Luke Cage, AKA; Power Man, AKA; The Hero for Hire unleashed his debut series recently on Netflix as part of the upcoming Defenders series! Man was this show awesome. These Marvel Netflix shows are absolutely killing it if you ask me. So far we’ve seen the blind man kicking people’s ass around Hell’s Kitchen, the sleuthy woman searching for an escape as well as answers whilst kicking people’s ass around Hell’s Kitchen, now we get the human tank merely walking around Harlem… leaving a trail of destruction with every bodily movement. This guy doesn’t run from threats, he strolls to them knowing that there’s no chance he’d be injured on the way. How do you make a successful and thrilling show about a man who seemingly has no weaknesses? What kind of threat must he face for him to actually consider it a threat? What kind of villains are crazy enough to challenge him? Let’s find out (as non-spoilery as we can) whilst I review.
To summarize, Luke Cage is set in Harlem, a place riddled with crime and gangsters. Set after the events of Jessica Jones series 1, Cage decides to keep on the down-low to collect his thoughts and to stay out of trouble. Of course, with abilities like his, it was only a matter of time for trouble to find him… or for him to find it. Tired of the people around him becoming victims to his notoriety, he eventually decides enough is enough, and the man on the run from both the law and his demons turns 180 degrees and faces them at full force. Prepare to leave behind the superhero conventions you know and breathe a breath of fresh air, as Luke Cage takes you on a fun and badass adventure, sure to leave you bopping your head and tapping your foot to the rhythm of the mean streets!
What I thought of the story:
Like I said, the series is extremely refreshing. The plot offers some head-tilting twists and revelations about the character as well as his enemies which is what I love about the Netflix shows. Jessica Jones series 1 skillfully left Luke Cage’s story in the shadows which pays off as each episode digs you deeper into the man’s life and his way of thinking. Like every good story, the hero must find himself and defeat evil before something terrible happens. It’s a story telling formula as old as time, and pretty much every film and show is structured with this in mind. The clever thing is that, even though the formulas are similar, good stories never feel the same as others. I feel like Luke Cage has done that successfully. The show delves into themes of comeuppance, finding yourself in the world and political corruption, mostly sticking itself within the crime and drama genres with strong elements of blaxploitation, which for the likes of myself is interesting and somewhat educational. The ratio of black and white heroes is slowly balancing out thankfully, and the series can be incredibly thought-provoking and eye opening at times which is great too in terms of the culture and race. There’s a fine line between hero and anti-hero, specially with the Netflix shows, but this series in particular pushes things to the edge.
The story is pretty much linear but one or two episodes in particular spend more time on helpful backstory. TV shows are different to movies in the sense that each episode must act like a full story in itself, having a beginning, middle and end, a threat and a conclusion etc. When it comes to this show, each episode keeps you gripped on tightly, forcing you to say, “Just one more episode before bed”. It was midnight and I had 4 episodes left so I stayed up until 4 in the morning to see the final resolution because the story was just too good to press the pause button. It was immersive and I couldn’t care less about the world outside of my television! The pacing was never drowsy; it was slow and dramatic when it needed to be and action packed when the story demanded it. The thing I liked about the show is that there wasn’t actually much of a world-ending impending style of doom. It was more about one man and his personal world on the line, which is sometimes more of an engaging story. All I can say is that I welcomed it with open arms.
What I thought of the characters:
Let’s obviously start with Luke Cage. The man is bulletproof for goodness sake, how much more of a badass could one possibly hope to be? With most others, you see the struggle they endure when hauling themselves around, dodging bullets and fists with pain in their faces… it was actually fun to just sit back and watch someone walk through a building and flick bad guys into unconsciousness, with the only damage taken belonging to his clothes. Don’t get me wrong there were stakes involved, just not heavily in the sense of life and death. The man doubts himself but he knows what he’s capable of. To himself, he feels like a freak but it doesn’t stop him using his strength for good when the time comes. That’s what makes him great; he could wallow in self-pity if he wanted to, remaining neutral in the battle between good and evil, but like all honorable heroes, with great power comes great responsibility, and I’d say Luke is certainly the most prominent mascot for that motto to date. In a way, he doesn’t really care what others think because he just wants to get things done and dusted. He’s gotten so comfortable with being impervious to damage, that when something hurts him on the inside, it instantly flips him into hero mode. Out of the 3 Defenders we’ve seen, Luke Cage is definitely my favorite. The characters personification is purposefully mellow, level-headed and corny which is a polar opposite to when he’s fighting crime. It’s like Dr Banner and The Hulk; two sides of a coin which alternates with just a flip. He doesn’t care about being called a hero, and keeps himself away from negative opinions the best he can. The only thing he wants is safety for him and the people he cares about.
