'Soul Brother No. 1' is an excellent series opener, raising the the stakes for the remaining offerings.
Netflix are on a roll this year. It’s only been three months since the second season of Jessica Jones hit our screens, and now Luke Cage’s sophomore outing is here too. We can also expect to hear from both Daredevil and Iron Fist again before the year is out. So, should we be concerned by the absolute onslaught of superhero-related streaming, or is the bulletproof Harlem hero’s return a promising sign of things to come?
There’s a lot to catch up on before watching Luke Cage‘s second season, so it was unsurprising and gratefully-appreciated when Netflix offered me a two-minute recap of the first season’s most important moments, although frustratingly this did not include any of the developments from last summer’s Defenders, which do have an important role in this first episode. For mega-fans, this won’t be a problem, but for the more casual Netflix viewer who may be attracted by Cage‘s more grounded storytelling, this omission will surely prove jarring. ‘Soul Brother No.1’, the season’s first episode, picks up shortly after the events of Defenders, with Luke (Mike Colter) now cemented as the ‘hero of Harlem’, complete with his own merchandise and Pokémon Go-esque tracking app. In a world that is crammed to the absolute brim with super-heroic characters, it’s a sweet idea that a smaller community can enjoy its own, unique hero, rather than worshipping the universal icons of, say, Captain America or Iron Man. Colter plays with this idea of celebrity in an engaging way, conveying both his stoic dedication and wistful doubts. He’s complimented by Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, a supportive partner which we completely buy as the perfect match for the impervious superhero.
The supporting cast are generally excellent as well. Simone Missick, playing the now one-armed police detective Misty Knight (thank you again Netflix for not including this quite important plot point in the recap), is a solid screen presence, and she never oversells the anguish of being disabled, her expressions saying more than ham-fisted dialogue ever could. She’s best served as a ‘partner-in-crime’ to Luke, the straight law-woman who can prosecute the baddies that Luke metes out justice to. On the villainous front, we’ve got the returning Theo Rossi and Alfre Woodard as criminal duo (and sickening cougar-and-cub combo) ‘Shades’ and Mariah Dillard, who are apparently trying to sell their stockpile of guns in order to ‘go straight.’ I’ll believe it when I see it. We’re also briefly introduced to new foe ‘Bushmaster’, played by Mustafa Shakir. From what little glimpses we get of the character here, he appears to be a new player on New York’s criminal scene, but his motivations are unclear, despite a clear dislike for the Stokes family from which Mariah descends. We see him pull off some dazzling capoeira moves, and a gruesome execution scene involving a knife serves to remind us that Netflix’s Marvel offerings don’t intend on pulling any of their punches, which is refreshing within the genre.
The district of Harlem once again is its own character, complimented by beautiful shots of iconic street signs and locales. Live music performed by real-life musicians returns as well, with R&B singer Joi taking the spot in this first offering. The blending of audio and imagery in this series remains one of its high points, and hopefully will continue to be so throughout the season. Director Lucy Liu (yep, that one!) is great at framing Colter against the background in a way that doesn’t feel too showy, and her action scenes pack an appropriate punch.
The season opener delivers on introducing the majority of the main players. Even if it feels a little bit lacking at times, it had to serve an important role as the first bookend of the story, so it is somewhat understandable. The inclusion of the late Reg E. Cathey as Luke’s dad also feels a bit out of place here, mainly because there’s already quite a lot going on. However, the theme of the season does appear to relate to identity, and with Luke now a public hero, it makes sense to confront his past in this way, so with any luck the character will start to flow more seamlessly, given time.
A few minor nitpicks aside, ‘Soul Brother No. 1’ is a solid opening episode. So long as the series stays focused on its strengths – and doesn’t kill off Bushmaster halfway through like they did with their last ‘Big Bad’, Cottonmouth – then I have no doubt it will be an entertaining ride, from start to finish. And, let’s face it, it won’t take any of us long to finish it.
The entirety of Luke Cage Season 2 is available to stream on Netflix.