This past week the wife and I finally finished the new Marvel Netflix series, Luke Cage. We’ve both really enjoyed the other series (Daredevil and Jessica Jones) and were excited to see what Luke Cage would bring to the table. Before I go any further, this review will *SPOILERS*. You have been warned. If you continue below the fold I will be talking directly about plot points.
One of the first things that struck me about Luke Cage was the tenor and style of the world. This was black Harlem like seen in many movies under the “blaxploitation” genre. The music in particular was pulled right from African American culture, and was amazingly good for a TV show. The entire first half of the series oozed with a setting and story that could have been solely about race and poverty vs. guns, drugs, and crime. The addition of a superhero was ancillary to the story that was being told.
Luke Cage finds himself in this world, trying to hide from his past as a prison escapee, yet possessing incredible powers that can help people in need. This inner struggle, as he tries to keep a low profile, but do what he can to use is powers for good, really builds the Cage character. He becomes a quiet hero, not really reluctant like Jessica Jones, but scared of what the attention could do to his life. His powers have caused him trouble and Luke just wants to do right by people and live a simple life.
When Cottonmouth emerges as the criminal boss that needs to be dealt with, of course Luke gets pulled into the battle. When Pop is murdered it awakens the beast in Luke and he can’t stay silent anymore. Luke must come out of the shadows and be the hero that people want him to be. With the addition of political intrigue from Alfre Woodard’s amazing performance as Councilwoman Dillard, the stage is set for a complex drama that highlights black America and its issues.
However, when Cottonmouth dies halfway through the series, and the true villain, Diamondback appears, things take a turn from “really great” to just “good”. Diamondback was a shadowy figure in the first half of the series, but when he comes out in the open he devolves from a powerful crime boss, to a psychotic half-brother with a vengeance complex. I found the second third of the series to be the weakest for me, as everything seemed to collapse into a standard superhero/villain plot, leaving behind the cultural undertones that made the first part so enjoyable.
I was pleased to see some of those themes return in the final third to quarter of the series, with some references to police interaction with black communities. It could have easily felt tacked on, but they managed to keep it real enough to be believable. The final battle thankfully was just a portion of the finale, and soon enough we were right back to the world that the series opened with. This wrap-up made the series feel complete to me, despite a slight miss in the middle, and brought me back to really loving the entire experience.
With top notch acting, and awesome music, I can happily say I liked Luke Cage, and am happy it was a part of the overall Netflix Marvel universe. Each of these series sets the bar higher and higher. Hopefully Iron Fist, the next in the series, can live up to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, and not just devolve into superhero tropes. I love how the Netflix series are about more than just superpowers. They’re about people, who have special gifts yes, but need to find a way to just get through life like the rest of us try to do every day.