Review: Luke Cage

By Quentin Basnaw

“Sweet Christmas.” You will soon be uttering these words if you watch season one of the latest Netflix Marvel hit, Luke Cage. If you haven’t seen it, WATCH IT. If you’ve completed the summer reading of Daredevil seasons 1 and 2, and Jessica Jones season 1, Luke Cage will be even more satisfying.

Now I’m getting ahead of myself. Luke Cage is the latest show in Marvel’s lineup of superhero shows. The series follows Luke Cage, a man with unbreakable skin, super strength, and a strong desire to be left alone. He was first introduced in Marvel’s first season of Jessica Jones, and he’s more or less the same character at the beginning of this show. He gets tangled up in the gang wars of Harlem, and must face down a gang leader, Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, along with Cornell’s corrupt politician cousin, Mariah Dillard. The show is propelled by twists and turns, thrilling action, and a wonderful meshing of tone: superhero corniness one minute, then gritty, “real” moments that tell us the show is to be taken seriously.

So let’s address the elephant in the room first: Luke Cage is African American. Most of the cast is African American. This is Marvel’s first property since Iron Man started the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 to feature a black protagonist. The show celebrates this by dealing with issues that have arisen when it comes to Black America. The show tackles fathers, sons, and brothers being disconnected, drugs, violence, sense of community/solidarity, police brutality and the increasing measures police will go to restore “order” when the norm is disrupted. All of the issues presented in Luke Cage are handled in a respectful way. Not all the cops are white, not all the gangsters black and so on – it’s simply real life. In addition, the soundtrack, mostly composed of hip hop, rap, or smooth jazz, compliments the show’s exploration of Harlem, in both its glory and ugliness.

The other most amazing part of this show is the cast. Mike Colter ( Zero Dark Thirty, The Good Wife) reprises his role as Luke Cage, and he steals the show. He portrays a man that is conflicted about what to do; he wants to be left alone, but doesn’t have superpowers that can stop people shooting up buildings in Harlem, putting innocent people at risk. What should he do? That is the question driving Luke, and when the plot takes unexpected turns, you feel for Luke’s struggles.

The villains mentioned earlier, Cottonmouth, portrayed by Mahershala Ali (House of Cards) and Mariah Dillard, portrayed by Alfre Woodard (Cross Creek), are given life by stellar performances. Ali and Dillard humanize their villains, giving us a glimpse into how people who do bad things can justify it to themselves, when one can clearly see it’s not the best course of action. Rosario Dawson (Daredevil) reprises her role as Clair Temple, who pushes Luke to use his unbreakable skin and super strength for the betterment of everyone.

If you’ve watched the other Marvel Netflix shows, you will definitely enjoy Luke Cage. If you haven’t watched any of the other shows, Luke Cage is definitely a solid foot in the door for this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, be warned, the show is gritty, and is in the same vein as the other Marvel Netflix shows: people being eviscerated by shotguns and beaten by various blunt objects is quite prevalent.  The show addresses this, with one of its many messages being to end gang violence. If you’re looking for a new show to sink your teeth into, love superheroes, or need your Marvel fix, Luke Cage is for you!

Rating: 4/5