by Coop Cooper
Since the second season of “Daredevil” premiered earlier this year, Marvel Comics fans have been anticipating the release of the African American-themed “Luke Cage” superhero series on Netflix on September 30th. That wait is over and although I think the show has more problems than the brilliant “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” efforts, its style is more refined and should earn many new fans of this iconic – yet underrated – Marvel superhero. Although he was initially called ‘Power Man’, the moniker didn’t stick. Eventually, the writers of the comics wised-up and realized the name ‘Luke Cage’ was way cooler than ‘Power Man’ could ever be.
Based on the Marvel Comics character from the 1970’s, Carl Lucas (Mike Coulter) is a framed ex-cop serving time in a Georgia prison. When he is targeted, beaten and left for dead by vengeful prisoners/guards, a scientist saves his life, inadvertently giving him superpowers in the process. Now super strong and bulletproof, Lucas escapes prison, changes his name to ‘Luke Cage’ and takes a job sweeping up hair at a Harlem, NY barbershop. While he tries to lay low, he constantly finds himself using his powers to help others and fight crime. His good deeds eventually put him in the crosshairs of crime boss Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali), corrupt councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and their shadowy superior Willis “Diamondback” Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey). Cage’s selfless crime-fighting also earn him respect from the citizens of Harlem who see him as a cultural icon, a hero they can identify with and an example for them to follow.
This flawed but addictively watchable Netflix series belongs right at home with past Netflix/Marvel collaborations “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones”. Cage exists in the same universe – and often the same neighborhoods – with those characters along with The Avengers who are often referenced alongside ‘The Incident’ which is when Loki and the Chitauri aliens invaded and destroyed parts of Manhattan in the first “Avengers” movie. In the comics, Cage, Jones, Daredevil and The Punisher are considered ‘street-level’ Marvel superheroes in that they stick to fighting petty crime and criminal organizations in New York while only occasionally crossing over to assist The Avengers and other heavily-powered super teams with global or extraterrestrial threats. These street heroes are ideal vehicles for a Netflix series since they lend themselves to grittier, adult-oriented stories, don’t require costly special effects and can spend more time developing the characters over a span of thirteen, one-hour episodes so viewers can get to know these complex characters intimately.
The show suffers from a few problems with its plot, characters and acting. Simone Missick who plays police officer and minor Marvel hero Misty Knight is given too much screen time considering how her hammy acting often lapses into caricature. It doesn’t help that her character has frequent emotional meltdowns, constant lapses of professionalism and a predilection towards immature gloating. Other characters spout corny dialogue and lapse into grandstanding preachiness which bog the show down, especially towards the end. ‘Just believe in yourself!’ and ‘Go ahead, shoot me!’ cliches show up often. Although Cage often indulges in self-righteous speeches, he is a character to look up to. He doesn’t drink smoke or even swear, substituting “Sweet Christmas!” for a number of expletives he could be using. He gives good advice, repays favors, practices a rigid loyalty to his friends and looks out for the little people. He has more integrity and inspires the public more than the majority of superheroes – minus Captain America. Just like the citizens of Harlem, and rapper ‘Method Man’ whose life he saves during a holdup, you will cheer for him. Luke Cage is one goody-two-shoes you can really root for. I have a few “Power Man and Iron Fist” comics starring Luke Cage somewhere in my collection. Maybe it’s time to dust them off and revisit them.
Some characters aren’t consistent. Alfre Woodard’s Councilwoman Dillard oscillates from helpless victim to cold-blooded killer far too often. She’s often brilliant and I wish her character had been stronger. The coolest villain, a scheming middleman named ‘Shades’ (Theo Rossi), had the potential to be the most powerful and frightening antagonist in the show, but he was put in his place and humiliated frequently. Perhaps next season he will be the villain he was meant to be and Rossi can continue to impress as an actor with uncanny potential. Diamondback was a hollow, one-dimensional villain and although Cottonmouth had some of the most potential as a character in the series, he wasn’t given his due despite some fantastic development of the character early on.
Despite these flaws, the groundbreaking show is definitely worth a watch. When Luke Cage made an extended appearance in the “Jessica Jones” series, I was worried that Coulter’s acting ability couldn’t carry the character through an entire series. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Coulter’s cool and honest demeanor embodies everything Cage stands for. At this point I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.
Cage, Jones, Daredevil, The Punisher and Iron Fist – who will be introduced in his own Netflix series in early 2017 – will eventually team up to form “The Defenders” which will have an eight-episode run sometime in late 2017. The Punisher will also get his own series starting sometime in late 2017or early 2018.
I can’t wait to see the next round of Netflix/Marvel series installments in 2017. Until then, we will have to hope that Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” scratches that itch in theaters on November 4th.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars