With a four-day weekend, I took some time to binge watch and finish Luke Cage. Wow. What a good ride. Like all of Netflix’s Marvel properties Luke Cage has its own unique feel but man is it a smooth one. Mike Colter owns Luke Cage and imbues him a strength and style I’ve never seen in any other Marvel character. I think the only complaint I had, was that Mike Colter’s Cage is almost to good. At times I felt we were bordering on Mary Sue status because Cage was sometimes too altruistic to believe. That’s just me being nit picky though.
Colter’s Cage is at once powerful and vulnerable. His character’s arc through the show isn’t ground breaking. It’s the troubled hero who embraces his power and responsibility. He has to come to grips with his past, losses and his new responsibilities. How Colter portrays that journey and transformation is what held my attention. When Cage decides to embrace his role as hero and savior he is impressive. In on scene he casually walks up to an illegal gun sale and says, “Do I even have to say it?” The criminals scatter. The strength and swagger he brings to the role just has to be seen.
I think the most striking thing for me was how well the series balanced highlighting issues facing African-Americans and telling a super hero story. The messages were never heavy handed and I never felt like I was being preached to. Still, the messages hit home. The care that was taken to fully flesh out villain and hero alike was evident.
The running joke throughout the show of what happens to a bullet proof mans clothes is great. What’s even better is how it’s also used to send a message. Cage is often seen in a hoody walking the streets of Harlem. At one point he is stopped by the police and asked for ID. His response is to ask why a black man walking the street doing nothing needs to show ID. Later, as Harlem residents embrace Cage the “Hole-y” hoodie becomes all the rage. As the police search for Cage, a black man in a bullet-riddled hoodie, they stop multiple innocent men in the same outfit. Message received loud and clear. That’s just one example. Police violence, stereotypes and socioeconomic status are all very smoothly addressed.
Even the Blaxploitation roots of Cage’s Marvel character are hit. In a flashback scene when Cage escapes from prison he is clothed in metal gauntlets and a yellow silk shirt reminiscent of his original costume. When he sees his reflection all he can say is, “I look like a damn fool”. Fortunately, Cage’s character has moved forward and imbues a lot of traits I’d be happy to show my son. Loyalty, a strong work ethic and the courage to stand up for those who can’t are traits Cage displays throughout the series. Typical for a comic hero but worth pointing out with the limited number of African-American super heroes.
It’s strange to say for Marvel based show but the action scenes really weren’t the thing for me. I did love the casual way Cage uses his strength. The way he is annoyed as people continue to try to shoot him and ruin his clothes. The best was the casual way he knocks people out with a tap on the head. The action though, played back seat to the character interaction, which was just really well done. As I think about though, Jessica Jones did the same. Maybe its budget restrictions or just a desire for good story telling. Whatever it is Marvel should keep it up.
As an example, there’s the contrast between Cottonmouth and Black Mariah. Black Mariah insists that she only wishes to better Harlem and pleads with her cousin Cottonmouth to give up his life of crime. Mariah’s ends are questionable and her means as a crooked politician are absolutely out of bounds. Cottonmouths desire for power and respect through gun sales is familiar territory. The crooked politician from the neighborhood is also a pretty well trodden path. It’s the two of them together and their arguments over the means to the end that makes it work. Nothing highlights this more than when Cottonmouth commits murder by tossing a man off a roof. When asked if she’s good, Mariah states she’s good but just not with murder. Still, she takes the money the murder let her obtain.
The show steps it up a notch and slows down quite a bit to explain these two character’s backgrounds. Abusive parents raised both Cottonmouth and Mariah. The scars of that childhood haunt and shape them both. Again its, not new territory but it’s the care in the story telling that shines. It’s a little haunting to see Cottonmouth stroke notes on the piano, look at the hands that commit murder and regret not becoming the artist he could have.
Besides Luke’s super altruism ability the other hitch for me was with Diamondback. Cottonmouth was a serviceable villain but couldn’t go toe-to-toe with Cage. I could live with the transition from one to the other. I get we need a big fight at the end. What gets bothersome is that Diamondback is Cage’s half brother, set him up to go to jail, has bullets that can hurt him and has a super powered suit to fight him. That’s cool and all but who just has all that available??? Even still the crazy that Diamondback brings is pretty entertaining.
In the end I was pleased with the show. I was left with a lot of positives. Can’t wait so see Cage together with the rest of the defenders.