I finally finished my Luke Cage binge last night, so let the reviewing begin!
I’ve been bouncing back and forth on whether this is the best of the Marvel shows on Netflix, but by the end of the season, I’d have to go with “yes.” Here’s why:
Harlem. They take a real place and they make it the focus of the show. Daredevil tried this in the first season, as well. Hell’s Kitchen, however, is a weird mix of 1980s crack-period Hell’s Kitchen, and the gentrified version of today. This is necessary for the show to keep the Miller/Mazzuccheli flavor they were going for. Luke Cage‘s Harlem is much closer to the real thing, and the importance of the place to black history, culture, and identity is front and center throughout the show.
Blackness. Connected to that, and a defining subtext of the show is blackness. Cottonmouth Stokes, the crime boss who could have been something else; Mariah Dillard, the all-too-realistic politician; Misty Knight, the honest cop who knows everyone in the neighborhood; and Luke Cage, the stoic, hard-working everyman…who just happens to be damned near indestructible all are aspects of the black community, and their conflict mirrors the conflicts of the black professional, the gangster culture, and the middle-class. The music, the location, and the casting all make this a sharply different view of America than Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
The women. There are a lot of important female characters in the show — Mariah Dillard (Alfrie Woodard), Misty Knight (played superbly by Simone Missick), Inspector Pricilla Ridley (Karen Pittman stuck in a stereotypical annoying commanding officer role), and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson, stealing scenes again..) — the women in the show are integral parts of the drama and plot. They’re not weak. They’re not victims. And none of the important players are young. They’re mature women. It’s refreshing.
Mike Colter. Sweet Christmas this guy’s got charisma. He was the best part of Jessica Jones (my opinion) and he does good work here. There are a lot of great performances in the show, Mahershala Ali’s Stokes is especially good, but COlter manages to hold the spotlight whenever he’s onscreen.
The surprises. (Yeah, spoilers. Shut up.) The decision to take Cottonmouth off the board halfway through the show was an excellent move, and made the show seem less contrived. That said, exchanging Ali for Erik LaRay Harvey’s Diamondback took away an excellent, and somewhat sympathetic villain for a less interesting creature. Diamondback, despite their best efforts, never feels like anything more than the crazed murdering baddie. That’s not Harvey’s fault; the writing on his is a bit lazy, and that’s probably the worst aspect of the show.
Mariah Dillard’s rise to crime boss is the exact opposite. She’s a compelling and realistic character, not entirely competent or comfortable in her new role, but Woodard’s steady move from pawn to queen is well executed by both writers and actress. Did I mention the women in this show knock it out of the park? They do.
A side mention for one of the better supporting cast has to go to Frank Whaley. Who? you ask. You’ve seen him in just about every damned TV show in the last ten years, and a few movies. He plays Scarfe. (Oh, that guy!) His performance is subtle and nuanced. He feels like a 20 year vet of the NYPD who does his job, and just that; he knows his job barely matters and it makes his corruption seem natural.
Lastly…Method Man. I’m not a hip-hop or rap fan. I barely know who the guy is. He steals all the scenes he’s in. There’s a great moment between he and Cage where the superhero geeks out at meeting the musician. It’s one of the best moments in the entire show and feels right.
The bad — ’cause there always is some bad.
Diamondback. The character is a leering psycho whose character development shows him to be a whinging teen with daddy issues. It’s unoriginal and uninteresting. The Bible-quotes and half-assed philosophizing never rises to the levels that Cottonmouth and Mariah have.
While the final fight between he and Cage is beautifully done, it’s really only good to show Cage to be no martial arts master, no skilled bad-ass, but a dude that simply is very strong and impervious to most damage…why would he need to be a fighter? (Throughout the show, the guy doesn’t fight, so much as sort of push and slap his way through the mooks.)
The first episode. It’s a slow episode, mostly for the work it’s doing setting up Harlem as a character, as much as introducing the leads. Wade through it.
So is it worth it? Hell, yes. Go quit your job and stream this thing, right now.