‘Luke Cage’ is television’s most relevant superhero series
Sweet Christmas. Bulletproof and proud, “Luke Cage” has stormed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with tremendous flair and significance. The third series produced by Marvel’s partnership with Netflix, “Luke Cage” may lack the intricately choreographed fighting and compelling neo-noir storytelling of “Daredevil,” but it proves to be more relevant to our world, with an astonishing cast taking on well-adapted source material
Netflix premiered the first season of the hip-hop infused series earlier this fall with 13 explosive episodes. A unique style and color palette permeates the series, which is complimented by an intense and passionate soundtrack composed by Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
Similarly to “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil,” the series is propelled by the complex and powerful issues highlighted in its story. A Black hero in the neighborhood of Harlem, Luke Cage is a vessel for an examination of police brutality, Black lives, corruption and justice.
Luke Cage (played by Mike Colter) was first introduced in “Jessica Jones” as an indestructible bartender with incredible strength and a tragic past. Audiences finally get a look into his vague past in prison, why he doesn’t curse – hence his catchphrase “sweet Christmas” – and refusal to use the n-word. Cage has fled the turmoil caused by the villain Killgrave in Hell’s Kitchen, and works sweeping up hair at a barbershop in Harlem.
Though Cage tries to lay low at his job, this becomes laborious when the dealings of notorious nightclub owner Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali) and his cousin, city councilwoman Mariah Dillard, (Alfre Woodard) begin to interfere with his new life. The two of them control the streets of Harlem through violence, corruption and illegal schemes.
Those closest to Cage begin to be threatened by dealings of Stokes and Dillard, forcing Cage to take justice into his own hands. The commotion he causes is quickly noticed by the police, including Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick), who is determined to stop Dillard and Stokes.
Cage doesn’t need a gun, he is the gun. He makes use of his bulletproof skin and strength to take on dozens of foes at once. The problematic aspect about his powers though, is that they often makes for slow-paced and clunky fight scenes, because he cannot be phased by his enemies’ punches or bullets.
However, this weakness does not stand too much in the way of the series, as one of its most memorable moments comes when Cage dons a black hoodie and assaults a heavily manned location to the tune of “Bring da Ruckus” by Wu Tang Clan.
The actors in “Luke Cage” are simply terrific. Colter portrays a man who is unsure of his purpose in Harlem. He subtly reveals layers of his character as he deals with his past in prison and his present struggle. Simone Missick as Detective Knight is an absolute wonder to witness as her character fights for justice from the inside of a corrupt police department. She plays her character with poise and power, opposite equally strong performances by Woodard and Ali.
Playing a ruthless crime boss, Ali keeps his character interesting by offering subtle glimpses into his psyche. Woodard is excellent in her role as Dillard and is only held back by some minor miscues in the writing.
Though Cage is at the center of attention in the series, the strong female performances are what truly steal the show. Including an appearance by Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple (“Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones”), the show’s Black female stars shine at a moment in Hollywood where diversity is a major issue.
Luke Cage, dressed in a black hoodie and resisting powers that are determined to see him silenced, seems to be impervious to everything that is thrown at him. Top-notch acting ensures that the show he anchors is a powerful, runaway success.
Daniel Monahan can be reached email@example.com.