While Marvel's blockbusters are busy saving the world in under two hours, their Netflix shows give us fully rounded characters with a finesse never seen before in any comic book adaptations. Thunder Gods and Super Soldiers may grab all the headlines, but it's the blind lawyers and alcoholic P.I.'s who ultimately impress the most, working tirelessly to keep the streets of the MCU safe.
Daredevil undoubtedly set the benchmark extremely high with the story of Matt Murdock and his damaged faith. Marvel then arguably outdid themselves with their follow-up, Jessica Jones, which explored themes of consent and revenge within a comic book context.
The pressure's on, then, for Marvel's third show based on The Defenders. Fortunately, if the reviews are anything to go by, it looks like Luke's first solo outing has shrugged off any potential pitfalls like bullets off Cage's sizeable chest.
How Does Mike Colter's Central Performance Fare?
Alan Sepinwall from Hitfix praises Colter's work in the title role:
"There's an easy confidence to the performance, befitting a character who theoretically can't be hurt and can bend steel bars with his bare hands; he never has to puff out his chest, not only because it's plenty broad at rest, but because he knows he's won almost any potential fight before it's even begun."
EW's Jeff Jensen goes one step further and compares Colter to the most iconic superhero performance of them all:
"Luke Cage is a triumph of representation, and Mike Colter commands the part like a boss. Like Christopher Reeve, Colter holds the screen with confident charisma and makes his too-good-to-be-true dude completely credible."
Remember how great Luke Cage was on Jessica Jones?:
Daniel Fienburg from The Hollywood Reporter commends Colter's portrayal of Cage, but questions whether it's almost too perfect:
"Colter, sometimes filmed surrounded by an almost literal aura of charisma, makes what Luke Cage does seem effortless, which is both a perfect embodiment of one side of the character, but also a slight limiting factor. Colter's smoothness limits the wonder when Luke shows off his power, but also doesn't make room for the takes-a-licking vulnerability that a pulp vigilante needs to have."
Did Marvel Manage To Nail Cage's Cultural Representation?
Evan Narcisse singles out how Luke Cage embodies a whole new facet of the MCU for io9:
"Luke Cage feels like many different swatches of blackness all at once. It's got humor, pathos, and rhythm that are distinct from the other Netflix Marvel shows. It's funkier and pulpier than either Daredevil or Jessica Jones. It has to be, because Luke Cage sketches out a sense of an entire community, one that's a symbol of how black people have thrived in a centuries-old cycle that's had them exoticized and disenfranchised."
Bernard Boo points out that Marvel have incorporated Cage's heritage seamlessly into the fabric of the show for We Got This Covered:
"Racial dynamics are used not as extra flavoring to make the show novel or edgy, but as a backbone to keep the characters and larger narrative upright."
Variety's Maureen Ryan outlines exactly why shows like Luke Cage are more important than ever in today's political climate:
"Colter brings a great deal of soulfulness and intelligence to Luke, as well as beautifully calibrated shadings of pain and rage, and the sight of bullets bouncing off the hoodie-clad character carry layers of meaning well beyond the character’s quest to save Harlem. In a time in which images of violence against black men and women are disturbingly commonplace and indicate deeply rooted problems not just in law enforcement but in American society as a whole, watching this man survive any number of encounters with gun-wielding assailants may, for many viewers, provide a deeper kind of catharsis."
Is The Music As Important As Were Led To Believe In The Trailers?
Daniel Fienburg argues that Luke Cage's soundtrack outshines the music in Baz Luhrmann's hip-hop drama, The Get Down:
"Coming close on the heels of The Get Down, Luke Cage has many of the same sonic influences and may in fact outdo Baz Luhrmann's expensive hip-hop drama. Adrian Younge and A Tribe Called Quest veteran Ali Shaheed Muhammad contribute an original score that blurs brassy '70s blaxploitation attitude with more modern rap cuts... On the soundtrack, every needle drop is perfect including cuts from Nina Simone and the show's defining action sequence, which is set to Wu-Tang Clan's 'Bring the Ruckus.' [sic]"
Check out the stunning full-length trailer in its entirety below:
Alan Sepinwall explains how the music expertly captures Cage's heritage for his Hitfix review:
"Though Coker is mostly trying to follow the lead of comics writers like Brian Michael Bendis in bringing Cage into the modern era, the show's soundscape is a mix of contemporary hip-hop (sometimes performed live at Cottonmouth's club) and a fantastic score that calls back to the character's '70s roots."
Will Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes Help Solve Marvel's Villain Problem?
Maureen Ryan sums up Cottonmouth's appeal vividly for her Variety review:
"Ali, who has just as much presence as Colter, brings a sense of intense calculation and unpredictable danger to Cottonmouth, and an image of the brutal gangster framed against a portrait of the Notorious B.I.G provides another unforgettable “Luke Cage” visual."
