Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
There’s no denying the gigantic, game-changing impact of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the big screen. The extended, hyper-connected string of superhero blockbusters haven’t been without their occasional bump in the road (looking at you, Thor: The Dark World), but they’ve been almost consistently good and, above all else, consistently very successful at attracting their wide-reaching audience. Marvel can bring an eager crowd to the big screen. No doubt about it. In our golden age of peak television, however, their small screen output has wavered, ironically.
There are certainly hits to be found, like Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage and The Punisher, for instance, which have successfully captured the graphic spirit of their individual source materials and brought them to life within their own interconnected universe. But there are also super flops too, like Iron Fist, Inhumans and, to an extent, The Defenders, which didn’t garner the audience the blockbuster studio hoped for — to put it nicely. In fact, Iron Fist and Inhumans have received some of the absolute worst reviews the Marvel universe has seen since Iron Man rocked his way into the scene in 2008. On the big screen, Marvel has found hit after hit. But on the small screen, there are misses.
It’s hard to tell where to put Cloak & Dagger, the newest Marvel series, based on its first two episodes. The first MCU show to make its way to Freeform is more focused on the ordinary than the extraordinary in its teenage characters. At the center of Cloak & Dagger are Aubrey Joseph and Olivia Holt as the title characters, though we only know them now as Tyrone and Tandy, respectively. They live separate lives but they’re connected through tragedy.
During their early childhoods, both young adults found their lives forever changed when Tyrone watched his brother get shot by the police and Tandy found herself in the vehicle that her dad ultimately drove off a bridge, resulting in his own demise. In the connected waters where they both landed, Tyrone and Tandy are many miles away, but they’re nevertheless intertwined through their own individual fates.
During that eventful night, Tyrone gained the power of dark through an energy that transports him to different places (a.k.a. cloak), while Tandy gained the power of light through a light source that produces daggers (a.k.a. dagger). In these first two episodes, they’re obviously still learning how to control their abilities, and Cloak & Dagger respects the art of the build-up. Tempered in its pace and grounded in its aesthetic, the show likes to take its time during its first two hours. Those expecting super heroics will (mostly) need to wait for future episodes. Right now, it’s about building character.
Cloak & Dagger appears to be pretty fateful to its source material, authored by Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan — though there are some details left absent, like Tyrone’s stuttering in the comics, for instance. Viewers accustomed to the grit and grime found in Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage will likely expect the grounded realism of the series, though it might be grittier and darker than what select Freeform audiences are anticipating.
Cloak & Dagger deals directly with many real-life hardships, from racism to assault, and it’s not often a comfortable watch. But it has the potential to be a meaningful one, should they focus on these themes justly. It’s hard to tell within these first two episodes where the show will go, though, and it’s to its benefit that the new series has the potential to surprise you beyond some of its formulaic traits. It’s evident that they’re making something real amidst the fantastical here, and if done well, it has the potential to be truly impacting.
Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph are both fantastic in their respective roles. Each actor brings a weighted maturity beyond their years, and they don’t fail to captivate whenever they appear on the screen. Unfortunately, in these first two episodes, they’re rarely seen together, which seems like an odd and potentially unfortunate choice. The series is meant to focus on their bond together, perhaps even their romantic bond. But we only see them together roughly two or three times, and while it’s important to build their characters on their own merits, it’s hard to develop the chemistry between these lead characters if they’re not spending time with one another.
With 10 episodes in the season though, perhaps that’s set to come. It’s hard to know for sure, but Cloak & Dagger is never afraid to foreshadow the impending importance of their superhero alter-egos. And every comic book fan knows that it’s the human inside the superhero that makes them extraordinary, beyond the superpowers they’re meant to wield.
Since Cloak & Dagger is about building expectations, it’s hard to know exactly how it’ll fare based on these early installments. But it’s evident that showrunner Joe Pokanski is trying to craft something pretty substantial and timely for his young audiences, and there’s reason to believe it’ll make a great impact for those who follow it. For now, though, it’s best to let it air its remaining episodes and hope it’s going to be among the better contributions from the MCU.
Cloak & Dagger doesn't have full control of its powers in its first two episodes, but through its commanding young lead actors and its timely and relevant themes, it's quite possible Freeform's first foray in the MCU might provide one of the better Marvel adaptations to the small screen.