The third Marvel/Netflix series released last weekend, and why, yes, I have already watched all 13 episodes of Luke Cage. Although it didn’t quite reach the heights of Daredevil s1 and Jessica Jones, it’s a solid addition to the line-up and really has me excited for the upcoming Defenders team-up.
Luke Cage, previously introduced in JJ, has decamped to Harlem where he’s trying to hide his super strength and impenetrable skin while working two jobs. He’s trying to live a normal life. But he gets caught up in protecting a local kid who’s crossed a powerful nightclub owner known as Cottonmouth, and little by little he steps up into his role as a protector for the neighborhood.
My primary issue with the series was that the story did not have as tight a narrative as DD and JJ. It was slightly messy at times, which lead to a little unevenness and confusion. I felt the series started out a little slow, but it really picked up steam as it went, and by the second half it was definitely binge-worthy.
Luke Cage has a very different feel, lacking the exciting fight choreography of DD and the psychological thrills of JJ. I think this is the first time I felt like a Marvel property was not made for me…and that’s great! I lacked a lot of cultural touchstones that would have helped me relate to LC. I never felt that way before because of elements like the Catholic guilt that infuses DD and the unapologetically female lens of JJ. But LC doesn’t slow down to explain African American cultural references; it just lives and breathes them. (For a black perspective on the show, check out Evan Narcisse’s roundtable on io9.)
It’s about time we had a superhero show like this. The creators don’t shy away from social commentary, whether it’s the difference of opinion between the characters on the use of the n-word, or the powerful image of a bulletproof black man in a hoodie. I think Luke Cage is the best contemporary update of a superhero since the first Iron Man movie eight years ago.
Also, the use of music is amazing. The score had echoes of Daredevil to me, and the club scenes allow for a constant flow of hip hop, R&B, jazz, soul, etc. And even I know who Method Man is!
Marvel fans will notice plenty of little fun details throughout the series. There’s a great visual joke about Power Man’s original costume, a flier for Colleen Wing’s self defense classes, and the requisite Stan Lee cameo. There’s also some great crossover with DD and JJ, including characters Turk and ADA Blake Tower from DD, and an episode of Trish Talk from JJ. (I was hoping for a Danny Rand/Iron Fist appearance, but no such luck.)
The crossover with the rest of the MCU is less impressive. The “incident” of the first Avengers movie is still mentioned and seems to have lingering effects, but there’s no mention of the Sokovia Accords, or Ultron, or Inhumans, any of which might have been known to the characters.
One last gripe: the science is…not good. They did try a little to explain scientifically how Luke got his powers, but they just kind of ended up flinging around sciencey terms like CRISPR that don’t really add up to a plausible explanation. But it doesn’t bother me too much because, hey, superheroes.
Favorite good guy: Misty Knight
Misty’s character has a pretty rough job in LC: she’s both a black woman and a cop, and she has to carry a good chunk of the show. And she pulls it off with flying colors, showing great range of character. In a show that featured so many different of women of color, Misty stood out to me as being intelligent but still having her heart in the right place. She’s already confirmed for Defenders and I couldn’t be more excited.
Runners up: Bobby Fish and Claire Temple
Bobby Fish, the chess-playing fixture at Pop’s barber shop, contributed his humor and practicality, helping to keep this superhero show grounded. Claire Temple, who has already appeared in DD and JJ, kept on being awesome. I was pleased with how much she was in the show, and I loved her “old married couple” relationship with Luke, but it does seem to be a little problematic that she keeps falling for all the superheroes she patches up.
Favorite bad guy: Shades
Shades really stood out to me with his ubiquitous sunglasses, unshakably cool demeanor, and “I know something you don’t know” attitude. He always has a plan, and I had no doubts he’d come out on top. Also, I swear this actor looked super familiar but I can’t figure out what I know him from. Any ideas?
Runner up: Mariah Dillard
Mariah, played by the wonderful Alfre Woodard, had the most interesting character arc in the whole show. She’s the only bad guy here that could possibly reach Wilson Fisk/Kilgrave territory in terms of awesomeness. Looking forward to seeing more of her in the future.
What did you guys think of Luke Cage? How did it compare to the other Marvel properties for you?