Thursday, October 13, 2016

TV Show Review: Luke Cage

The Marvel Universe continues to expand with its newest addition to The Defenders and the Netflix series in Luke Cage. Mike Colter plays the titular role of Power Man, a nearly indestructible hero with a troubled past and a streak of vengeance. Cage is the first black hero to lead a Marvel property on film and the show revels in the new territory with a hopping soundtrack, iconic cultural references, and the current events of failed American justice. The shows creator Cheo Hodari Coker brings a unique vision to the superhero while including references to the comic and still adapting to the modern setting of Harlem. The show sets its own pace through 13 episodes, which feels like a lot but left me wanting more.

Colter is great as the brooding lead villain and delivers both the new dialogue and catchphrases with his deep voice and certain seriousness not always common in comic book adaptations. He's back up by a stellar supporting cast including Simone Missick as Detective Misty Knight who investigates the murders that surround Luke Cage. He's also assisted by the one character who appears in all the Marvel and Netflix properties, the Night Nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). Two other minor characters that stood out were barbershop owner Pop (Frankie Faison) and frequent customer  Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones).

The villains stood out as well with enough time to flesh out their backstories and draw ire and earn sympathy. Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes (Mahershala Ali) was my favorite as the gangster and club owner who employs, taunts, and torments Cage with all manner of weaponry. Ali delivers a remarkable performance and I've enjoyed his acting since House of Cards. Hernan "Shades" Alvarez (Theo Rossi) is the one character that appears to be pure evil, mercilessly murdering and screwing over boto good and bad guys. I'm glad to see Rossi move on from his great performance in Sons of Anarchy. The political back of these gnagsters comes from Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard). Woodard is brilliant scheming and conniving to take down Cage and keep her standing in the community. The final villain Willis "Diamondback Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey) has a mysterious connection to Cage and a deep-rooted reason to want revenge. Some characters depart too early and don't receive enough screen time, but this adds to the excitement and unpredictability of the plot.

The hints of a greater universe are all over throughout the show from references to the "incident", the appearance of Hammer Tech, and Temple's claim to know a good lawyer. I enjoyed how this story was self-contained but can't wait for Luke Cage to interact with Daredevil, Iron Fist, and his former love interest Jessica Jones. The choreography of the fighting was a little wonky at points but Colter's strut down hallways and streets while being pelted with bullets was an amazing thing to watch. Some of the greatest scenes in Marvel's television universe appear in the action and dramatic scenes of Luke Cage. 

Netflix and Marvel have done a great job setting up these characters and developing unique and interesting worlds that are a part of a whole yet stand alone to watch. Marvel has taken a step forward with diversity on the screen as well and will continue to do so with Black Panther and Ms. Marvel in the future. I'm wholly ready for the ride as The Avengers move closer to their climactic face off with Thanos and The Defenders will assemble next year after the introduction of Iron Fist in a season of his own. Luke Cage is a crowning achievement and I hope he gets more episodes of his own in the future. 

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