Black Panther Review: Bold, Fresh, Thoughtful, And Somehow Still Marvel

Black Panther Review: Bold, Fresh, Thoughtful, And Somehow Still Marvel

Black Panther is a movie that Marvel needed to make. It’s one that they wanted to make. It’s one that we all saw coming and has been hyped to the peak of Disney’s marketing powers. However, it’s also a film that could have so easily gone wrong. After all, this is a black superhero given all the Marvel blockbuster trimmings and while there has been an outcry for diversity in this specific arena of the movie world, it’s also something that easily could have been exploitative. After all, much like Blade, Black Panther was pulled out of the background of the Marvel comic book universe in the 70s when Blackspoitation cinema was all the rage, and while the book generally strived to treat the superhero and his world respectfully, it would have been easy for the feature film version to drop the ball and feel like a crass commercialization. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Kevin Feige was smart enough to put Ryan Coogler in charge and he delivered one of the best Marvel movies to date.

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Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther (2018) – image for this review courtesy of Disney.

At this stage of the game, part of what’s so refreshing about Black Panther is how it’s able to feel like a complete film unto itself without much Marvel crossover distraction. The studio got that out of the way by introducing the character in Civil War. He’s established with Cap, Iron Man, and the gang. Now he gets his own story. After a brief history lesson on the Black Panther legacy and the relationship between Wakanda and vibranium (sigh…I’ll always hate writing that word), Coogler plunges viewers into a vividly designed and carefully conceived world. The kingdom over which T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) reigns is a hidden oasis of advanced technology and powerful warriors. The partner tribes are humbler (but at least led by brilliant character actors like Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) and they still engage in ancient rituals and ceremonies that feel both respectful and delightfully fantastical in a very comic book way. It’s clear that a lot of time went into building and designing this world. It’s such a vibrant place that feels lived in with rich history yet is also the sort of place where ridiculous comic book technology and beat em’ ups can pop up in without sullying the integrity.

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Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, and Lupita Nyong’o in Black Panther (2018) – image for this review courtesy of Disney.

The larger than life and stylized characters also carry culturally symbolic weight. Coogler went out of his way to present powerful women of colour within the society like Danai Gurira’s intimidatingly badass warrior or Letitia Wright’s brilliant tech guru who is somewhere between Black Panther’s Q and partner in strategy (not to mention Lupita Nyong’o and Angela Bassett, each with their own important piece in the movie’s puzzle). There’s a clear and noble attempt on the part of co-writer/director Ryan Coopler to take the opportunity of making a Marvel blockbuster destined to pull in the eyes of audiences worldwide and use it as an opportunity to increase the representation in such pictures. It works and somehow does so without derailing or distracting from what is ultimately a glorious bit of superhero entertainment. Coogler just treats that entertainment as a vehicle to explore some issues bubbling up in the culture right now.

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Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther (2018) – image for this review courtesy of Disney.

Obviously , Chadwick Boseman makes for a potent and powerful hero at the centre. He is, after all, one of the best actors of his generation. He plays T’Challa as a noble leader who struggles to uphold the legacy put upon him with grace, and plays Black Panther as the stone cold warrior king and superhero that’s made the character resonate for decades. He nails it and will certainly be in this role for quite some time. Thank god, because the hero could have easily been overshadowed by Michael B. Jordan in the hands of a lessor actor. Jordan is Ryan Coogler’s regular star and it initially felt odd that he would be downgraded to a side villain role after the duo’s smash success with Creed. It’s more complicated than that though. Not too much should be revealed except to say that he’s easily the best villain to stomp through the MCU since Loki. He’s also the first with a motivation that resonates. One that will speak to much of the audience and with a master plan that might even resonate were it not so psychotic (and ya know…dependent on heightened comic book realities). Jordan doesn’t steal the movie away because everyone is so damn good, but his character will be much discussed and the fact that Coogler was able to use the role to make Black Panther a statement as much as a superhero romp? Well, bravo. No one has quite done that in the MCU before.