The next I’d like to talk about are cousins Cornell (Cottonmouth) and Mariah. Cottonmouth is the owner of the Harlem Paradise club, which is seemingly the heart of Harlem; pumping poisonous blood through the streets. His criminal profession is trafficking, buying and selling guns whilst his political counterpart, Maria runs things from a law abiding standpoint. Both work in unison to feed one another’s plans, taking money from evil origins to help create their empires. Maria shows herself on TV like a political leader of the neighborhood, putting on a mask to the public whilst cloaking a crime organisation up her sleeve. She’s worryingly twisted and makes you question which one of the two is the worst criminal; the man actually running a gang, or her? Once that question is unlocked, you create another one; which one of them is actually in charge? Their relationship is often tested when things go south, but their hatred for Luke Cage and his tampering habits make them work together the best they can until breaking point. Cottonmouth is no exception to the great villains Netflix keeps dishing out. I’ve probably already said this in my Daredevil review, but I just love all the attention 13 hours worth of episodes is able to provide. You see just as much of a villains side of the story as the heroes, and they always make them grounded and believable which is imperative with such a gritty story. My favorite thing about Cornell is his disturbing laugh. The laugh itself is actually warm and contagious, but the times that he laughs is centered around anger, hatred and death, so you find yourself laughing with him… but you know he’s about to kill someone. Mariah is much more level headed than him but I’d say that she’s certainly the evilest of the two. You’ll have to see how the show plays out to see what I mean. There is another villain who you’ll hear mention of in the first episode known as Diamondback. I’ll leave this character shrouded a little to avoid spoilers but let’s just say he’s even worse than Mariah and Cottonmouth put together, and his agendas are certainly left a mystery for an eventual pay off. Vengeance and jealousy are his biggest fuels, and I’ll leave it at that.
Another comicbook character making an appearance is detective Misty Knight. She is for the most part on the side of Luke Cage, but being a part of the law soon makes their relationship more difficult. Corruption is a heavy hitter with everything righteous but she maintains a fixed and focused mindset to sift through the lies and deceit, being one of a few who knows what she’s dealing with. She is most certainly the police departments only hope of getting things done the right way, and seeing that the right people get sent to jail. Her drive is relentless which makes her a strong adversary, but even she finds things challenging when distrust is just as much of a threat to her as the bad guys. Misty is pretty much in the center of things, representing the people caught up in the middle of Luke Cage and the enemies, struggling to make sense of everything. Claire Temple who first showed up in Daredevil has a much more prominent role in this series. She’s mostly been the thread woven in between the 3 shows but this time she felt more of a main character. There has been debates regarding whether or not Claire is officially Night Nurse, but there is a moment in the show where one person actually calls her it, so happy days! She has differentiating relationships with the 3 defenders but her and Luke have a more personal bond it seems. Her character is developed much more in this and she’s helpful in more ways than just being a nurse. There are other less-prominent characters like Shades and Pops. Both are integral to both the heroes and villains motives, but there’s not much to say about them without saying spoilers.
What I thought of the visuals:
Although, like most things, the show is centered around a New York neighborhood… but the show masterfully bubbles you within the lush land of Harlem, making the streets feel like Luke’s whole world. The fact that you can sit back and watch yet another show set in New York but feel refreshed means that it worked! If you noticed, Daredevil had a lot of red lighting and Jessica Jones had a lot of purple. Luke Cage carries on the colored theme by featuring a lot of yellow (I imagine Iron Fist will have a lot of greens). You also find yourself in much more daylight than both Daredevil and Jessica Jones provided, as their skillset usually required the darkness. The fact that occurrences happen just as much in the day as they do in the night help show that Luke isn’t hiding for anything anymore. He’ll be strolling by with the sun beaming down on his holey hoodie on his way to slap people around the head. Superheroes are getting more and more prominent in the MCU, slowly taking over the streets. For some this is a good thing, but for others (mainly the criminals and the law) it creates problems. You’ll find that this is a big theme in the show.
I like how even though both Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem are in New York, both are very different terrains, providing unique styles of characters and threats. The fact that you’re drawn in so close to the society and the streets makes you feel a part of the community; not once did anything feel layered on to make Harlem more fictional. It looked and felt like the real Harlem which to me was imperative, as though the cameras just shot scenes in the neighborhood without blocking anything off from the public. Being able to have a distinct feel but still be connected to the films and the other Netflix series’ is astounding and important. The show focuses just as much on the environment and what it means to the characters just as much as the characters themselves. They could have easily just focused solely on Luke and his abilities but Harlem is made pretty much into a character itself.
My final thoughts:
As a whole, the series is a badass, cultural and emotional tour of his world, as well as being a superb MCU puzzle piece. I remember a long time ago the first time I encountered the character… and for some reason, he’s always intrigued me. There was something about him which made him stand out from the rest and made me want to know more. I feel like the show stood for something meaningful whilst telling his personal story. There’s a lot going on in the real world that was relatable with the characters journey, and it was uplifting to watch the adventure unfold and for the many elements of evil to be conquered. Mike Colter plays such an awesome Luke Cage that I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing him. That’s when you know the actor is right for the role; because you can’t think of anyone better. I first saw Mike Colter in the videogame, Halo 5: Guardians… even in that he played a badass and when he was cast as Power Man I knew it was the right choice. The villains were spot on for his debut series, and I feel they didn’t fall into usual conventions so all I can say is prepare to be pleasantly surprised and entertained.
The next time we’ll see him is in The Defenders. Now that the character has had chance to shine and be more developed, I can’t wait to see him meet with Daredevil and Iron Fist, as well as potentially rekindle his relationship with Jessica. He’s proven that he doesn’t necessarily need much assistance in regards to power, so we’ll see what use he’ll have for the other 3 when the time comes and how they’ll work as a team. The biggest thing I found pleasing is its inclusion of real-world culture that I’m sure you’ll agree with when you watch. It’s hard for me to conclude something that I love to talk about so I’ll end things with my final thoughts. “Gosh, I wish I was as cool as Luke Cage”.