On September 28th, Luke Cage arrived in Harlem. Two days later, Netflix released the series to a universally positive response. The new series is third in a line of Marvel Netflix shows orchestrated to lead seamlessly up the The Defenders; a team that consists of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and next year…Iron Fist (along with a few introductory characters such as The Punisher, Elektra, Misty Knight, and more…).
Falling in line with Marvel’s vow to generate a different “feel” around all of its releases, Luke Cage, while set in modern day Harlem, looks, sounds and feels like a 1970’s blacksploitation film. It does so in a manner that is not distracting or played for laughs like Black Dynamite, but in a dramatic homage akin to Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.
In fact, Tarantino had expressed interest in making a Luke Cage film after Reservoir Dogs, but opted to make Pulp Fiction instead…a decision that was almost certainly for the best.
Everything about Luke Cage fell into place within Netflix‘s Marvel Universe. After a few episodes, the viewer is hooked and the characters fleshed-out enough to get thoroughly invested.
Although the superhero drama tends to be predictable, and at times needlessly cheesy, Luke Cage avoids most (not all) of these pitfalls by feeling nuanced and original, largely thanks to the change in environment, cast, and overall tone.
This is Luke Cage‘s world, and there are no apologies. Heroes and Villains are black actors and actresses, there’s no divisive racial dynamic in a good vs evil way; but it exists in a persuasive cultural exploratory way that any viewer should be able to accept..from the bullet-ridden hoodie imagery conjuring up the Trayvon Martin shooting, to corrupt police dash-cam footage of Luke Cage fighting back. It’s all handled well, and within a context that is provocative without “playing it too safe.”
Previously introduced in Netflix’s Jessica Jones, Luke Cage is given his own elaborate backstory, origin and opportunity to come alive in this series, showing two very opposite sides of Harlem–the Community and the Upper Class.
Because of the method of storytelling, Marvel is able to play with the characters in these series to an unprecedented level, creating two effective parallel environments with equally compelling characters in heroes and villains. No spoilers, but the “primary” villain of the story, Cottonmouth, was by far my favorite character. The introduction of the tertiary villain (or real primary villain, depending on how you look at it), Diamondback, seemed almost like an off-putting afterthought. And that would probably be my only major criticism.
Luke Cage undeniably has a diverse team of writers and directors, which probably helps its case–aside from a few examples of slightly unpalatable dialogue choices. But it does go to show that diversity behind the scenes is much more significant than diversity on screen, unless you wrongly assume an all-black television series is any more or less diverse than an all-white one.
But, when it comes down to it, who really cares? Target audiences will love these shows. Some more than others. But that’s half the fun. Just like the comic books themselves, if you want a full story arc, you may have to pick up some issues that you may not have otherwise looked at, diversifying your reading experience.
Luke Cage was down and dirty, over-the-top, but also gritty and human. But anyone who followed Daredevil or Jessica Jones knows exactly what to expect. Except this time you get a pretty bad-ass hip hop soundtrack to go along with it.