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Black Panther (2018) – image for this review courtesy of Disney.

The filmmaker does also keep his blockbuster on brand with the MCU while creating his own distinctly personal vision. Andy Serkis’ hysterically nutty arms dealer and Martin Freeman’s bumbling CIA agent return from previous Marvel adventures and actually suit this story, if anything their previous roles seem to exist only to limit the amount of set up required before Black Panther gets cooking. Of course, Marvel movies also need action and set pieces to go with their world-building and characterization. There’s plenty of that here and Ryan Coogler proves more than adapt at handling the boom-boom, punch-punch. There’s a stunner of a set piece in South Korea shot through the fluid long takes that the director favours that’s a pure adrenaline rush. That scene my favourite, but all the action beats deliver the goods, if only because Coogler and co. take the time to actually make viewers care about the people and stakes before things start blowing up. A simple distinction, but a pretty damn important one.

Black Panther Review: Bold, Fresh, Thoughtful, And Somehow Still Marvel 5
Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, and Janeshia Adams-Ginyard in Black Panther (2018) – image for this review courtesy of Disney.

Oh sure, there are things to nitpick away at in Black Panther. It’s a little too long and sometimes over-burdened by the sheer volume of characters. There are certain MCU conventions that sit awkwardly with Coogler’s vision (especially the need for quips when there need not always be quips). But honestly, nitpicks are all that’s possible with this picture. Black Panther was not a character that was ever going to be easy for Marvel to adapt for the big screen, but somehow everything went so right that the movie just might be the finest representation of the character in any medium to date. Black Panther isn’t just another cog in the Marvel machine, it’s one of their strongest characters with a world that begs to be revisited. Hopefully after whatever massive destruction and changes that occur in the universe following Infinity War (and whatever nuttiness comes in the still untitled Avengers 4), Ryan Coogler and co. will be allowed back into Wakanda to play again. Now that the heavy lifting is over and this world is so beautifully established, it’s hard not to feel a sense of giddy excitement about where they could possibly go next. Now that’s a sequel worth making.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Phil’s take on Blade Runner 2049, Happy Death Day, and It! He also had a chance to sit down with Guillermo Del Toro. Check out his interview here!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Monster Hunter World Beta: the Insatiable Nergigante, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT,  Star Wars Battlefront II, Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and  Super Mario Odyssey!

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Disney To Buy 21st Century Fox In $52 Billion Deal

Disney To Buy 21st Century Fox In $52 Billion Deal

After weeks of speculation and rumors, Disney announced on Thursday that they would be purchasing 21st Century Fox in a massive $52 billion deal.

“We are extremely proud of all that we have built at 21st Century Fox, and I firmly believe that this combination with Disney will unlock even more value for shareholders as the new Disney continues to set the pace in what is an exciting and dynamic industry,” said Rupert Murdoch, Executive Chairman of 21st Century Fox, in a press release.

The deal will see Disney gain control of the rights of Fox’s film franchises, including AvatarX-Men, and Fantastic Four, among others. Though the deal is expected to take over a year to process, this means that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is set to get a whole lot bigger as several of Marvel’s most popular characters and teams will now be available to join the MCU in future years.

In addition, Disney will acquire Fox’s creative television properties, such as Twentieth Century Fox Television and FX productions. The Fox Broadcasting Network, which includes Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, FS1, FS2 and the Big Ten Network, will be separated into a new company.

Disney chairman and CEO Robert Iger, who was expected to leave his position in 2019, will extend his contract through 2021 to oversee the acquisition. Iger previously oversaw Disney’s purchases of Lucasfilm, Pixar and Marvel, though this deal is the largest yet.

“The acquisition of this stellar collection of businesses from 21st Century Fox reflects the increasing consumer demand for a rich diversity of entertainment experiences that are more compelling, accessible and convenient than ever before,” said Iger.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more by Preston Dosza here and here!

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Wolverine Podcast Officially in the Works

Wolverine Podcast Officially in the Works

The Marvel Empire is once again expanding into new territory with a ten-episode, scripted podcast titled Wolverine: The Long Night.

