With Luke Cage arriving on Netflix, the third hero of the four, the eventual destination is a team up series, a la Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers in the Defenders – a street level four-person team consisting of Matt Murdock’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (will be arriving after Luke Cage debuts its first season in its entirety on the streaming service). Just like with its Marvel Studio counterpart, these Netflix series are quote unquote a part of the expanded universe, a throwaway line of dialogue here and there suggests that much, and to that, the series that have already released up until this point strangely mimic phase one in its hero appearance order.
Beyond those few lines reminding those who may have lived under a rock the past few years of what these series refer to as the “event” (Battle of New York) nothing else would suggest these two universes are remotely connected. Kevin Feige has made it abundantly clear that these street level characters aren’t in the larger cinematic universe (what a shame, I’m not the only one who would love to see Matt Murdock and Tony Stark interact). Tonally, it’s hard to imagine Daredevil’s brutality and bloodshed or Jessica Jones’s addiction and sexuality fit in with the lighter tone of the Marvel machine but the two are more similar than they would admit. The Netflix series have found its way to tell these stories in a formulaic manner just as Kevin Feige has mastered since 2008’s Iron Man.
Taking place after the events of Jessica Jones season 1, Luke moves to Harlem to blend in with the crowd. He’s not one to explicitly use his powers for the good of mankind or to expose himself to unnecessary attention, rather just live his life and stay out of trouble. The thing is, trouble follows Luke wherever he goes, working his job at a barbershop sweeping hair and as a dishwasher at Harlem’s Paradise owned by Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali) and his cousin Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard). In the midst of all that, Luke Cage is about a social commentary on the responsibility that powered beings have. Just because Luke has these powers doesn’t necessarily mean he wants to be used for them. Luke is his own man, faced with the reality of a past that haunts him when the system did everything to keep him down.
Similar to the previous two series that have already premiered Luke Cage’s strongest aspect lies within the performances by the main cast. That alone should be enough to give this series a chance even if Luke Cage the character isn’t on everyone’s radar. For those who have heard of the character, Mike Colter embodies Luke’s spirit on screen. His presence alone rivals that of one of the Avengers let alone Matt Murdock or Jessica Jones. This iteration of Luke Cage feels familiar even though this is his origin story.
Along with Mike Colter’s intimidating tactics that should have criminals think twice about their actions, the man is bulletproof with unbreakable skin, given these powers not by choice but by an experiment gone wrong. Luke’s charm is on full display attracting several women to get swept up in his massive muscular gravitational pull. For one Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) can’t go five minutes without running into a superpowered human. She also has a soft spot for them, more so Matt and Luke than Jessica. Claire in Luke Cage is given a lot more to do than in her previous appearances, having a more complete character arc. The other woman in Luke’s life is detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick). Even though she starts as a typical love interest, Misty becomes an essential character to the series. Within the story that’s being told, Misty is more frustrating given the shallowness to her character for much of the season.
Luke Cage falters in the length of the season, 13 episodes. That has also plagued the previous series, starting off strong, establishing the world, in this case, Harlem, a character like the people who inhabit it, gaining momentum through expository dialogue and slowing losing the momentum through the middle episodes. This is also the first series with weaker writing regarding the villains. Cottonmouth is no Kingpin, no Wilson Fisk, though a kingpin-esque character in Harlem, Mahershala does the best with what he’s given while self proclaiming himself a king under the symbolism of a Notorious B.I.G. Painting. Alfre gives a stronger performance out of the two showcasing the range of her characters personality going from calm, cool and collected to absolute Norman Bates Psycho.
About halfway through Luke Cage season 1, the tone shifts unexpectedly through character choices leaving a lot unresolved. Both Daredevil & Jessica Jones first seasons had a singular villain that was built up as much as the hero, giving them time to blossom into fully fleshed out characters. Once the second half of Luke Cage starts, a reset button is hit, and a new villain is introduced that only was talked about in whispers. It’s a strange decision that was made that easily can turn off viewers since Mahershala is such an endearing performer.
For a show that revolves around Luke, the most important character is Harlem. The city is alive when Luke walks the streets with his powerbeat’s headphones and hoodie on. A mix of jazz and Hip-hop fusion pumps through the city blocks giving the neighborhoods identity a moment to shine in every episode. More poignant to that is how culturally self-aware Luke Cage is.
Luke Cage is for the culture, every episode is named after a Gang Starr song, after all.
In the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe where every hero has been a white male, Luke Cage is the first black superhero to be given his own series. While Daredevil and Jessica Jones heavily rely on the characters powers and abilities, Luke Cage does the opposite. The attention is put toward the drama surrounding the human nature of the character rather what he can do for Harlem. There are times of outcry for Luke to step up, but his inner introvert fights him every step of the way. For Luke its always forward, forward always. Cheesy day time soap opera dialogue, I know, but it works for his character.
Luke Cage season 1 premiered on September 30, 2016 and can be streamed on Netflix. Luke Cage season 1 has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 90%. Luke Cage was created for TV by Cheo Hodari Coker, was based on characters created by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Ray Thomas & John Romita Sr., and stars Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Rosario Dawson & Alfre Woodard.
So, tell me, have you seen Luke Cage season 1 and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.