Kyle Pinion of Comics Beat praised the performance of Mahershala Ali's Stokes as Cottonmouth, comparing it favorably to the other Netflix villain we've seen so far:
"One of the best aspects of each of Marvel's Netflix offerings is the richness of their villains, as both Fisk and Kilgrave proved to be menacing and mostly multi-faceted creations that blow away their big screen counterparts, save for Loki. But again, both The Kingpin and The Purple Man are well-crafted characters that have much to draw from, regardless of how exceptional both D'Onofrio and David Tennant's performances were. So when I say that Mahershala Ali's Stokes is easily their equal, if not even more richly defined, that achievement is a both a credit to what's on the script page and just what sort of meditative ferocity Ali is able to conjure behind this figure, who is at once terrifying and incredibly sympathetic. This is a character so vivid that, while being the clear antagonist of the series' machinations, one can't help but be amazed at the moral gray tones that he's swathed in."
TV Line's reviewer Matt Webb Mitovich points out that Cottonmouth may be effective as a villain, but that he's also present in a number of the show's weaker scenes:
"...There’s a point in Marvel’s Luke Cage where two crime bosses are drilling down so deep into their dealings, the viewer almost feels remiss for not possessing a degree in Illicit Business & Finance. And yet those talkier moments, which take place largely inside the cavernous Harlem nightclub run by Cornell “Don’t Call Him Cottonmouth” Stokes, are perhaps the only significant weak spot in this telling of the rise of reluctant, impervious hero Luke Cage."
Does Misty Knight Hold Her Own Against Luke Cage?
Matt Webb Mitovich goes on to commend female lead Misty Knight in his review for TV Line:
"Played by Simone Missick (Wayward Pines), Misty is a greatly interesting character, and part of the reason why is because — and Luke himself observes this — she is a woman, and not a girl. She has lived a vivid life and has tales to tell, including of her basketball prowess on the playgrounds of Harlem. The question is, will the aforementioned (and torrid) hook-up with Luke keep her from seeing the incredible truth right in front of her, when a bulletproof, hoodied vigilante begins making a well-meaning ruckus?"
Daniel Fienburg of The Hollywood Reporter points out that Misty's involvement on the show also highlights a distinct Jessica Jones-sized hole in Luke Cage's love life:
"Simone Missick's Misty Knight and Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple are there half as proactive female leads, half as potential love interests for Luke, but sometimes are confusing reminders that Luke was mighty hung up on a deceased ex and on Jessica Jones just one TV show ago and they feel like they ought to be mentioned."
EW's Jeff Jensen is a huge fan of Misty too, although he wishes that her character was developed quicker on the show:
"Simone Missick is terrific as Det. Misty Knight: She transforms her stock cop ally/love interest into a fully realized person. But we spend forever waiting for her to learn what we already know and to knock bad-guy heads (and boots) with Luke."
Ultimately, Is Luke Cage Worth Watching?
Alan Sepinwall commends Luke Cage's fresh perspective, but argues that Marvel needs to evolve further in his review for Hitfi:x
"Though Daredevil has proven to be a muddle, both Jessica Jones and now Luke Cage demonstrate how effective the old stories can be when viewed from a different angle. For Marvel's next trick, they need to shift the boundaries of how they tell their stories to go along with how well they've changed the kinds of people they're telling those stories about."
Jeff Jensen is less enthused, telling his EW readers that Luke Cage is far from a perfect show:
"The abundance of flaws — a sluggish pace, thinly stretched plots — can’t smother everything interesting. The comic book Luke Cage was inspired by blaxploitation films, and showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker pays homage with aesthetic touches and has sly fun with the origin story. But his primary concern is evolving Cage away from exploitative and retrograde depictions of black masculinity. The show is thoughtful in its presentation of Luke’s physique, and there’s an ongoing conversation about the legacy and relevancy of black heroes of history and pulp fiction. Luke Cage is a meaningful attempt at developing a new-model black hero. As entertaining drama, it’s trapped in a not-so-Marvelous trapped cage."
Variety's Maureen Ryan is kinder, arguing that there's room for improvement, but that Luke Cage rises above its flaws:
“Luke Cage” could use more focus; a few of its 13 episodes have several different quasi-endings, one awkwardly tacked onto the next, and each installment could stand to be tightened a fair bit. Some of the more unexceptional storylines and plot mechanics could be cut, but certainly not the argument about whether Jet Li or Bruce Lee is the more legendary martial arts star, the discussion of Chester Himes’ novels, or the amiable diner scene in which Bobby proposes a slogan for Luke’s services (“I ain’t no hero — pay me”). Recalling those bright spots makes it easier to shrug off the show’s imperfections."
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Finally, Dominic Patten succinctly summaries the show on Deadline, arguing that Luke Cage is a must-watch show that could rank as one of Marvel's best yet:
"The world is also ready for one of the most socially relevant and smartest shows on the small screen you will see this year. In fact, with star power deluxe from lead Mike Colter and House of Cards alum Mahershala Ali as the villainous Cornell Cottonmouth Stokes, the 13-episode first season is one of the best shows on the air and on the horizon."
Remember when Luke Cage fought Jessica Jones under the control of Kilgrave?:
While Mike Colter was pitch-perfect as Luke Cage on Jessica Jones, we had some doubts that he could successfully carry his own show. From the sound of it though, Luke Cage could very well be one of Marvel's most exciting prospects this year. Forget Doctor Strange and Captain America: Civil War. Luke Cage is undoubtedly the most important comic book adaptation of 2016.