According to Mashable, the serialized story will run in 2018 on Sticher Premium, and will be released on other platforms come Fall.

The story will revolve around two agents who venture to a small town in Alaska to investigate a series of murders. Sally Pierce (Celia Keenan-Bolger) and Tad Marshall (Ato Essandoh) will work with a local deputy played Andrew Keenan-Bolger. Their main suspect? None other than Wolverine himself, played by Richard Armitage of The Hobbit and Hannibal fame.

“It’s very easy to turn up the volume on reality there. In addition to the crime investigation into the serial killer on the loose, there are also elements of the fantastic. And some of them have to do with Wolverine as his legend grows in this area, as people observe him bounding through the mists with packs of wolves; as they witness him save and end lives,” said Ben Percy, the writer for the series.

Percy said the podcast will carry a Serial vibe with hints of Unforgiven and True Detective. Director Brendan Baker, sound designer Chloe Prasinos, and producers Daniel Fink of Marvel and Jenny Radelet of Stitcher will join Scott Adsit of 30 Rock, Bob Balaban, Brian Stokes Mitchell and a cameo from Chris Gethard, who hosts the podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People.

Marvel’s dominance in the film world has shown the strength of their characters and stories, and with the clout and money the company now has, expanding into one of the most modern forms of storytelling seems like a no-brainer.

“Being in this space where we can really touch and interact with our fans in a more 24/7 basis is one of our priorities. The beauty of this medium is you can listen to it as a show when it’s first released and voraciously consume it from a habitual standpoint, or, like I do and many people do with podcasts, you can listen to it very leisurely,” said Dan Silver, Head of Platforms & Content for Marvel New Media.

“We’re attempting to provide an audio experience that feels very much like if you just turned off your television screen, but left the sound on,” he says. “It’s very dynamic, it’s very real, it’s very raw, and it’s made for what people would expect from Marvel,” Silver added.

Wolverine: The Long Night will be available through the Stitcher Premium podcast platform in Spring 2018.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Brendan Quinn’s work such as his look at the relationship between comics and Hip-Hop, why the Witcher 3 was not as great as everyone thinks, and or which historical stories he thinks should be made into videogames!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Star Wars Battlefront II, Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and  Super Mario Odyssey!

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Disney Buying Fox Might Not Be A Bad Thing

Disney Buying Fox Might Not Be A Bad Thing

Yesterday the movie news cycle was hit by a juggernaut of a reveal. Apparently, behind closed doors, Disney has been negotiating to buy 21st Century Fox. The motivations why are obvious. In recent years the House of Mouse picked up those itty bitty Star Wars and Marvel franchises and the last remaining fragments of both movie universes are still lingering over at Fox (oh and they also added Avatar to Disney World and guess which studio owns that). Obviously, Fox isn’t too keen to give up their big fish properties, so the logical solution for a massive multibillion-dollar organization like Disney is to just buy Fox outright and keep the spoils. And before you think it, yes there has subsequently been word released that this deal is no longer in negotiations. But hey, the last time something like this happened was when the Sony email leaks revealed information about a deal for Spider-man. It was immediately announced in the fallout that the deal was no longer happening and then guess what happened? This seems similar. A deal so big neither company wants it to be scrutinized by the press before completion. It’s likely still happening and it’s also likely not a bad thing.

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Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, and James Marsden in X-Men (2000) – image via 21st Century Fox

It almost goes without saying that the lynchpin to this whole deal is the fact that Fox still owns the rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes, huge Marvel properties that aren’t under Disney control. Obviously, Marvel would like to have that back. Folding the X-Men and Deadpool into their big ol’ MCU sure would open up additional franchise possibilities that are too good to ignore (not to mention the fact that the Kevin Feige would undoubtedly be able to finally make a decent Fantastic Four movie, which Fox simply can’t seem to pull off). However, it also comes with a big caveat. In recent years, Fox has been willing to embrace R-rated superhero stories and in Deadpool and Logan delivered two massive hits that pushed the limits of the genre in intriguing ways. Obviously, R-rated adult entertainments aren’t exactly Disney’s specialty and if anything, could sour the reputation of the company’s “all family all the time” approach to entertainment. It’s a worry, yet not one worth getting too concerned over.

