Synopsis – Given superstrength and durability by a sabotaged experiment, a wrongly accused man escapes prison to become a superhero for hire.
Episodes – S01E01 to S01E013
My Take – It looks like Marvel and Netflix has done it again with Luke Cage! Netflix has been on the role with shows like Jessica Jones, and Daredevil, but ever since the trailer for Luke Cage came out, the general reaction was nothing but joy. Luke Cage Aka Power Man, the one half of the comic book series known as Heroes for Hire, is the latest character to get his own show as part of Netflix‘s partnership with Marvel Studios. A welcome addition to the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, the show like the earlier ones, also dives into the darker aspects of heroism, a section where the films dare not go. Played by Mike Colter, Luke Cage had his first appearance in Jessica Jones, but now the man with the indestructible skin is front and center with his own show, simply titled Luke Cage, one that also expands the diversity within the MCU with a predominantly black cast in what is also the most socially conscious work to take place within the MCU. So does the show live upto its expectations? Well of course it does! Sure it’s a tad disappointing in comparison to Daredevil & Jessica Jones and takes its own sweet time to gain momentum, yet given the current political and social climate in the US, this is more relevant than ever, and coupled with the figure of a bulletproof black man, it lends the show an even greater sense of importance. The season starts off great with a strong classic noire vibe in a modern coat of paint along with a strong cast that creates a powerful atmosphere as a result it’s the tone that draws you in. Now I know I may be late to the party, because a huge majority of people already seen the whole series. On the other hand, I took my time to watch it and enjoy it. Now if you have been sleeping on Marvel and or Luke Cage, you need to certainly wake up! Netflix‘s Season one of Marvel‘s Luke Cage is one of the best things Netflix has done! Seriously! Now before I continue, I must warn about the SPOILERS ahead.
Based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name created by Archie Goodwin, John Romita, Sr and George Tuska in 1972, the story follows Luke Cage (Mike Colter) a few months after the events of Jessica Jones (2015) season 1. Originally a convict known as Carl Lucas, who was wrongfully convicted for death of his love interest, Reva Connors. While serving time in Seagate Prison, Luke goes under some illegal experiments which results in him gaining bulletproof skin and a superhuman amount of strength. Now on the run, with a fake name, all Cage wants is to live a subtle life as a man juggling two jobs at a local barbershop run by Pop (Frankie Faison) and nearby music scene owned by Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali). However, any aspiration for the quiet life is quickly thrown out the window when Cornell aka Cottonmouth begins ramping up gun running in Harlem. However, Cottonmouth isn’t the only criminal Cage will have to worry about, as the gangster has an equally shady cousin, Councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), his mysterious former inmate Shades (Theo Rossi) and a deranged hit man from his past (Erik LaRay Harvey) to toy with as well. The series starts of great, with the character of Luke Cage already been establish in the series Jessica Jones, time is given to establish the place – Harlem, its culture, its music, its soul. Honestly, before the show, I was skeptical that he would (ironically) be strong enough to carry his own show, but I was wrong, and I will happily admit to that. He came across as a very likable, and humble character; a little bit less morally complicated than Jessica, which provides a welcome distinction. Like the other Marvel/Netflix series, this series is decidedly more adult that your typical Marvel product. The story is grounded and realistic; it deals with real life issues instead of delving into your typical sci-fi fare. It has a tone and feel to it unlike any of the previous Marvel films or TV shows. This is due in part to the adultness of the show (it’s not as violent as Daredevil or Jessica Jones, but makes use of its rating nonetheless), and also in part to the standout soundtrack that is prominent in every episode. This season was in many ways so dramatically different from the Marvel Netflix shows we are use to but still falls close into that tone we have come to love. As someone who lives outside of America, my knowledge on American racial issues are very limited, but I felt you didn’t need much background information on the issues. I feel as though if you have a general knowledge of what is going on, you can see that this season really embraces that issue and tackles it head on. The writers made sure they had a great balance of representing a place of color in Harlem while still presenting the issues of races and police brutality without shoving it in our faces, especially being a serious and modern take on the Blaxploitation genre. For instance, the first thing you will notice that is inspired by Blaxploitation films is the soundtrack. It is an amazing soundtrack, that I would love to buy. It is the classic Blaxploitation type music, it is soul, Jazz, funk, old school rap, R&B, and they got all that together and they Wu –Tanged it up. Kudos to show runner Cheo Hodari Coker and his team of writers and directors who make this be about more than just the titular hero itself.
