Marvel's Luke Cage - Review
So if you're a human and had time this past weekend, you may have noticed (or binged) Marvel's Luke Cage on Netflix. If you've tuned into the podcast at all then it's no secret that I'm a fan of any and all things Marvel. Netflix partnered with Marvel a few years back to bring us shows based upon smaller street level heroes, with the intent to make them darker than the films. Aside from being able to portray darker and more mature themes they are also (obviously) allowed a longer run-time. Which in turn allows the show to truly and naturally develop both protagonist and antagonist properly. Which the movies just can't seem to lock down within their respective 2 hours of time.
Luke Cage is no different, and I would like to break down a few of my likes and dislikes of the show. So don't say I didn't tell you, but there are spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution.
In my opinion, Luke Cage starts off quite a bit stronger than either Daredevil seasons or Jessica Jones. This is largely, in part, due to the fact that Luke was already established as a great character in Jessica Jones (...pun intended?) For a quick refresher, he was a friend with benefits to Jessica, he helped her take down Kilgrave, and they actually had a pretty solid fight sequence later on in the season.
Everything we needed to know about Luke was established in Jessica Jones. We learn that he is a man of integrity and honor when Jessica reveals his lady-friend is actually still married and he ends things with her. It's a minor point in the show that is used to establish his character and motives. This is one minor example of many that really establish who Luke Cage is as a person, and Marvel used this to build a solid foundation on. This technique is simply great story telling, there's no two ways about that, and the single greatest reason why I expect The Punisher series to be so great.
For those of you who may still be a bit confused. Luke Cage takes place a few indeterminate months after the events of Jessica Jones and seems to have a bit of a crossover with Daredevil Season 2. However it's not an in your face style crossover, so don't take that as Matt Murdoch showing up in a Luke Cage episode. If you pay attention to Claire (The Night Nurse) and her story-line, you will see what I mean. At the end of Daredevil S2 Claire is seen leaving Hell's Kitchen and we see her meeting with her mom in Harlem. However this isn't until several episodes into Luke Cage, which leads me to believe that while the events of the last few episodes of Daredevil S2 unfold, the first several episodes of Luke Cage are unfolding.
Luke Cage hits the ground running, there's no doubt about that. Quickly establishing the Joseph Campbell-esque nature of the "refusal of the call" within Luke Cage. The show takes a few episodes for the story driven plot to take hold, but it goes un-noticed as you're given exposition on Luke himself among the rest of the cast of characters. With in the first few episodes you have several great action sequences as well as the death of a major character. Sorry if you're a older, black mentor figure in the Marvel Universe.
The plot steadily moves ahead with the promising Cottonmouth played by Mahershala Ali. Some of you may notice him from House of Cards, or all the teens reading this may have noticed him in the Hunger Games franchise. He steals the show, honestly. I just want a Netflix series of him giving me life lessons and laughing.
The season hits the halfway mark when we're thrown a huge curve-ball. Cottonmouth, the series' main antagonist is killed. Not only did they kill off, arguably, the most interesting character in the show and their primary antagonist. However,I feel it brought the show's screaming roar down to a dull yell.
Cottonmouth's death paved way for the real "big bad" to show up, albeit anticlimactically. Diamondback is name dropped throughout the first part of the season as the big man up top, the "King Pin" if you will. However when we finally meet Diamondback the audience has no real connection to him other than the small contrivance that he is Luke's brother.
Evidently Diamondback was Luke's brother, but literally from another mother. Being a bastard, and being ostracized from the family left poor little Diamondback bitter. Due to this, it is revealed that Diamondback has literally been the source of all of Luke's (Carl's) trouble in the past. From being framed and sent to prison, all the way up to him receiving his powers.
The contrivance of this plot point bothered me a bit. The sheer fact that Luke's long lost brother not only orchestrated his incarceration and experimentation only to have him inevitably escape, move back to Harlem, and start fighting against a criminal empire that he just so happens to be the head of!? Come on. But hey, this is Marvel, this is comic books, I can suspend my disbelief just enough that this can work.
Diamondback's whole introduction into the show seemed a bit shoehorned or rushed in my opinion and as a result the last fourth of the show felt like a completely different show than the preceding installments. However it did equate to the big superhero showdown that we've all become accustom to. We spent the better part of this series humanizing and getting to know Cottonmouth, only to have the rug pulled out from under us when he meets his demise, leaving room for the "Big Bad" to be revealed, but Diamondback never feels more imposing than Cottonmouth. He just seems like a cold and calculating evil force, as the audience we are given very little exposition for the character and as such have a hard time relating to him or understanding his motivations outside of his "daddy issues."
All in all Luke Cage is a strong entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite my criticisms it is just as strong as Daredevil, or Jessica Jones. It is a show that takes place in a part of New York where being a "do-er" is a must, and knowing when and how to step up to the plate are a critical part of anyone's life. This show is about a men and women who are faced with situations and presented with the decision to step up or step out. Whether the show is portraying the horrible effects of someone's previous decision or showing a character coming to terms with what they know they are going to have to do, this show is about stepping up and accepting that duty.
Luke Cage is another fantastic and proud entry into the Marvel Canon, and just like the Netflix shows before it, it only leaves me wanting more. Next on the docket will be Iron Fist in 2017, then The Defenders, and presumably Jessica Jones S2 after that.