’s some of the best acting in any Marvel show thus far. Yet, for every slow-paced moment that works, there’s one that doesn’t.
Whether it’s a musical performance that feels like it takes up too much time, a scene that feels repetitive (Bushmaster corrects someone on Mariah’s last name like, 30 times) or an entire plot point that feels unnecessary, Luke Cage has a few moments that are legitimately boring. Luke Cage’s one, key problem isn’t the slowness in general; rather, it’s the slow parts that fall flat.
Misty’s feud with a co-worker who just so happens to be working for the bad guys is something that didn’t need to be in the show, as a similar arc was done last season with her partner Scarfe. The two episodes of the season where Luke does an event for and protects Piranha are a nice nod to his Hero for Hire job, but they’re ultimately unnecessary as well. Mariah’s arc especially would have benefitted from less planning and more villainy. It’s far from enough to make for a bad show but removing all these things and condensing the 13-episode season to a 10-episode season would greatly improve the pacing.
Luke Cage’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness; the show’s slow pace allows for some truly great acting, and multiple moments that fall flat. Still, it does everything else well enough to survive this problem. Nearly every actor gets time to shine, with strong plotlines for the supporting cast and the titular character alike. Solid action and writing throughout helps the show do what season one did not: stay consistent from beginning to end.
Luke Cage Season 2 surpasses its debut season due to improved action, interesting storylines and brilliant performances from the entire cast.
Excellent Performances +2
Unexpected Storylines +1
Improved Fight Choreography +1
Heroes for Hire Team-Up +1
Overly Long Season -1
FINAL SCORE: 4/5