ScreenCritics takes a look at the first season of Luke Cage – is it worth checking out on Netflix or is this the first dud in Netflix’s arsenal?
Marvel’s Luke Cage is a Netflix exclusive about the rise and exploits of everybody’s favorite hoodie-wearing super hero. While at first I was skeptical about watching it, having never been huge fan of Marvel, this show has given me a fresh outlook on the super hero genre.
The show is set in Harlem, New York, after the events of the first Avengers movie. The story begins with Luke Cage, still unknown to the world, sweeping the floors of Pop’s Barber Shop. Pop, who is aware of Luke’s super strength and indestructible skin, tells Luke that he should be using his abilities to help people, instead of doing grunt work. While Luke disagrees at first, events unfold that bring Luke into the city’s spotlight. He eventually becomes intertwined with the business of a mobster called Cottonmouth, and as the season progresses, the problems which he face become increasingly personal, leading up to the wrath of a looming figure who calls himself Diamondback. The audience follows as Luke uncovers the secrets of his past and becomes the hero of Harlem.
While I’m not really an expert on all things Marvel, the producers seemed to do an excellent job of molding Luke Cage into the rest of the Marvel universe. Connections are everywhere, including everyone’s reference to “the incident” in downtown New York City. As well as several mentions of other heroes like Iron Man and “the big green guy”. The characters who actually appear in the show seem to run in parallel to the comic books as well, as far as I can tell. The attention to detail in general, even beyond the lore, is outstanding. Even if you’ve never seen another Marvel production in your life, the show does an excellent job portraying the aesthetic of a present day Harlem, such as the black community and gang aspects. It really made me feel as though I was a part of the city and it gave me a new appreciation to communities like this.
The acting, I must say, was terrific overall. Nobody seemed to be improperly cast, and it was an awesome lineup to watch as the season went forward. The characters of Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Misty Knight (Simone Missick), and Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodward), did an especially outstanding job in their roles. Although, one thing which I thought was a bit cheesy was the relationship between Luke and Claire, which I feel could have been not only experimented with more, but also a bit more serious. Hopefully this relationship expands further in season two.
However, one thing I would’ve liked to see improvement on was the script. The actors did a great job with what they were given, to be sure. I only wish there was just a bit more meat, particularly in terms of character development. The only two characters I thought truly changed through the season was Luke Cage, who rose to care less about his own self interests and become a selfless hero, and Mariah Dillard, who slowly accepts the fate she has been given and becomes a dastardly antagonist. The rest of the characters felt more or less two-dimensional and lacked progression. Most disappointing to me was that Cottonmouth didn’t get more development. He was one of the most interesting characters in the show, especially after his backstory was revealed. I feel that there was quite a bit of wasted potential there.
The soundtrack, which is not usually an important part of a television, I have to point out in this case. Every episode features awesome 90’s style hip hop music, (including the theme and credits which are now stuck in my head), which in my opinion really tie the whole show together. Some episodes even featured live band performances which made this show’s soundtrack particularly unique. Music is a big part of my life, so this added touch really made a huge difference to me.
Also, in terms of episode production, this is certainly one of the better shows I’ve seen. Transitions between scenes were flawless, so much so that it was difficult for me to take breaks in the middle of episodes because it never felt appropriate to press pause. The filming locations did great for the general vibe of the show, especially the Harlem’s Paradise club. Camera angles were on point, and action scenes were well choreographed, though sometimes Luke’s punches seemed a bit artificial when people would fly through the air. However, I’ll let it slide since it is super strength after all.
Overall, I would say Marvel’s Luke Cage is a must see. It’s excellent acting, action, and aesthetic in season one made for well-spent hours of binge watching. I now await patiently for Netflix to release season two, with my faith in superhero filmography restored. In the meantime, I’ve taken up to watching Marvel’s Jessica Jones, which is apparently a prequel to the events in Luke Cage. I will of course be releasing a review for that as soon as I’m all caught up.