Luke Cage (2016)
(Mike Colter, Simone Missisk, Mahershala Ali)
The wait is over for another installment of Marvel’s popular Netflix-based series, and Luke Cage does not disappoint. While his story was briefly given in the Jessica Jones series, having his own allows many other details of Luke’s past to be told. Having a general knowledge of the main character also gives more time to explore the villains, regular folk and the background that this series revolves around.
This is a much more down to earth story than Daredevil or Jessica Jones dealt with, and though it has superhero elements (main character impervious to bullets, villain with a glove that turns his fist into a jackhammer, etc.) it’s heavily influenced by racial issues and an eye towards the complexities of life in the city. Sometimes heart-breaking, oftimes funny, it feels grittier and somehow realer than its comic-based contemporaries. The Netflix format allows the creators to push the envelope much further than their broadcast TV counterparts and that benefits the story so much that I think it would be an entirely different (and weak) series on NBC or CBS. The character of Luke Cage needs a rough world with both moral and ethical injustice to work properly and it is delivered.
Cage himself is portrayed very close to his comic book roots and Mike Colter does a great job bringing emotion when it’s called for and looking bad-ass in the fight scenes. His past is shown in flashbacks throughout the first six episodes which adds more weight and understanding to his problems. “Sweet Christmas” and “sweet sister” are spoken a couple times, but I’d say the dialogue is better written than the early comics. There’s even a complicated web of events that culminate in his dressing like Power Man. Both Cottonmouth and Diamondback are strong and interesting antagonists that shine in their own right. All of the main characters are fleshed out and given their own backstories and sub-plots, giving the villains reasons why they do what they do and making the heroes more human and relatable. These thirteen episode series are great for storytelling.
The last thing I want to explore is the soundtrack. Simply put – it’s excellent. So, so good. From the beginning of the series, it blends soul, bass and drums, jazz, vocal R&B and the Wu-Tang clan to make a compilation that could triple headline a show with the soundtracks from Shaft and Superfly. Even the incidental music is catchy, and the song that Cottonmouth plays on the keyboard is haunting and really sets the stage for the story of his past. I sincerely hope the entire score gets a CD release.