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Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool (2016) – image via 21st Century Fox

Here’s the thing, Disney buying Fox wouldn’t just be for the properties. They want the logo too. Fox is an established brand, one obviously willing to do more mature entertainment than anything that could appear with a Disney logo. It’s a lucrative market and one that Disney could continue to profit from. They could still make Fox movies for Fox audiences (including the semi-indie Fox Searchlight offshoot) funded by Disney with that parent logo nowhere in sight. If that sounds insane, well it’s not exactly new. Touchstone was a company that Disney created in the 80s entirely for that purpose and one that did well producing and releasing movies that Disney never would have touched under their typical brand like Alive, The Ref, Ed Wood, The Rock, Rushmore, and Starship Troopers. Fox could be operated the same way. They could be a division where Deadpool keeps being filthy, yet can also pull in characters like the Hulk or Iron Man to indulge in his deeply filthy ways. A place where a more mature and R-rated Logan style movie could be made out of other Marvel characters as well. It would actually be a boon for the entire MCU, providing an offshoot filled with new possibilities.

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Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1988) – image via 21st Century Fox

There’s another rationale for all this of course. Disney has made it quite clear that they want in on this Netflix streaming business and has plans to launch their own streaming platform. Obviously there’s more than enough content in the Disney vaults to justify this. But toss in the Fox vaults and suddenly they’ve also got the Alien, Predator, Avatar, Die Hard, Home Alone, and Planet of the Apes franchises to flaunt along with the rest of the lucrative Fox catalogue. More importantly, Fox still owns the distribution rights to the original 1977 Star Wars which Disney essentially has to lease out for any Star Wars box sets or streaming packages. This deal would take care of that and god-willing might allow for a long awaited reconstruction of the original theatrical release of the Star Wars flicks that fans have been whinging about for decades. So, there’s a substantial return on this “screw it, let’s just buy Fox” investment that would work out well for the big company and lead to some good viewing for audiences—it’s actually kind of an intriguing idea.

There is one big concern though. One of the wrinkles in the deal states that Disney can’t buy any of Fox’s television properties as they already own ABC and that would lead to a monopoly. Well fair enough. That’s understandable and I can see why Disney would have no interest in owning Fox News as well, that just makes sense. However, it’s odd to think that would be considered a monopoly while Disney swallowing up yet another film studio wouldn’t be. The fact of the matter is that with Paramount a shadow of its former self and MGM long gone, the number of movie studios is shrinking rapidly and it wouldn’t exactly be an exciting prospect to think that Disney might just own the entire film industry eventually. Like any film studio, Fox makes its share of crap. Yet, they are also a distinct entity of their own willing to take relative risks every year. Perhaps Disney would keep that mandate and collect the money and perhaps they wouldn’t. It’s tough to say.

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John Boyega and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) – image via Disney

Regardless, aside from the number of massive corporations that control all aspects of our daily lives shrinking down to an even more terrifyingly small number, this merger might not be a bad thing. There are opportunities here. It’s almost worth embracing the Big Brother aspect of it all just for the sweet rewards of getting the original Star Wars edits in HD or getting to hear Captain America drop an f-bomb. Then again, I suppose that’s the exact type of deal with the devil required to inch our way towards that sci-fi dystopia we all know is inevitable. Sigh…this is a tough nut to crack. Entertainment over evil empire? Hmmm…how’d this debate end with the Internet again? Has Google changed its name to Skynet yet?


