Review: Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger 1×1-1×2 (US: Freeform; UK: Amazon)

A socio-economic character piece – with supernatural superheroes

Cloak and Dagger

In the US: Thursdays, 8/7c, Freeform
In the UK: Fridays, Amazon

Variety is the spice of life and that appears to be the case with superhero TV shows. On the one hand, you have DC’s current roster of shows on The CW. Perhaps because they’re all from the same production company (Berlanti Productions), they air on the same channel or DC wants something tonally similar for crossovers et al, The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Black Lightning all have a certain common feel. Sure, Black Lightning‘s a bit edgier and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is deliberately stupider, but largely they do the same sorts of things in the same sorts of ways.

Marvel’s a bit different, both in its movies and its TV series. There’s no way you’d suspect Legion of coming from the same creators as Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD or any of Netflix’s roster. That’s very welcome – who needs to watch the same show, just with a few variants?

That said, there are some commonalities. The Netflix shows do have a similar vibe, and if you’ve watched Hulu’s Marvel’s Runaways, you’ll have a least a little touch of the déjà vus when you watch Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger. But not too many.

Marvel's Cloak and Dagger

Cloak and Dagger

The actions starts in the long distant days of the early 00s (aargh), with a young white girl being taken home from ballet classes by her rich scientist dad. Meanwhile, a young black kid from the same city is hanging out with his brother, looking to steal back a car stereo whose rich owner hasn’t paid for its installation. Sadly, things go wrong for both of them and both dad and brother end up dead in the water – literally – along with the two children, who make an odd connection of sorts.

Fast-forward to the modern day and their fortunes have reversed. White girl (now played by Olivia Holt) is making ends meet by stealing from rich boys she drugs after seducing them in nightclubs. Meanwhile, black boy (Aubrey Joseph) is an athletics star at a posh private school, looking to go on to great things after school.

Everything seems normal until they meet again at a party and Holt, without remembering who Joseph is, steals his wallet – and they make a supernatural connection again. What’s going on, why them and what are these new powers that they have?

Cloak and Dagger

Cloaked

In contrast to most superhero shows where the set up is obvious from the outset, Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger assumes the audience has a little patience. Even after two episodes, it’s not clear what the connection is between ‘Cloak’ and ‘Dagger’ or even what they can do. Sure, Dagger can create a dagger of light, but she can create other forms of light, too. Similarly, Cloak can – I think – teleport himself by using shadows.

I’m sure it’s all to do with ‘the powers of light and darkness’, but this isn’t just ‘they can run very fast’, ‘he can use a bow and arrow’. The show isn’t just slamming all its wares on the table because it assumes you won’t stick with it otherwise.

As well as that pleasing divergence from the superhero mean, the show does have some surprisingly interesting things to say about class, gender and race. Holt’s a former rich girl who used to do standard rich girl things. Now she’s stealing to make ends meet, takes drugs to numb the pain, has a mum who’s even more drug-addicted and has a boyfriend who’s going to leave her penniless, too. Meanwhile, Joseph might have ventured out on the street, but he’s not from it. He’s upper middle class and black, has two parents and doesn’t really know what it is to lack for anything. Holt may be Light, Joseph may be Darkness, but that’s neither’s real environ.

There’s not even any sign of a real villain for the two to face. Eagle-eyed Marvel fans will spot the ever-evil Roxxon Corporation at the centre of things, but beyond an explosion at sea a decade ago, Roxxon hasn’t really done anything bad yet.

Instead, they both face trials and tribulations that don’t needs superpowers to overcome – and that might not be overcome by superpowers. Holt has to deal with a former mark with rapey tendencies – and the outcome of that encounter – while Joseph is having to deal with his teammates who aren’t taking too well to his constantly leaving to investigate the corrupt police who framed his brother.

That makes Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger more of a socio-economic character piece, which is surprising and far more interesting than the usual twatting people with hammers that we are prone to seeing.

Dagger

Sharp

That’s in the first two episodes at least. The trailer, though, shows that there will be revelations to come about the duo’s true nature, what’s going on and what their connection is, and I am at least intrigued to learn more. So far, there’s no romance, but maybe that’ll be a feature, too.

But I hope all of that doesn’t drown out the show’s most distinct and unique characteristics, which are what makes Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger worth watching. The leads are a little bit too young and raw to really wow, so remarkably for a show aimed at younger people, we’re going to have to rely on the story and ideas to keep us interested. I hope the producers manage to pull that off.