Luke Cage - season 2
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Review: Marvel’s Luke Cage (season two) (Netflix)

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Season one of Marvel’s Luke Cage was the first sign that not all of Netflix’s superhero shows were going to be top-notch. Season one of Marvel’s Daredevil was something of a classic, in terms of both ultraviolence and as an investigation of the morality of vigilanteism. Meanwhile, season 1 of Marvel’s Jessica Jones was an unexpected deconstruction of the entire superhero genre and power.

However, Luke Cage was a bit meh. Perhaps it was too faithful to its 70s source material. Perhaps it was too much of an homage to blaxploitation movies. Perhaps it spent too long on its musical interludes. Perhaps it spent too little time on plotting, given how fractured the storyline was across the season. Perhaps it was too concerned with political arguments, with Cage the composite epitome of every black cultural stereotype being asked to solve the insoluble question of how a modern black man should act with honour – despite being bulletproof. Whatever the cause, it wasn’t as bad as season two of Daredevil or The Defenders, but it wasn’t great.

Given that there’d been no change in showrunner between seasons, I wasn’t expecting much of this second season of the show. Yet, actually, despite a somewhat downbeat ending, it’s the season I’ve enjoyed most since that first season of Jessica Jones. Apart from Iron Fist of course – screw you, haters.

Misty Knight and Luke Cage

Luke Cage uncaged

Season two of Luke Cage is a far jauntier, far more fun, far less self-conscious affair than the first season. Most of the same elements are there, but they fit together a lot better, everything’s more polished and it doesn’t feel quite so isolated from the larger Marvel universe.

Events continue more or less where season one left off, although this is clearly a post-Defenders story. Luke is, of course, out of prison and now everyone knows he’s a bulletproof superhero, making him the star of Harlem. Rappers are writing songs about him, he’s getting invited to show off his might against the NFL, Nike want to sponsor him – Luke Cage is big.

Meanwhile, Mariah (Alfre Woodward) is as big within the criminal underworld, thanks in part to the help of her lover-lieutenant ‘Shades’ (Theo Rossi). However, a new man is in New York from Jamaica calling himself ‘Bushmaster’ (Mustafa Shakir) and he has eyes on Harlem for himself. However, not only is his mission more personal than it first appears, he’s as strong and as bulletproof as Luke Cage. Is there room in town for the two of them?

Fortunately, Luke’s got help from the initially one-armed Misty Knight (Simone Missick), Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) and, of course, the Immortal Iron Fist (Finn Jones). Screw you, haters.

Spoilery talk after the jump.

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Jessica Jones season 2
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Review: Marvel’s Jessica Jones (season two) (Netflix)

The first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones was a refreshing and surprising tilt at the genre. Rather than follow in the footsteps of its predecessor Netflix series, Marvel’s Daredevil, and give us a female vigilante out beating up New York’s criminal underclass, it was instead a feminist deconstruction of the entire superhero genre. Want to dress up in a suit and fight criminals? There’s probably something wrong you – maybe power issues, maybe toxic masculinity. The use of power to control others is something to be avoided by the individual, as it leaves both user and used damaged and changed by the experience. Combined with its use of the female gaze, in short, it was probably the first superhero show both by women and for women.

Since then, of course, we’ve had the underwhelming, rushed Marvel’s Defenders, which saw our Jessica team up with Daredevil and the rest of the Netflix Marvel crew to fight a scary new enemy. But while Defenders certainly was able to use our Jessica’s sarcastic PI ways with alacrity, it somewhat missed out on all that feminist subtext, turning her into a reluctant but still punchy advocate of extreme violence, murder et al. Was this character development, you might have wondered, with Jessica changed by her murder of arch-enemy and rapist Killgrave (David Tennant) into a different kind of heroine? What would season two of Jessica Jones be like? Would it be our Jessica in a costume at last?

Nope. It’s more of the same – at least as far as Jessica is concerned. The other supporting characters? That’s maybe a different story. A short, non-spoilery review after the jump, followed by a full review for those who don’t mind spoilers or who’ve already watched it.

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Marvel's Jessica Jones - Krysten Ritter and David Tennant
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Marvel's The Punisher
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Boxset Monday: Marvel’s The Punisher (season 1) (Netflix)

The Punisher in all his incarnations has always been something of an accidental success. A former marine, Frank Castle turns lethal vigilante following the murder of his family by criminals, becoming judge, jury and executioner to those who would break the law. He had no powers, just his military training, a heap of weapons and a skull on his chest, and he was originally a bad guy – one of Spider-Man’s many badly becostumed adversaries in the early 70s.

Spider-Man and the Punisher

But it was that almost unique willingness to kill in comics that made him such a success that he eventually got his own comic and no fewer than three (pretty bad) film appearances, where he was played first by Dolph Lundgren, then Thomas Jane and finally Ray Stevenson.

However, his success ended for a while when a 2011 attempt by Fox to produce a TV series starring the character fell through.

But let’s now flash-forward to the era of Netflix and its Marvel superhero shows. The plan from the outset was very clear: there would be four one-season superhero shows – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist – which would then lead into a team-up show The Defenders.