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Phil’s take on Blade Runner 2049, Happy Death Day, and It! He also had a chance to sit down with Guillermo Del Toro. Check out his interview here!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Super Mario Odyssey,  The Evil Within 2, and Cuphead!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

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CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Marvel Announces Inhumans TV Series for Fall 2017

Marvel Announces Inhumans TV Series for Fall 2017

Marvel Television announced plans to bring the Inhumans to ABC as a television series in 2017 as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The story is confirmed to follow the mute hero Black Bolt and his royal family, but details on the cast and showrunner are yet to be announced. In a completely new release strategy for television, the first two episodes will be shown exclusively in IMAX theaters for two weeks at the beginning of September 2017. The series will then run weekly in the fall on ABC, with exclusive content that can only be seen on the network.

Originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Inhumans are primitive humans who were experimented on by the alien Kree race – who are already established in the MCU via appearances in Guardians of the Galaxy and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – and given advanced intelligence. The Kree forgot about their creations and eventually they formed their own civilization in a walled city on an island in the Atlantic sea. They discovered a substance called “terrigen” that gave them superpowers or bizarre appearances, and based their entire culture around their use. The series follows Black Bolt, the king of the Inhumans whose voice is so powerful that he destroys cities when he speaks, and other members of his Royal Family.

Marvel initially announced an Inhumans film to be released in 2019, but after a delay it was taken off the release calendar entirely. The Inhuman race has been crucial in the plot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., though it is unknown if this series will connect to other Marvel television offerings. This will be Marvel’s third show on ABC, after the still running Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the cancelled Agent Carter, and joins Iron Fist, The Punisher, Cloak and Dagger and Runaways on Marvel’s announced upcoming TV slate.

Doctor Strange (Movie) Review

Doctor Strange (Movie) Review

As the Marvel brand slides into blockbuster ubiquity, the studio needs to take care in ensuring that they aren’t just the most successful superhero factory on the block, they are also the best. Enter Dr. Strange, a movie that conforms to the usual superhero origin tale beats, yet tells them through such beautifully unhinged imagery that they feel fresh. After keeping all of the previous MCU flicks tethered to the ground through gentle sci-fi, this one dives into mysticism and magic, going full geek in ways comic book fans never dreamed was possible in a blockbuster even a decade ago. Dr. Strange proves that Kevin Feige and co. still have some tricks up their sleeve with this endless Marvel cinematic odyssey, and the future looks strange indeed.

Dr. Strange (Movie) Review 3Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the weirdo physician, Dr. Strange. He opens the movie as New York’s star brain surgeon—as arrogant and brilliant as Tony Stark but in scrubs. After an unfortunate car accident claims his amazing hands, suddenly Strange’s life seems to have no purpose. Desperate to find a cure for his damaged fingers, Strange flies across the globe and ends up in a temple run by Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One. She’s essentially a Yoda figure, who trains Strange in inter-dimensional magic that can be used for anything from traveling through portals to beating up bad guys. At the same time one of Swinton’s former students, played by Mads Mikkelson, has gone to the dark side of these magic ways, with a plot for world domination hidden behind his dark eyes. That means that good ol’ Dr. Strange best learn his tricks quickly. there’s going to be a big ol’ battle by the end of this thing.

One of the reasons it’s taken until now for Kevin Fiege to even dare to step into Dr. Strangeland is that this world is far less user friendly than that of most Marvel characters. Conceived in the 60s primarily by Marvel artist extraordinaire Steve Ditko, Dr. Strange was rooted in the mysticism and psychedelic drugs of the era. The character is hinged on the spiritual lessons and mind-bending imagery that kept hippies glued to comics as they aged. In Sinister/The Exorcism Of Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson, Feige has found the perfect filmmaker to bring this distinct world to the big screen. Derrickson is an openly spiritual filmmaker and though he’s primarily focused on horror in the past, he’s always used a sense of the surreal and the uncanny to underline his houses of horror. Dr. Strange lets Derrickson cut loose with his wildest obsessions while still staying true to the Marvel formula and it’s pretty magical to behold (pun intended, with apologies).

