In the last few minutes of Netflix’s latest Marvel series Luke Cage, just as the dust settles over Harlem, the show’s titular hero and Marvel’s first African-American protagonist delivers what is probably the central message behind the show’s story while he explains to the NYPD why he feels the need to be the “superhero” that he is:
“When did people stop caring?” Cage asks. “Harlem is supposed to represent our hopes and dreams. It’s the pinnacle of black art, politics, and innovation. It’s supposed to be a shining light to the world. It’s our responsibility to push forward, so that the next generation will be further along than us.”
Thankfully, most of Luke Cage highlights and harps upon this message in a less direct manner. It’s not always so bad, on the other hand, to have such a straightforward concept delivered to an audience somewhere along a 12-hour-long season.
If anything, Luke Cage’s length is one of its biggest weaknesses, as the execs and writers behind the program set up an intriguing hero and set of villains in a unique setting that are all muddled by a prolonged plot brought about by a notably unnecessary character. Despite this problem, Luke Cage introduces Netflix viewers to a side of New York City that they don’t see every day, which, with today’s geopolitical landscape, is probably one of most refreshing and enlightening settings audiences could need and/or hope for.
Trying to live a normal life despite the superhuman abilities that have been imparted to him (nearly impenetrable skin and super strength), Cage sweeps hair in a Harlem barbershop owned by his friend and mentor, Pop. Knowing the skills and powers that Cage possesses, Pop encourages Cage to aim for something more than what he is. Cage shakes off his friend’s advice, but when a few tragedies befall him at the hand of local gun dealer Cottonmouth, Cage seeks justice by ruining some of Cottonmouth’s schemes. This angers Cottonmouth, and a war ensues between the two for about half the season.
Several other minor villains and one major one are introduced into the program along the way, which is Luke Cage’s main flaw. The show spends so much time substantively developing Cottonmouth and his corrupt city-councilwoman cousin, Mariah Dillard, that the inclusion of the show’s other major villain, Diamondback, feels entirely unnecessary. Diamondback’s motives are rushed and seem absurdly coincidental, almost comically so. For the sake of not spoiling the program, it’s hard to explain Diamondback and his background, but it is easy to say that the time spent with him squanders the setup that Cottonmouth and Dillard are given. This weird dichotomy detracts from the emotional weight that any of these characters could have brought to Luke Cage, and Diamondback’s inclusion in this season is decidedly the show’s biggest problem, as he could have been saved for the second season and been properly and fully developed there.
Cage himself, on the other hand, is brilliant. Mike Colter, who imbues Cage with an overwhelmingly compassionate, sympathetic, and charismatic essence, masterfully portrays the show’s hero. Cage’s struggles, both past and present, symbolically represent many of the struggles that African-Americans, especially in neighborhoods like Harlem, face every day. Through Cage, these problems are accessible to viewers of any background and are sure to draw sympathy and understanding from any of those willing to go through the journey that is Luke Cage. The character’s endurance, resilience, and respectability are especially inspiring.
Characters aside, Luke Cage is stunningly filmed and has an excellent soundtrack to boot. The filmmakers behind these episodes captured some of the most stunning shots of the New York neighborhood on some of the prettiest days imaginable. The show also introduces those who haven’t seen Harlem to some of the neighborhood’s most iconic buildings, streets, and monuments, giving the viewer a sense of Harlem’s rich history.
The soundtrack, featuring a mesh of soul hits, fancy jazz numbers, a tinge of hip-hop, and a pinch of rap, is sure to reach across a whole spectrum of music listeners. Though not everyone will like every song in this show, the mix of real songs and composed pieces used for background music feel organic to each of their scenes and will probably have viewers tapping their toes at some point or another.
In so few words, Luke Cage is a brilliant show that takes one bad turn. The hero, his first few villains, and the show’s message, technical aspects, and soundtrack are all excellent. It’s only with Diamondback and all the s—t that he brings along with him that Luke Cage loses its footing. So, just like Cage the character, Luke Cage is nearly impenetrable, but not entirely.
Featured Image By Marvel Television