‘Marvel’s Luke Cage’ Season 2 Combines the Perils of Fame With Fighting Crime

If super heroes were indeed real they would become the biggest of all social media stars. Season two of Netflix’s Marvel’s Luke Cage ponders how a Harlem superman could fight crime while becoming an app. The battles from the fast and furious first season have resulted with Cage (Mike Colter) now bearing greater responsibilities to his neighborhood and city. Cottonmouth and Diamondback have been defeated, but new crime bosses are afoot. Like the Marvel movies, the TV shows, including “Daredevil” and “The Punisher,” have that fun element of working like comic book sagas. One season is the equivalent of one comic storyline, now with a new season we’re getting ready to binge on a whole new adventure.

Luke Cage (Colter) is now a brand. With the world finding out about his indestructible physique, he is fast attracting massive fame. Tourists, t-shirts and memes follow him everywhere. There is an even an app that allows to track Cage whenever he pops up fighting crime.  As the season opens our hero breaks into an underground drug lab where dealers have stamped his name on the product, in order to make it more lucrative. But Cage always has time to be with his amore, Claire (Rosario Dawson), who tries to keep his temper in check as he feels a real compulsion to clean the streets, even if it means taking dangerous risks. Some villains however, do try to change their ways. Mariah (Alfre Woodard) is now trying to sell off her weapons cache to the highest bidder, this way she can get out of the crime world and be fully legitimate. Along for the venture is her lover, Shades (Theo Rossi), who is so devoted he will blow a man’s brains out for offending Mariah. But a new criminal is in town, a ruthless Jamaican gangster called Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), who is not only seeking to dominate crime in New York City, but he apparently shares Cage’s powers.

By now the Netflix Marvel shows are designed for the truly devoted. A patient newcomer will find that most of “Luke Cage” season two’s first half focuses on exposition. The first episodes catch up with all the key players from the last season, while slowly introducing the whole angle involving Bushmaster. There’s even a moment in the second episode where Cage and Claire have an argument that really spirals into looking over what happened in season one. But the characters are at least spared too much cardboard development. There is much fun to be had with Cage’s newfound celebrity. He attracts crowds while testing his strength at a ballpark, and even while emerging from a flaming cartel truck he turns to find someone filming him for their website. In a hilarious twist Cage simply gives up and takes advantage to send a message via the internet that he’s here to clean the streets with total invincibility. The real perils of fame are thrown on Cage’s shoulders, with friends and relatives wondering why he refuses to make some money off his name (“just because you’re a woke super hero doesn’t mean you should be a broke super hero”). Inevitably while going out for dinner with Claire someone will bother Cage for a selfie. The writing and tone have a near Blaxploitation vibe that works much better than the recent “Superfly” remake. A newspaper column lauds Cage as having Barack Obama’s smile combined with Malcolm X’s attitude.

All of this works because the casting remains strong. Mike Colter has great screen charisma and if there is any justice, he will be more frequently cast in big, hero roles. Rosario Dawson is a good match for Colter, as she is usually always tougher than any male co-star, even Alexander the Great going back to 2004. The late Reg E. Cathey, who passed earlier this year, has a great role as Cage’s father, the Rev. James Lucas. He intones with Biblical authority at Cage. Alfre Woodward is of course the highlight, imposing her authority while also feeling the pressure of trying to get out of the game. She has a threatening air when hinting at Cage that she could do something Claire to get to him, but then has a panic attack when Shades kills a potential buyer for calling her a “puta.” This show has a tendency to stretch out some moments, maybe because Netflix insists on going for 13-episode laps, but Woodward is so good as a power player that more of her is not such a bad thing.

Much exposition but there is action. How could there not be? Cage is blasted out windows, escapes burning infernos, takes bullet after bullet only to find that he can absorb the rounds. Bushmaster has quite the moves as well and can take out three guys with swipes and kicks that are slightly beyond human. We get the obligatory shot of him at home plucking out led from his riddled chest. But that’s the nature of this sort of storytelling, you can’t have a superman without a super villain.

Season two of “Luke Cage” will fill the void of fans who will binge until dawn, not caring much for the over-exposition. Non-fans might get antsy with at least the first four episodes. But when the show gets cooking it is a good time, fighting crime while winking at our celebrity-obsessed age.

Marvel’s Luke Cage” season two premieres June 22 on Netflix.