Sweet Christmas, this was an interesting show.
So for those who aren’t in the know, Luke Cage is the latest superhero show from the pairing of Netflix and Marvel. It follows the adventure of a superpowered individual named…well, Luke Cage. Luke has superstrength and is well nigh indestructible. He also just so happens to be black. He popped up in Jessica Jones as a one-night-stand-but-maybe-more for that show’s titular character.
Now Luke has moved from Hell’s Kitchen to Harlem. He’s living off the grid, sweeping up hair at Pop’s barbershop and washing dishes at a nightclub owned by a gangster named Cottonmouth. He wants to just keep his head down and stay out of sight, mostly because of his past and who he really is. But thanks to a crime deal that went south, Luke gets dragged into a battle for the very heart and soul of Harlem.
I’m trying very desperately to not drop spoilers here.
So let’s talk a little more about specifics. I love Mike Colter as Luke Cage. He plays Luke with a quiet confidence that grows on you from episode to episode. His Luke Cage is very grounded, very stable. Plus he has a heart that just shines through; while he’s reluctant to put himself out there due to his complicated past, he’s not about to sit on the sidelines when he knows he can make a difference. It’s a very real-world sort of take on a superhero. He doesn’t put on the spandex or brightly colored costume (well, he does wear an outfit reminiscent of his original comic costume, but it’s only for a split second and he quickly discards it). He goes about doing good while wearing hoodies, a brilliant move on the part of the writers/producers/directors/costume designers (or whoever came up with the idea), seeing as, in modern society, a black man wearing a hoodie is usually assumed to be a criminal rather than a protector.
And, for the most part, the supporting cast helps ground this show in reality. Yes, Luke can easily tear the doors off a car and can survive a blast from a missile launcher, but overlaying the story is a surface sheen of reality that helps the show immensely. Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth is a dangerous individual, easy to despise, until we start to see how he turned out this way. Alfre Woodard’s Mariah Dillard is a smarmy politician who is desperately trying to overcome her seedy past, only to have the gravity of her life in Harlem drag her back down into the crime and corruption she’s so anxious to escape. And Simone Missick as Detective Misty Knight? I loved her, especially how her character could reconstruct crime scenes in her mind, plus the rapport she had with her partner.
The only fly in the ointment is the over-the-top, overly cartoonish villain who pops up halfway through the episodes, namely Erik LaRay Harvey’s Diamondback. The whole show slips off the rails a little when Diamondback shows up. Whereas Cottonmouth and his cadre of thugs exude menace and danger, Diamondback just chews on the scenery, spouting out-of-context Bible verses while battling Luke for reasons that, quite frankly, never quite make sense.
Well, there’s actually some more things that bug me, mostly about Luke’s love life. But I won’t go into that right now. Spoilers and all that. Let’s just say that I’m curious to see what’s going to happen when Luke finally reunites with Jessica Jones.
In spite of the season’s uneven ending, I’d say that this series is another solid success in the Marvel/Netflix collaboration. And part of the reason why is because of the deeper themes that the show touches on. In Jessica Jones, we were given a harrowing ride through what could best be described as an abusive relationship. In Luke Cage, we’re given the opportunity to examine the issue of race relations in America through the lens of a superhero show. Luke lives in a neighborhood that has been failed by numerous individuals and people are trying to scrape by, survive as best as they can. In some ways, this could be seen as a call to shed the skin of crime and desperation, to work together to improve neighborhoods like Harlem from the inside out, since outside policing often doesn’t help, but instead adds fuel to the fire. I also appreciated the not-so-subtle slap at the increasing militarization of American police forces as the “Judas bullets” came into play.
So should you see this show? If you’re like me and you like thoughtful superhero shows, then yes, you probably should. It’s a solid entry into the Marvel canon and it’s enough to make me really look forward to The Defenders even more.