The imagery in the film is absolutely astounding. Cityscapes bend and contort to suit the spells. Walls of buildings spiral out into kaleidoscopic eye candy designed to keep viewers off balance. It’s an astounding recreation of the type of psychedelic comic book imagery that Ditko made famous in these books in the 60s, only vividly made real through the kind of digital manipulation that’s only become possible on this scale in the time since the MCU was created. Throw in some gentle eastern philosophy to tickle brains and you’ve got a superhero movie that should appeal to a diverse audience looking to have their minds warped. The way the spells and rubber reality plays into the action scenes also allows Derrickson to deliver superhero beat ‘em ups the likes of which we haven’t seen on the big screen before. The filmmaker delights in toying with the expectations of superhero spectacle since he can deny them all in this world if he so chooses (and especially has fun with his twisted solution on the usual “evil falling from the skies” MCU climax).

Dr. Strange (Movie) Review 7As usual, performances are also top notch with Benedict Cumberbatch clearly relishing the mixture of sarcastic one-liners and spiritual rebirth that the film provides. He’s another new big-brained genius with superpowers and attitude to add to this sprawling cast of super folks and he should be able to bicker with them satisfyingly once the crossovers kick off. He gets just the right amount of existential angst mixed in with the heightened cartoon heroism and even his initially dodgy American accent snaps into place by the end. Tilda Swinton is amusingly odd and all knowing as The Ancient One in a brilliant bit of cross gender casting. Chiwetel Ejiofor can feel a bit wasted as her second in command, but since he’s clearly being set up for bigger things in future movies, it’s forgivable. Mads Mikkelson has a typically two-dimensional no-name Marvel villain to play, but offers such a quietly disturbing/powerful presence that he turns the lack of backstory into mysterious strength. Unfortunately Rachel McAdams is stuck with a thankless “girlfriend at home” routine, but fortunately she’s a strong enough presence to make that human and likely has more substantial work coming in future MCU efforts.

Dr. Strange (Movie) Review 6If there’s a problem with Dr. Strange it’s just down to the MCU formula becoming increasingly predictable. It’s not like there’s any suspense regarding whether or not Dr. Strange will become a hero and save the world. Likewise while the usual sardonic MCU humour is present and welcome, the story and world are so dark and serious that the comedy can occasionally feel unwelcome and inappropriate. There were clearly a few growing pains in contorting this new type of Marvel movie into the established brand, but not many. For the most part, it’s what makes Dr. Strange so different from the usual Marvel hero that makes this flick such a pleasure. You will indeed get all of that usual MCU comfort food, only wrapped within a genuine headtrip of spiritual philosophy and mind-numbing surrealist eye candy that feels unlike any blockbuster cranked out of the House of Mouse (the Inception comparisons are overstated, Strange goes further). This movie is a delight and after the victory lap all-star quality of Civil War, it’s nice to see the studio still has room for expansion and experimentation within the obscenely bankable Marvel movie formula.

Luke Cage (TV) Review

Luke Cage (TV) Review

You can’t talk about Luke Cage without talking about race. That’s not even a result of being a TV critic, where the job is to find meaning in pop culture – Luke Cage is clearly a show about blackness. It owes just as much to Black Lives Matter as it does to Marvel grandfather Stan Lee. It’s distinctly of the moment, tackling respectability politics and police brutality in a way you rarely see on contemporary genre TV. Luke Cage isn’t the most subtle, nor the most well-told, but it’s still a cultural flashpoint worth experiencing.

Luke Cage takes place after Jessica Jones, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any evidence of that, aside from a handful of standard MCU tertiary mentions. Eponymous Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is hiding out in his late wife’s old Harlem neighborhood, doing odd jobs and staying low. A series of gang incidents forces him into action, taking up the role of Harlem’s protector at the behest of an old friend.
Luke Cage (TV) Review 7This is maybe Luke Cage’s biggest issue – the whole “Harlem’s protector” thing happens fairly early in the series. Cage jumps into a traditional character arc by episode 2, and hangs around there until the season finale. He plans to leave the city once Harlem is safe from Cornell Stokes AKA “Cottonmouth” (Mahershala Ali) and his criminal operation, but he does plenty of do-gooding until then. Although much is made of Cage fully embracing the hero business at the end of the season his actions remain functionally the same.

