Over the past eight years, there has been a resurgence of superhero and comic book movies, including titles like “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight.” The former revolutionized the Hollywood industry as a whole—it was the first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The MCU has created a cinematic universe where fan-favorite superheroes, like Captain America and the Hulk, have their individual stories and intertwine with each other in movies like “The Avengers” and “Captain America: Civil War.” This idea of a universe within a cinematic frame has inspired other film properties to branch out and create their own universes (DC, Universal Monsters, etc.).
However, Marvel Studios, now owned by Disney, has expanded its world through television, weaving their shows on ABC and Netflix into its cinematic universe. “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones,” the first two Marvel-Netflix shows, have both been regarded as great pieces of television and were responsible for Luke Cage, a character from “Jessica Jones,” getting his Netflix show.
“Luke Cage” is about its titular character deciding whether to become the hero he can be for Harlem, his new home, or to let it rot in corruption through various gangs. Without getting into spoilers, Luke Cage is a man with super-strength and impenetrable skin—giving him an upper hand against Cottonmouth, the show’s villain, while also putting the lives of those he loves in peril. The show’s throwback vibe to the blaxploitation movies of the ‘70s works here in this masterpiece of a show, giving it a breeze of levity now and then to a particularly dark show.
Where do I even begin? From the astounding soundtrack, containing classic R&B and hip-hop songs, to the incredible writing, there are many things that make “Luke Cage” one of the best shows on television. Going back to the musical aspect of the show: since the show takes place mainly in Harlem, the songs bring a special soul to the city, almost making Harlem a living, breathing character.
Harlem is perfectly captured as a beautiful but dark place with holes and hidden gems scattered around it that make it infamous for some and home for others.
Many have praised Mike Colter’s portrayal of Luke Cage as one of the most of the important roles in African-American media, but I think his performance is overall great as an actor.
However, Mahershala Ali’s performance as the charismatic, but sadistic, Cottonmouth, or Cornell Stokes, stole the whole show for me—considering his leaving the show truly left an impact on me and affected me on an emotional level. I appraise his way of making the villain of a superhero show have sympathetic qualities to him that make the show overall a less black and white moral tale and instead a gray one that explores the dark and light in all of the characters.
As any Marvel property, this show does not fall short on Easter eggs and references to many of the characters and incidents that are present in the MCU.
Are there any bad qualities that the show has? Well, it was a bit disappointing to me to see the lack of action and superheroic acts I expected from this show, considering it follows more on the line of a 70s’ crime drama rather than an exploited superhero show. I appreciate the time it takes to develop each of the characters, making it much more tangible to connect with the characters.