Netflix & Marvel are a partnership made in heaven if recent history is anything to go by. We’ve already had hits like Jessica Jones and Daredevil. Luke Cage is the latest product from the Netflix Original Series conveyor belt. The latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Luke Cage: a 13 episode series jam packed with action, story telling and of course super powers. We take a look to see if it’s worth a watch.
Background to Luke Cage
While the likes of Dr. Strange are patiently waiting in the wings to join The Avengers on the big screen, Netflix is powering towards The Defenders. For want of a better phrase, The Defenders is along the lines of The Avengers Lite. Luke Cage, as a show, is like its protagonist, solid as a rock yet dynamic and multi-faceted. The show packs one hell of a punch and credit must go to the cast and director Cheo Hodari Coker. Each one-hour episode, aside from containing the now expected actions scenes and character development, grapples with a number of serious themes. One such example is the position of the African-American community in American. Corrupt law enforcement, controversial shootings, and how far removed an area, like Harlem, full of gang violence and seediness has departed from the dreams and hopes of Martin Luther King.
It was in Jessica Jones when we first saw Mike Colter’s portrayal of Cage – as a stoic yet confident character. Finally, Cage has been unleashed. Solo in Harlem, Cage tries to make up for his past and save the area from Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes. Having gotten his abilities from a science experiment gone awry while in state penitentiary this ex-con/cop, dubbed Harlem’s Captain America is, essentially, “a bulletproof brotha” with super-strength. This calm, composed, behemoth of a man is still trying to keep a low profile. His day job is sweeping up hair in Pop’s local barbershop and washing dishes at the Paradise nightclub. Of course, the latter of which is owned by crime boss Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali).
The Bad Guy
Fisk in DareDevil and Kilgrace in Jessica Jones, the Netflix-Marvel model needs a bad guy – enter Cottonmouth. Cottonmouth is a crime lord, a club owner, a Bigge Smalls fan and a very very violent man. He operates alongside his corrupted cousin, Councilwoman Mariah Dillard. The pair are vying to control Harlem through dealing guns, drugs and laundering money.
Obviously, Powerman can’t be letting this happen (that’s his real comic book name, to much cheese for TV). Cottonmouth’s goons escalate things and push Cage to the edge. He’s forced to step out of the shadows and embrace his abilities to take down the thugs empire. It’s a standard enough story line. The bad guy does bad, good guy with flaws is conflicted and steps up etc. While feeling a little formulaic, it’s very well done. What I really enjoyed is how this becomes intertwined with a rich collection of historical, cultural and religious undertones.
Life in the Marvel Universe
Living in the modern world, a world changed with the dawn of The Avengers and “the incident” in New York, Cage is dealing with the implications and limitations of his powers, relationships, perceptions. He’s also dealing with the fact he is a black, male ex-convict/cop. Yet, the son of a preacher with a deep respect for black history, Luke Cage is not your ordinary face value superhero. Couple this with the score, which pays head to the history of hip-hop and soul of the black community with performances from musicians Raphael Saadiq and Charles Bradley, and action sequences set to classic Wu-Tang tracks, and the formula is lethal!
Yes, it’s a Marvel product, so expect lots of action and references to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With that said, Luke Cage is happily different and is essentially a précis of the last 100 years of African-American history. Given the current political and social climate in the US, this is more relevant than ever. There’s a certain deliberate feeling to the creation of a bulletproof black man, lending the show an even greater sense of importance.
The show does have a few flaws. As far as the Netflix Marvel villains go, Cottonmouth is by far the worst, with Diamondback not much better. Then again, they are competing against Wilson Fisk from Daredevil, so I won’t be too harsh. There are also some annoyingly cheesy moments. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was satire or it was just cheese covered cheese. Stuff like when a character stares at a wall and says something serious with their back to the person instead of looking them in the eye.
Despite the bad bits, Luke Cage, like his character, powers on through another win for Netflix and Marvel. Luke Cage is a smart, witty show that shows a real awareness of current societal issues. Perhaps shows like this are the answer in the Insta-era of zero attention spans for serious themes.