REVIEW: Luke Cage (TV Series)
Rating: 3/5 stars
He’s bulletproof. He’s huge. He packs a mean punch. He’s Luke Cage, and he has officially joined the Marvel Universe. After being introduced to the character in Jessica Jones as her romantic partner, fans were calling for him to have his own series. And that’s exactly what they’ve been given.
Cheo Hadari Coki (NCIS: Los Angeles and Southland), the creator of the series, has knocked down some key barriers in the comic book world that instantly make the series stand out. The majority of the characters are black, with only one white main character – racial equality is something that both Marvel and DC have been scrutinized for not portraying in the past.
However, Marvel doesn’t stop there. Another issue that superhero franchises have been criticised for in the past is the lack of powerful (and non-sexualised) female characters. Even though the main vigilante character here is male, more of the powerful characters, from detectives to gang leaders, are female.
So far, the reception for Marvel on the TV screen rather than the cinema screen has been successful. Daredevil and Jessica Jones have both proved popular with fans, adding extra pressure on Coki to create an equally loved TV series. That pressure is intensified, when realising the show is on Netflix; a binge watching platform. So, if the series doesn’t hook an audience straight away, they won’t be patient enough to stick around.
Unfortunately, this is one of the show’s main downfalls. It’s a very slow starter compared to the previous Marvel TV series. Realism has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but this particular Marvel instalment may have gone a little too far, losing its comic book origin. Apart from the odd scene where Cage is deflecting bullets, or picking up the bad guys by their throat with ease, you could be fooled into thinking the show has nothing to do with superheroes.
In fact, it doesn’t seem to get off the ground until two thirds of the way through. The series is based around black gang culture, which is a very real and relevant problem in America, making the show much more serious and realistic. This works extremely well in TV dramas such as Breaking Bad, but this is a TV show based around a superhero.
In some ways it’s refreshing to see a vigilante not wanting to wear a costume – something that Daredevil is known for. But to simply wear jeans and a hoody for the whole series, is taking away the fun, excitement and escapism. The link with superhero culture is lost.
The show is also stuck with how to make Cage vulnerable in order to create a story to run through thirteen episodes. He has the Superman effect. He’s essentially indestructible. He can crush guns with one hand, his skin is bulletproof, and if you try to punch him, you’ll just break your own hand. The first villain, Cornell Stokes, also known as Cottonmouth, is perfectly human, with no real plan to get rid of Cage.
The second villain, however, is more interesting. Willis Stryker, or Diamondback as you may know him, has a long past with Cage. His hatred and anger towards the vigilante has been brewing for a long time. He has the psychotic personality you’d expect from a main villain, and he has created a weapon that can at least hurt Cage. Unfortunately, Diamondback isn’t brought into the series until over half way through. At the same point, we also meet the doctor that turned the human Carl Lucas into the superhero Luke Cage. And there, we finally have a comic book series.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. A key saviour of the show is the casting. Mike Colter is the real-life Luke Cage. He’s enormous and could easily be scary, but manages to create a friendly giant that you are rooting for from the get-go. Mahershala Ali (Cottonmouth), Theo Rossi (Shades), and Erik LaRay Harvey (Diamondback), all have the scare-factor you want from your bad guys. The chemistry between these guys makes the characters even more addictive to watch – even if you hate them.
The most intriguing character of the series, however, has to be Mariah Dillard, played by Alfre Woodard. She’s a politician, but also Cottonmouth’s cousin, which instantly puts her in the realm of not knowing what side she’s going to end up on. As the series progresses, so does her character, and by the end every scene that she’s in is the most exciting, infuriating, and addictive of the episode.
There are downfalls in the series, particularly with the slow-paced gang-based story lines. However, it’s worth sticking with if you have the time and patience, as once the comic-book genre is truly exposed, the show really gets going. It has the potential of becoming great in following seasons; With a cliff-hanger ending that really does leave you questioning what will happen next; Characters that you love to hate, hate to love, and just love to love who may or may not return.
It’s slow. It takes patience. But it’s worth it when you get to the end. Just like the endless amount of Iron Man and Captain America films you have to get through to appreciate Civil War in all its glory, Luke Cage takes some perseverance to get to the good stuff. But when you’re there, you’ll be delighted you made it.