The Marvel Cinematic Universe has long established itself as a well-oiled machine, with its films dominating our cinema screens for nearly a decade now.
The universe has been so successful in fact that it has taken its super-powered brand of entertainment to the small screen, with Netflix adopting a similar approach to the film series and creating several TV shows, each one focusing on an individual character, with the ultimate intention of having the characters unite to form a superhero team dubbed The Defenders.
The subject of today’s review Luke Cage is the third in the run up to this epic team up, once more setting the scene for a future meet up, but still attempting to tell its own story of a hero battling to do what is right. It’s just a shame that much of Luke Cage feels like, a set up to a much bigger and better story that has yet to be told.
Following on his encounter with Jessica Jones in Hell’s Kitchen which saw him badly injured, Luke Cage has relocated to Harlem where he merely wishes to lay low and live out his life in peace. However, events soon find themselves getting out of his control, and with friends being killed in a growing crime epidemic, Cage finds himself forced to take on the mantel of crime fighter and become the hero that Harlem needs.
Mike Colter, previously introduced as Cage last year’s Jessica Jones, finally takes centre stage as the bulletproof hero. Colter is excellent as Cage, managing to capture the many layers of the character, the easy going friend, eager to argue sports and literature with his friends, and the heartbroken widow hiding underneath the cool exterior, still struggling to figure out what sort of life he is meant to live with his abilities. Also helps that the very muscular Colter is able to come off as genuinely intimidating in the role, which the numerous action sequences being quite funny, as Cage tosses henchmen around like ragdolls.
The supporting cast is in fine form, with numerous great performances to choose from.
Rosario Dawson reprises her role as Claire Temple, first seen in Daredevil, returning to Harlem after losing her job in Hell’s Kitchen, with her role being much more prominent in this series, finally allowing Dawson to fully develop the character as a strong-willed and resourceful heroine, with Temple becoming an essential ally in Cages fight against crime.
Also on the sidekick front is Misty Knight a dedicated and principled detective with almost superhuman skills of deduction. Knight is brought to life by Simone Missick in a terrific performance, with her scenes alongside Colter being the strongest, with the two bouncing barbs off each other being an absolute joy to watch.
Mahershala Ali arguably gives the best performance of the entire series as the crime boss/nightclub “Cottonmouth”, a ruthless underworld figure; a vicious and bloody beating on an unfortunate victim leaves this fact in no doubt, yet, beneath this thuggish exterior lies a tragic figure, one who had no ambitions of leading a criminal life. The quiet scenes of “Cottonmouth” at his keyboard, intercut with flashbacks of his past, highlight the tragic nature of his character, with Ali portraying these tender quiet moments beautifully.
The series is certainly a cut above its predecessors in terms of music, having easily the best soundtrack of any of Marvels previously TV shows, emulating Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) in its approach to scoring the action.
The nightclub Harlem Paradise, the most prominent location in the series, plays host to a variety of musical performances, from rappers, DJs and soul singers alike. These moments, while halting the plot for a moment, allow for a moment of brevity, letting the viewer relax a bit and enjoy the music.
My favourites musical moments are Cage’s rampage around Harlem to the tune of Charles Bradleys “Aint it A Sin”, and Cages one man assault on a criminal stronghold while the Wu-Tang Clan blasts through his earphones, with the music in both scenes adding an extra bite to proceedings and making them all the more enjoyable.
Even though I adore the acting, the music and the overall feel of the series, feeling deliberately reminiscent of 1970s blaxploitation films like Shaft, and the series attempts to seriously examine the issue of race within its superhero world; I can’t help but feel that this is arguably the weakest of the Netflix/Marvel series so far.
The series suffers from a problem that I find in all the Marvel series, in that it feels like there isn’t enough of a story to fill the 13 episodes of the season, with some plot points feeling stretched out unnecessarily, dialogue feeling repetitive at times and some episode feeling like filler until the major moments roll around.
And it seems like these issues are increasingly becoming the norm for these shows, with this one in particular feeling somewhat padded out and repetitive, there’s only so many times you can watch Cage toss around people, or have villains monologue about war and the streets before the viewer starts to get bored.
The music while excellent for the most part is also subject to some problems, sometimes feeling like it has to bash you on the head with a musical cue so you know something serious is going on, or that we are supposed to be shocked or surprised by something.
With fine performances, an excellent sense of style and a brilliant soundtrack Luke Cage is an another fine entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, doing a good job of setting up the world of Cage and setting the stage for the characters eventual appearance in The Defenders.
But, despite possessing many fine qualities, that’s really the best way to describe the series, it’s neither brilliant nor groundbreaking. It’s merely fine. The story often feels padded out to fill the episode count and the actions scenes, while initially quite fun, soon become repetitive and boring with a severe lack of urgency, only becoming interesting again when a weakness for Cage is introduced late in the season.
Overall, while I would recommend this series to Marvel completionists, and to those looking for a decent way to spend 13 hours of their weekend, I can’t help but feel somewhat disappointed by this series despite its many positive qualities, it’s not bad, but it could have been so much better.
Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing the character once again when he inevitably reappears to team up with his fellow crime fighters. Roll on The Defenders.
| Graeme Robertson
Action, Crime, Superhero | USA, 2016 | 18 | Netflix Originals | Online Now | created By.Cheo Hodari Coker | Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Rosario Dawson, Alfre Woodard, Simone Missick | Watch Now