Three down, one to go. Now that Netflix has released the highly anticipated Luke Cage series, we’re only one show away from completing our Defenders lineup. Just like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Luke Cage delivers topnotch drama and action set in the darker and grittier corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The story picks up a few months after Luke Cage left Hell’s Kitchen during the events of Jessica Jones. We find the titular character settled in Harlem, where the familial sense of community is put on the center of the narrative. The aesthetic is dazzling as show runner Cheo Hodari Coker frames Harlem with both grit and glam paired perfectly with an amazing hip-hop and jazz soundtrack. The show is a stylistic masterpiece only to be overshadowed by a stellar cast and wonderfully crafted characters.
Mike Colter continues to deliver depth to Luke Cage with his performance. The show explores Luke’s backstory as he confronts Harlem’s resident gangster and arms dealer, Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali). By his side is his cousin Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), who complements Cottonmouth’s ruthlessness with her cunning political talents. The dynamic between these two villains provides the best dialogues in the show wherein the themes of family, ambition, and power are dissected for some thought-provoking moments.
Joining Luke Cage is Mercedes “Misty” Knight (Simone Missick), an NYPD detective who crosses paths with Cage as she investigates Cottonmouth’s operations. A strong, yet flawed character, Misty proves to be one of Marvel’s best female characters. I’m excited to see more of her in the future and hopefully she embraces her comic book counterpart, bionic arm and all. The show also sees the return of fan favorite Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). As the link to all Marvel-Netflix shows so far, Claire continues to shine in every scene she’s in and becomes Luke’s voice of reason in his times of doubt.
All these characters interact so well with one another as they struggle to find their place in Harlem a clash on how to serve their community. The opposing ideologies between the heroes and the villains are synonymous of that of Daredevil wherein the villains are consumed with their obsession for rebuilding their city with their twisted means. What appeals to me with the villains of Luke Cage is that they’re menacing and yet so vulnerable at the same time. The show understands the extremities of Luke’s powers and handles it well within the confines of sound storytelling. Although the pace can be dragging at parts, character development compensates for the occasional dull moments
My only problem with the show is the latter part where the big bad is finally revealed. When Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) finally appears after half a season of namedropping, we’re treated with a half-baked and borderline stereotypical villain complete with cliché one-liners. This is a shame especially after the compelling arcs of both Cottonmouth and Mariah. The delusional and psychotic villain role with daddy issues has been so worn out that even with some note-worthy moments, Diamondback still seems stale.
Overall, Luke Cage is a solid show that is in the same league as Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Although not as polished as the other two, Luke Cage stands out not only with the unique Harlem vibe of the show, but also with the sociopolitical commentary it puts on the forefront of its storytelling. This is not just a show that entertains and awes; it is a show that informs and educates. Throughout the show, the concept of a bulletproof black man is put on a spotlight as an allusion to the real life social issues that plague the African-American community. Coker weaves this delicately into the narrative and creates what I believe is Marvel’s most relevant work yet.
Luke Cage Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.