The voice for the voiceless.
Luke Cage’s story is one we need right now. We at the Geekiverse always try to stay clear of politics. We are not a site steeped in the events of the modern world outside but more the escapism that we are granted in fiction. Luke Cage is certainly an opportunity to escape from the world, but the series also draws attention to the events going on in our country and gives a voice to a people who feel like they have gone too long without one. This review will address how the show handles this subject matter but we at the Geekiverse will not discuss our own political views on this forum.
As a story, Luke Cage is not unlike Daredevil. A man with the ability to help people (in this case super strength and invulnerability) in a neighborhood struggling with criminal control who decides to step up and protect the people. That is where the similarities to Daredevil end though as Luke Cage takes a more detective series approach that results in a fairly slow burn at first but delivers some excellent action once we get to the thick of it. The story has some nice nods to classic Blaxploitation cinema that would make Richard Roundtree and Pam Grier proud. That being said, at times it seems to fluctuate between wanting to be a more serious detective story (when dealing with Cottonmouth as the main villain for the most part) and delving into campier cinema styles (Diamondback as the main villain). This back and forth can be a little jarring at times but luckily the story survives this weakness to still be pretty compelling.
The series casting is pinpoint for the most part with few missteps and a diverse cast that feel like real people for the most part.
On the hero side we have: Mike Colter, who can be charming and funny in one scene, then flip to intimidating and scary in the next, even at times blending the two perfectly. While Mister Colter seems to struggle with conveying sorrow (overdoing it particularly in the first major character death of the season) there is no doubt that the man has charisma to spare. Simone Missick brings longtime fan favorite character Misty Knight to life. In her first scene she is the perfect kind of sexy and intelligent that I think Black Widow may no longer be the top female badass in the MCU. Simone is tough without being crass, gorgeous without being revealing, and brilliant without being arrogant. Rosario Dawson’s return as Clair Temple really highlights the change in the character from her first MCU appearance in DD season 1 as she is no longer attempting to maintain any semblance of an actual career in medicine, instead having decided to help powered people who fight the good fight moving her more in line with Night Nurse from the source material. The gradual move towards a relationship with Luke feels appropriate in the story, but upon reflection seems like she and Luke are simply attracted to each other in an attempt to replace their previous love interest (Claire falling for another superhero she has to patch up regularly, Luke coming down with a severe case of Florence Nightingale).
As for villains: Mahersala Ali certainly intrigues as Cornel “Cottonmouth” Stokes. Even when smiling and laughing to your face that man can give you chills as you can see a violence burning underneath. While Colter may overdo it when it comes to his sad scenes, Mister Ali is nothing short of excellent as we see him crying at the loss of an old friend and remorse at the loss. The interactions between Cornel and his cousin Mariah are a change from the usual villain team as they are clearly partners but each believes they are more crucial, yet never do we get a hint of them betraying each other. Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard is a woman in control and a perfect hypocrite who rationalizes and justifies her actions, unwilling to admit her own criminality. Miss Woodard makes you believe that Mariah isn’t just in denial, she is completely oblivious to her own darkness. Even when she does finally embrace her criminal heritage, it feels natural and as if the character still believes her own lies about who she is. Theo Rossi turns up as the villain Shades who while lacking his comic book counterpart’s superpowers, is still very much a threat and clearly a dangerous figure. Rossi plays him with such a calm and rational demeanor and so cunning and rational, it makes you wonder if he could be the big bad himself had he chosen to. Shades is certainly a villain to watch and one that I think many will hope to see in future Netflix outings.
The one downside to the villain’s is Erik LaRay Harvey, and I do not by any means want to imply the man is not a great actor. In fact, he does a great job with the role, but the character of Diamondback is so over the top as a relic of the era that inspired him and so cartoonish, crazed, and evil that his stint as the villain pales when compared to much more interesting Cottonmouth, Mariah Dillard and Shades.
The people and culture of Harlem are what really gives the show its authenticity. Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker refused to film outside Harlem and this couldn’t have been a better decision. Harlem has such a history for African American’s that to not highlight this with a character like Luke Cage would be a crime. The music, the art, the figures that pushed for civil rights are all alluded to and made to bring this community to life for those who may be unfamiliar with this part of our nation’s history. The music is especially important as the show is filled with songs and performances from some of the greatest living musicians from a variety of genres that were created and pioneered by African Americans. Raphael Saadiq, Method Man and Faith Hill among others all bring to life the heart of the music that came out of Harlem and still holds roots there today.
With that I must address the elephant in the room of Luke Cage. We at the Geekiverse again do not write about politics. It has not ever been nor will ever be what we focus on here. I will not address my own views on the Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter movement. What I will address is a harsh truth that Luke Cage brings to light.
The series doesn’t attempt to portray all police as corrupt, violent, racists. The show does portray them as individuals, some of whom are casually racist, some who aren’t. Some who are corrupt, others who are noble. The show does not pass judgement on members of law enforcement.
What the writers do is show that there is an undeniable fact, that many in the minority communities do fear law enforcement and feel unfairly targeted by police. Whether this fear is justified or not is not something the show forces us to decide on. Instead what it does is make us think of the indisputable fact that this is a fear born out of a history that we do recognize as real and based on fact. The show doesn’t make all cops into villains or all African American’s into victims. It makes us think instead of why African American’s have this fear, so we can look at how to heal the scars that have divided our people and move towards breaking the barrier brought on by skin color. It wants us to realize that things such as Black Lives Matter are not meant to say that they are the only ones that matter, but that they matter too. This is where the show has its greatest success and greatest importance. While we may be divided on political matters, the fact is that we know certain things to be true and rather than disregarding differences of opinion on recent incidents in society, we should try to heal what causes the frustration these events create.
What is most important is that the show does not make the political message overbearing, instead allowing it to be another part of the authenticity of the community. To leave out any kind of commentary on recent events would surely break the feeling of this being the real Harlem and thankfully the show does not attempt to become preachy.
Luke Cage is a solid thirteen episodes for the most part. The tone can fluctuate a bit, but gives us an enjoyable set of characters and a real look at Harlem. The few missteps in the acting can take you out of some more somber moments and the overarching big bad is a bit of a letdown when compared to the other villains, but still has a charm to him.
+Standout cast especially: Simone Missick, Mahersala Ali, and Alfre Woodard
+Real world politics without being overly preachy
-Michael Colter does charming and cool well, struggles with sad
-Uneven tone in some ways especially in regards to final villain
Nicholas Ramirez is a lover of street level heroes and cant wait to see how Jessica Jones reacts to Luke’s new girlfriend. Follow him on twitter @dare_to_geek.
Read our review for Marvel’s Jessica Jones – Season 1 Review