Luke Cage (TV) Review 6Which isn’t to say Harlem exclusively harbors the stagnant. Both Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) and corrupt Harlem politician (and Cottonmouth’s cousin) Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) receive strong arcs. Dillard’s tale belongs in a modern Shakespeare retelling, as she funds her City Council programs with dirty money. She pushes Cottonmouth towards murder, advising him on criminal schemes all while putting on a brave public face in service of her “New Harlem Renaissance” initiative. As the story progresses, Dillard falls deeper into crime as the show examines whether she ever truly meant well. It’s compelling stuff, even if her role eventually takes a backseat to arms dealer Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey).

Diamondback and Cottonmouth are both charismatic in their own way. but Ali’s performance as Cottonmouth is the show’s highlight. (Ali has never turned in a bad performance, so that’s to be expected.) Unlike Fisk and Kilgrave, Cottonmouth’s violence feels learned, not innate – a result of his upbringing – whereas his charisma is buried deep in his bones. Comparatively, Diamondback is a violent jerk who hates Luke Cage for reasons the audience can never truly sympathize with. Cottonmouth is a bad guy, Diamondback is a plot device for the hero to overcome.

The less said about Misty Knight and Missick’s performance, the better. Her role as a black woman serving in the police force is important in the context of Luke Cage’s larger ideals. Knight is trying to do good from within the system, a system that excuses police-sanctioned violence and regularly fails to make any legitimate change. And it’s a good idea! The story of Misty Knight deserves its own show. But Missick only finds the character towards the end of the season, spending a good 7-8 episodes delivering an inauthentic performance.

Even worse, just about everything from the NYPD’s perspective could’ve been cut fairly easily. There’s an arc about corruption that ultimately doesn’t go anywhere, plus there’s the meaningless time Knight and her partner spend investigating Luke Cage. The audience learns everything through flashbacks, so none of the investigation means anything – which might just be a Marvel Netflix problem. Daredevil and Jessica Jones also had tertiary characters whose sole purpose was to investigate things the audience already knew . Come to think of it, Cottonmouth and Diamondback are both well-spoken villains in suits who are prone to fits of violence a la Kilgrave and Fisk. Hmm…

It might sound cliché, but the most important character in Luke Cage is Harlem. To Cottonmouth, Dillard, and Cage, the neighborhood is the most important prize. The final battle between Cage and Diamondback takes place on a city block, encompassed by regular citizens cheering on their hero. It feels like the strongest example of a “street-level” superhero story to date, if only because the stakes feel refreshingly small. There’s no doomsday weapon or army of ninjas, it’s a “battle for Harlem’s soul” – literalized by an expository news report.

Look, direct racial themes in superhero TV are better than none at all. Making Cage’s superhero costume a hoodie is a clear homage to the Trayvon Martin shooting, but instead of letting that idea stand on its own, characters repeatedly verbalize the connection for the audience. At first blush, the show’s connection between Black Lives Matter iconography and Dillard’s corrupt politician seems like a condemnation of the movement, but the tenets of the movement are well-represented by the ordinary people of Harlem. Politicians may seek to exploit idealism to further their own plans, ultimately the onus for change requires the watchful eye of the people. Luke Cage’s violent upheaval of Harlem’s corrupt underbelly works because it takes place outside the system. No matter the color of its figureheads, the system is rigged.
Luke Cage (TV) Review 4Structurally, Luke Cage doesn’t totally work – it’s somehow both rushed and too long, giving several episodes to dealing with an injury but eventually chopping the crime story off at the knees. Still, it’s absolutely worth seeing, even if you’re just a Marvel fan looking for the next chapter in the Defenders saga. For those looking for a little more to chew on in your sci-fi TV, you’ll certainly find something to love in Luke Cage, so long as you can accept an odd dramatic structure.