What makes for a good viewing experience when it comes to comic book adaptations? Is it a heroic main character, an engaging baddie, or the evolution of the story therein? Is it the underlying social commentary or a reflection on our society, or are connections to the source material and Easter Eggs more vital to its lifeblood? Let’s just get this out of the way: Luke Cage is all of those things. It stuns with its quiet confidence, controlled tension, and seriously engrossing visuality. Its connection to the larger Marvel universe is executed naturally. And he truly is the hero we need, deserve, and want in the same way as Jessica Jones. To put it simply: Luke Cage is a revelation as Marvel continues to make not only diversity, but inclusivity, a vital part of its TV lifeblood.
There are many parallels to be made to Jessica Jones—more so than Daredevil—but perhaps the most notable of which is the catharsis felt by the audience at this man’s existence. The power of seeing a black man subverting both an idea of what it means to be black in America at this time, and the gun violence epidemic itself, cannot be understated. Here is a man imbued with incredible physical power, someone whose skills, in most circumstances, would be feared or even targeted, struggling to live beyond the bounds of what is expected of him (socially or otherwise). In what is the most no-duh-y of statements: there’s no better time to have a black male superhero, impervious to bullets, running around as a hero. Having experienced my own sense of welcome, cathartic release from watching a black man not being taken down by a hail of bullets, I can only imagine how the black community will feel and respond. The reclamation of the black hoodie, of the experience of living as a man in this world at this particular time, demands the audience see even this superhero for who he is: a regular guy (with irregular abilities) simply trying to get by and do good by his community and those he loves.
Outside of that, the show just feels and looks good. Showrunner and creator Cheo Hodari Coker has cooked up a visually stunning, emotionally evocative, aurally electric bit of pulp-y drama with cinematographer Manuel Billeter. The colorization is lush but original. The darker jewel tones of the environment are a noticeable—and welcome—difference from the other Marvel series, but still lands firmly within the established aesthetic of Marvel and Netflix’s past collaborations (which makes sense since Billeter is also the cinematographer on Jessica Jonesand Daredevil). Luke Cage lives in an environment all its own, with cinematography that creates a Harlem that is moody, beautiful, and tangled up in the storyline as much as the characters that inhabit it.
And those characters are impressively fleshed out from the get-go. We’ve already witnessed Mike Colter’s Luke Cage from his time on Jessica Jones (you can read our interview with Colter here), but here he’s allowed room to breathe. His presence is undeniable; his quiet stoicism is a commanding on-screen force. To get more Luke Cage is a good thing—to get him as portrayed by Colter is an embarrassment of riches. The same can be said of Mahershala Ali, who plays Cornell Stokes, a.k.a. Cottonmouth. Ali is consistently one of our favorite actors whenever he pops on screen, be it in House of Cards or Treme or his upcoming spot in the film Moonlight (which we loved at TIFF), so it’s thrilling to see him finally get his turn as such a major adversary. One scene in particular—framed magnificently by a painting of Biggie Smalls—really stands out in our mind as the embodiment of the full power, rage, and terror that Cottonmouth commands. (We won’t spoil the specifics, but it’s brutal.)
His foil, cousin and politician Mariah Stokes (played by Alfre Woodard in a different role than Civil War), is another fascinating sort, and—perhaps?—someone who should be feared even more so than Cottonmouth. Woodard is a national treasure, and her complicated relationship with her cousin and her constituency seems as though it’ll be a delightful hurdle for her to overcome (especially with the inclusion of Theo Rossi’s Shades Alvarez). And there’s also Simone Missick’s Misty Knight, who has quickly earned a place alongside Jessica Jones as one of our favorite women in the Marvel TV universe. Knight is complicated, unapologetic, and a dynamic presence whenever she’s on-screen. We cannot wait to see her character evolve throughout the series and we welcome her with gleefully open arms as another badass lady in the Marvel pantheon.
While the pilot is a bit slower than we may have liked, the purposefulness of the pacing and the seeds planted in its initial hour promises for big pay-off in later episodes. (No spoilers, remember!) Next to Jessica Jones, this is the best thing Marvel has done. We’re ready to see this good guy win—he’s definitely earned it.
4 out of 5 bulletproof burritos:
Are you looking forward to Luke Cage? Let us know in the comments below!
Here’s Luke Cage’s comic book history explained:[brightcove video_id=”5134283300001″ brightcove_account_id=”3653334524001″ brightcove_player_id=”2bfa565b-5412-4cfd-9211-6269880b8a5e”]