It takes you back to that old urban crime films like “Shaft,” and the gangster elements remind you of “Boyz n the Hood”. Method Man (The Wu-Tang Clan) and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest) make up the primary music for the show, and the music is one of the best assets to the show! I also found this to be a cool Easter egg. Every episode name is named after a song by rapper Gang Starr. Many episodes have live performances (some of which are from real bands and singers – for example Method Man appears in one episode), and a lot of the action sequences are excellently cut with very Harlem-style music. Speaking of the action, this is also a notable point of the series. While the choreography isn’t of the quality that you would find in Daredevil, the action is certainly good, and there are several extended action sequences that last a number of minutes which were always entertaining to watch. Show runner Cheo Hodari Coker and co manage to pack a hell of a lot into the hour-long instalments, which aside from containing the usual action scenes and detailed character development we’ve come to expect from these Netflix/Marvel outings, grapple with a number of serious themes. However, I could not help but view this program in the context of Daredevil and Jessica Jones because, let’s face it, they are pretty much neighbors at this point. When viewed in the same context, Luke Cage does not stand up well at all; Daredevil gave us a fresh, darker spin on the MCU, which was rewarding and intoxicating. Jessica Jones maintained this, adding to it where necessary, ultimately becoming a very strong story. Both of these shows held a high level of quality, with excellent story telling, something that Luke Cage lacked. In short, the quality was just not there. As a whole, I loved pretty much every moment of this season, but getting to the end seems like a bit of a challenge. I find this is a common problem that we are starting to see in these Marvel Netflix shows. I find that I love every episode in the 13-episode season but you get to the end and feel like it could of been a very well executed 10-episode season. I’m not sure what would be edited but based on story alone, I feel like it could easily have been played out in 10 episodes. In saying that though, I never had a moment during my time watching where I felt I was getting bored or it was dragging on. While the twists were surprising, and kept you guessing, the writing overall was average. It’s like there were a lot of issues that the writing team wanted to get in, but could not balance it out with the rest of the story especially in the final half of the season. This led to confusion at some points, for example, there is a lot of rhetoric about black people vs. the police (crossed with anti Luke Cage protests), which is heated up by one of the politicians, but her solution is to arm the police with stronger weapons? It doesn’t make much sense, and the whole thing comes across like it was written by somebody who either does not understand a lot of the issues present at the moment, or that lacks the ability to make it work in a superhero program. The story was just all over the place; a decision needed to be made about the direction, but nobody made it, or at least stuck to it.
There are many threads to the series’ storyline, each of which is moved forward at a moderate pace by the characters. They all serve their purpose, and serve it well. Within the cast we see a great range of characters and characterizations, from a tormented villain to a desperate detective willing to do anything to get her way. The good thing is that the cast is remarkably consistent. I found with both Daredevil and Jessica Jones there was always at least one character that I did not like, but with Luke Cage this is not the case. Despite this being an ensemble drama with a large cast, none of the main characters are at all bland and each serves an important purpose. Mike Colter leads as the titular character in a very charming and quite subtle performance, but it is obvious straight away that his casting is impeccable – it would be impossible to find a more suitable person for the role. Rosario Dawson brings a tension to the series and the personal interplay is something that I liked a lot. I initially enjoyed Simone Missick‘s performance as Misty Knight, a strong women character but felt her to be weak & useless as the series progressed. Mahershala Ali‘s portrayal of Cottonmouth is a definite contender for Marvel‘s best villain yet – he is far above the quality of villain that you might see in any of the Marvel movies (and that includes Loki), and certainly up there with Vincent D’Onofrio‘s Wilson Fisk (Daredevil) and David Tennant‘s Kilgrave (Jessica Jones). Alfre Woodard‘s Mariah Dillard – much less of an upfront villain; she is a somewhat sketchy politician who does sketchy things – and Theo Rossi‘s ‘Shades’ – a very intellectual and manipulative man, who starts off as a henchman but attempts to rise above those around him. Both of these villains are something refreshingly different for the Marvel universe and excelled by the actors. They were both complex, suave and audacious villains who were very enjoyable to watch. I’ve seen many people list Shades as the standout character of the show, and although I don’t quite agree with this (Cottonmouth is the standout for me), he still clearly a remarkable villain whom I loved watching, and also, surely, one of Marvel‘s best to date. My only complaint is that later in the season they introduce a fourth villain (Erik LaRay Harvey’s Diamondback) who clearly is not as strong as any of the others. Even though he’s not necessarily a bad villain, Erik LaRay’s performance felt quite average and certainly not on the same level as any of the other characters, villain or not. Among other performances – Jaiden Kaine, Ron Cephas Jones, Karen Pittman, Frank Whaley, Jacob Vargas, Deborah Ayorinde and Frankie Faison play their parts well. On the whole, ‘Luke Cage’ manages to strike a good balance between style and substance, with a likable protagonist, and multi-layered, dynamic, and solid characterizations, this is a series with a lot to admire. Without a doubt, this latest step towards The Defenders crossover show is another hit for the Marvel/Netflix partnership. Bring on Iron Fist.
Creator – Cheo Hodari Coker
Status – Season 1 (Completed)
Network – Netflix