The first sign everything was going off-plan was when Daredevil got a second season. It’s hard to tell whether that had been planned from the outset; however, it seems likely given

  1. Netflix awarded Daredevil another season only a week after its first season aired
  2. The whole plot of that second season is vital to the plot of The Defenders

Nevertheless, what definitely wasn’t part of the plan was the success of guest anti-hero/baddie The Punisher in that second season. That can be put down to the ‘lightning in a bottle’ casting of Jon Bernthal. Bernthal’s always been part of the supporting cast, never the lead.

He’s Andrew Lincoln’s best bud in The Walking Dead, not Andrew Lincoln.

He’s Ben Affleck’s brother in The Accountant, not Ben Affleck.

He’s the guy Andrea Anders rejects in The Class to go back to her husband (although he ends up with Lizzy Caplan so it’s not all bad).

But as Castle, Bernthal was the undoubted star of the second season of Daredevil, a brutal match for Charlie Cox’s gymnastic lead – a blue-collar grunt to Matt Murdock’s white-collar, morally-torn lawyer.

Bernthal so occupied the role that it’s hard to think of anyone else being able to play the character and it wasn’t long before Netflix and Marvel realised what they’d got and decided to break with the plan and commission Marvel’s The Punisher, with Bernthal as its lead.

Punishing?

The question was what form the show would take. Would it follow on, for example, from the comics’, the movies’ and season 2’s general theme of a man giving ‘the punishment they deserve’ to mobsters, rapists, paedophiles et al who seem to be above the law and escaping justice? Yet, how would a white man with a lethal arsenal shooting up cities go down in an age of the alt-right, MRAs and mass-shootings by white men who feel aggrieved by society? And how would it go down against the liberal backdrop of Netflix’s other shows: Daredevil stuck up for the poor and oppressed; Jessica Jones deconstructed superheroes, male power and sexual violence; Luke Cage asked what a black man can do for his community and others against both oppression and police shootings; and Iron Fist looked at the responsibilities of the rich towards the poor and the rest of the world.

The various trailers Netflix produced in the lead up to the show’s released seemed to suggest business as usual for Frank Castle – lots of gunfire against a rock soundtrack. And yet, oddly, that’s not what Marvel’s The Punisher is. For the most part, the show is instead the white, working class male’s equivalent of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. It’s a look at family, responsibility, friendship, parenting, class, class loyalty, what it is to be in the military and to have brothers-in-arms, the consequences of violence, and the role of government in helping the working class. And oddly, there’s very little punishment meted out.

Here are those moderately misleading and spoilerish trailers. Slightly less spoilerish review of all 13 episodes after the jump.

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Marvel's The Defenders
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Review: Marvel’s The Defenders (season 1) (Netflix)

Marvel’s The Avengers was one of the highest grossing movies of all times. Small surprise therefore that Marvel should attempt to reproduce its unique superhero formula on the small (laptop) screen with its Netflix series, giving us four individual superheroes in their own shows before finally bringing them together in a fifth show – The Defenders.

And here we are at last. Two seasons of Daredevil (one excellent, one poor), one season of Jessica Jones (excellent), one season of Luke Cage (weak) and a season of Iron Fist (I’ve watched it three times now, so screw you, haters) has allowed some of the supporting cast to move around a bit, but here we finally are, getting all four superheroes interacting with each other, teaming up and even sometimes twatting each other with sticks.

The show picks up a few months after the other shows. Daredevil (Charlie Cox) is ostracised from his former legal partner Foggy (Elden Henson) and would-be girlfriend Karen (Deborah Ann Woll), and a bit mopey after his ex-lover Elektra (Elodie Yung) was killed by some immortal ninja called The Hand. He’s hung up his costume and is now trying to lead a normal life as a lawyer, mostly doing legal work pro bono for the downtrodden. But Foggy is looking out for his former friend and his new boss Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) might have some legal work for him, too – looking after a certain private investigator friend of hers called Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), who’s bound to get into trouble sometime soon…

Not yet, though, since she’s still buried in a bottle, following her murder of mind-controlling rapist David Tennant. Thankfully, she’s managed to brush off both the legal charges and infamy that came with that, but she’s not ready to take on any new clients yet. That is, until a woman comes to her door asking her to track down her missing architect husband and she starts to get threatening phone calls.

Meanwhile, Jones’ former boyfriend Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is just getting out of prison, thanks to some nimble legal work by Foggy, and has to work out what he can do to look after the people of Harlem, particularly the young black men who are succumbing to the allure of crime in his neighbourhood – particularly that instituted by a white clad man known only as ‘the African’ (Babs Olusanmokun).

Could it all have something to do with the errant billionaire Danny Rand (Finn Jones), currently off hunting down the Hand in the Far East with girlfriend and former Hand-member Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), following the Hand’s apparent destruction of the seventh city of Heaven, K’un-Lun, which Rand was charged to protect, being the immortal weapon known as The Iron Fist?

You betcha. And you can bet that somehow it’s all going to involve their various storylines intersecting at some point to fight a common enemy – Sigourney Weaver, as well as some ‘Big Bads’ from previous seasons.

Of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t the only time that a whole bunch of superheroes with independent lives ended up uniting to defeat a baddie: the once much-adored Heroes did the same thing on the small screen. I say once because as soon as everyone got together, the whole show went to pants.

So the question is: is Marvel’s The Defenders more Avengers or more Heroes? Answer coming up after the jump. Spoilers ahoy and liable to smack you in the face.

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