And it’s done. Thirteen episodes of Luke Cage (Mike Colter) putting the smack down on all the bad men in Harlem has been watched. And without exception all thirteen episodes are about this righteous man’s efforts being thwarted by people willing to employ boot, knife, gun or a super-powered flight suit to continue to be able to live outside the law and play without a rule book. Marvel’s Luke Cage is a dark show—much darker than the two seasons of Daredevil that have preceded it and though I didn’t watch the Jessica Jones show I’m guessing the overall understanding according to Marvel in the Netflix universe is the same: things aren’t ever so bad that they can’t get worse.
And yet the hero perseveres. Even when—like Cage—he doesn’t think of himself as a hero. Writer and producer Cheo Hodari Coker is credited as the creator of this show but make no mistake about it, this show hews close to whatever master plan the brains trust at Marvel has for their Netflix universe.
It’s all there in Luke Cage – the value systems, the moody settings, powerful villains, femmes fatale, and sudden bursts of violence. And one of the things these shows do is serve to remind us of exactly how much more money is available for the movies that make up Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.
A lot of the action in Luke Cage plays out in limited locations—Pop’s Barber Shop, Cottonmouth’s (Mahershala Ali) club Harlem’s Paradise, the police station where Misty Knight (Simone Missick) works, Domingo Colon’s gym—thereby mimicking the production of a sitcom more than a prestige drama.
But the thing is, the show works. I watched all thirteen episodes inside one day. Five on the first and the remaining eight at one go. It appears the trailers barely gave us a taste of what to expect.
I enjoyed the way they chose to deliver a visual callback to how Cage’s outfit used to look in the comics ‘back in the day’ when the character was first introduced. They also put an interesting spin on Willis Stryker (Eric LaRay Harvey) and Albert Rackham (Chance Kelly) while being integrated into the storyline. Even Black Mariah is classed up and turned into Councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) who just so happens to be Cottonmouth’s cousin in this version of the story, and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) leaves her life down in Hell’s Kitchen, orbiting Daredevil, to become part of Cage’s universe up in Harlem.
Not that the show isn’t without its problems. Lines are flubbed but I guess they weren’t considered so bad that another take was sanctioned. Some of the action and dialogue scenes aren’t cut as tight as they could have been. Mr. Colter flinches way too often for someone playing a bulletproof dude. I’m not surprised: squibs—the practical effects used to make those bullet holes—hurt, but still.
The ladies—Reva Connors (Parisa Fitz-Henley), Detective Misty Knight and nurse Claire Temple—in Cage’s life bring genuine heft to the narrative and contribute solidly to how he turned out in the past, and the ways in which he copes with whom he has become in the present.
Two things surprised me the most about this show: the amount of ground they covered with the narrative, and the sheer ruthlessness of the bad guys. Cottonmouth sure likes to talk a lot but he is also pretty hardcore. The creepily silent Shades (Theo Rossi) sure comes into his own as the series progresses. But little prepares us for the sheer level of insanity at which Diamondback operates. Mr. Harvey, who bears a resemblance to a young Samuel L. Jackson, brings a wild-eyed intensity to the role that could result in night terrors for those easily influenced by what they watch before bedtime.
So it’s all there in Luke Cage: corrupt cops, crooked deeds, high level intrigue, one raunchy hook-up, a brooding central character whose angst would give Sad Batman a run for his money, and all the pop culture references that are fit to be squeezed into a narrative of this size.
Check it out. There’s something there.