Despite being created decades ago, Luke Cage may have the most contemporary and politically relevant superpower at present. Luke Cage is a bullet proof black man. (a police officer’s worst nightmare (haha… just kidding). Perhaps it was because black people were being shot and persecuted pretty much since the inception of the United States of America. Or maybe they were just copying Superman’s power set onto a black guy. Either way, there is something undoubtedly relevant to the character.
I’m going to do a review first and a score. Then I’ll have some spoiler filled discussion of some points at the end of the post.
So when I’m watching something and trying to form an opinion about it, I usually try to get a grasp of what the piece of work tries to achieve. What is the point of it? You don’t know even really need to watch the series to get a grasp of that here, the trailer is enough.
The premise is this: Luke Cage, who we last saw in Netflix’s Jessica Jones series, has hidden himself in Harlem and trying to get by, day by day. Through a couple of crimes that occur around him, Luke Cage get’s involved in Harlem’s criminal underworld and tries to fight the criminals that hurt the people of Harlem.
First and foremost, this is a superhero story from Marvel. Luke Cage is super strong and has super durability; he’s bulletproof. There’s some discussion in the vein of what was discussed in Captain America: Civil War, mostly on the effect that superheroes have on the common man.
However, like Jessica Jones (noir/detective story with super powers) and even the Ant-Man movie (a heist movie with superpowers), Luke Cage tries to take a preexisting genre (crime, black-centered show like The Wire or Empire) and throws super powers into the mix. While there are certainly superhero elements present (punching through walls, throwing people around), this show tries very hard to adopt a tone more like The Wire with it’s music, cinematography, and many montages. In that vein, it’s sort of successful. There’s crime, drama, romance, pretty much what you expect from something trying to imitate The Wire or a crime oriented black-centric show.
Furthermore, something I always enjoy from movies or television shows is when they try to show me a real place and the personality of that place. Luke Cage tries very hard to incorporate and show aspects of Harlem into the show. In a way, Harlem is also a main character. They shoot a lot of scenes on familiar streets. Daredevil tried to do something similar, but if you’ve ever been to Hell’s Kitchen recently, you’d know that it’s mostly commercial buildings or yuppies. Harlem actually has far more history and landmarks to see. In this way, Harlem is portrayed much more successfully than Daredevil did with Hell’s Kitchen in my opinion. Plus, Harlem is far larger and still mostly black. It’s not that gentrified yet which adds to its authenticity as a setting.
Music also plays a big role in the show, there are a lot of segments where actual artists get to perform during montages and the deliberate inclusion of these artists is noted. Many black celebrities also make an appearance. A few of the celebrities include Method Man, Faith Evans, and Sway. There is a pronounced effort to include black culture and black celebrities.
This show also tries to offer a little commentary on black culture in America. Black Lives Matter, the repeated shootings of black men by the police, the protests and riots, it’s all over the news. That Luke Cage’s hero costume is essentially a Trayvon Martin-esque hoodie says a lot about what he’s supposed to represent. There are numerous points when various characters offer their opinion on the relationship between blacks to each other, to law enforcement, and to society as a whole. It would have been a mistake to create a show about a black super hero in Harlem without offering some opinions on current events.
In regards to the actors, they’re all pretty. Some familiar faces return from other Marvel Netflix series’ which I won’t spoil. I most impressed with who they cast to play Misty Knight (played by Simone Missick). She was a new face and very emotive. She fit the universe that Luke Cage tries to build and probably had the best acting chops in the show. Mike Colter as Luke Cage is a close second, even though he isn’t very “street.”
The worst character on this show is Shades, played by Theo Rossi. I can’t even blame Rossi, it was a combination of the writing with incredibly bad casting. I have no idea why they picked the least cool white guy I have ever seen to play this character who is meant to be threatening and clever. What a terrible casting decision.
In conclusion, Luke Cage is a show you should watch for it’s tone. The story is a bit to extreme to be believable and there are certainly some plot holes you need to get over, but if you buckle up and enjoy the show for what it is (the first black superhero show that tries to say a little bit on black culture, to portray Harlem in a cinematic way, and to have a little superhero action), then you’ll have a good time.
SPOILER FILLED DISCUSSION AHEAD
I have a number of opinions on various aspects of the show which I will go into thusly:
- Does every colored woman on the show need to bang or try to bang Luke Cage? I understand he’s a good looking man, but I equate trying to hook up our protagonist with every available female character just gratuitous, lazy writing. I mean did these writer’s start their careers on Dawson’s Creek?
- I both respect and cringe at the writers’ audacity to address the use of the word nigger. Personally, I don’t think anyone should use that word, whether you’re black or not. But no one cares what I think so whatever. I do know that current social norms require you to be black in order for you to use that word in a non-racist context. After I heard the word being used and the opinions the show posited on that word, I knew there had to be at least one black writer on the staff. In fact, the whole story requires a team of black writers, not for their writing ability, but for their cultural credibility in providing commentary on black culture. I did an internet search on it later and I was not wrong. There was a full team of black writers.
- Many parts of the story were melodramatic, over the top, and reminiscent of a soap opera. I watch superhero stuff mainly for the action. There was limited action here and more melodrama reminiscent of Empire. I’m not hating on this aspect of the show that much because I know people who love Empire and the Wire. If you love that sort of thing, you may like this.
- The main villain (after quite a few episodes) is Diamondback, Luke Cage’s half brother who is coincidentally an arms dealer in Harlem and has access to Justin Hammer (villain from a past Iron Man movie) weapons and likes to quote the Bible. There was just too much nonsense here for him to be believable. He tries to come across as a black Joker. Just stick with traditional organized crime stuff Marvel, this was just too much.
- At one point, they finagle the story to allow Luke Cage to wear his 1970’s superhero costume from the comic books. It was stupid, ridiculous, and gratuitous, but I just loved watching Mike Colter wear that stupid ass tiara on his head and that stupid yellow shirt. It was unnecessary, yet hilarious.
- The character of Shades is one of the best examples of bad casting I have ever seen.
- I liked the inclusion of real world black celebrities and musical performances, even if it broke the fourth wall a little.
- If I were to compare this show with Daredevil and Jessica Jones, this would be slightly less than or equal to Jessica Jones and Daredevil season two in how entertaining it was. Daredevil season one is still far and ahead the best superhero television show ever put out. It was a pioneer of what superhero television shows could do.
- Loved seeing Turk again. Loved seeing him get thrown in a dumpster.
- Loved seeing Rosario Dawson being referred to as the Night Nurse. There was some murmurs online that they wouldn’t let her be called that because a character in the Doctor Strange movie was to be referred to as the Night Nurse. Looks like that fell through.
- Keep in mind Luke Cage is not a martial artist. His fight scenes look more like Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules than anything from Daredevil season one.
- I’m pretty sure the writers were trying to make some statement about black race relations. Similarly to the Black Lives Matter movement, that message was often times unclear and contradictory. I will say that there is something about a black man who is bulletproof, unafraid of the police and the world around him, then finding out about “Judas bullets” which are capable of hurting him and that he’s never as safe as he thinks he is. That the world will find a way of hurting him. Judas bullets are kind of a stupid name, but in the same motif as the biblical Diamondback… so fine.