TV Review: Marvel’s Luke Cage (Episodes 1-7) (2016)

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This review will focus on episode 1 through 7 of the series. There will be NO MAJOR SPOILER in this review.

Following on from the events of Jessica Jones (and, tangentially, Daredevil) Marvel’s Luke Cage is a 2016 web series based on the Marvel Comic book character of the same name. The series stars Mike Colter (reprising from Jessica Jones) as the titular Luke Cage, on the run from his former life, an escaped prisoner attempting to make something of his life in Harlem, New York. Working against him are the duo of Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali), filling the streets with fear, and local politician Miriah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), who uses her public persona to campaign for safer streets (and, at times, less savory dealings).

+ after his early-bird cameo in Jessica Jones, it is fantastic to see a more fleshed out Luke Cage (Mike Colter). As the eponymous hero (for hire?) Colter brings a real sense of pride to the dirty Harlem streets; clean cut, no racial slurs or swearing and generally not wanting to resort to violence makes him arguably the most heroic of the Marvel Netflix trio thus far. The various patrons of Pop (Frankie Faison)’s barber shop are like real group of old friends, which add to the idea that Cage has really made an effort to start a new life properly
+ as far as villains go, Mahershala Ali as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes originally appears to be a discount Kingpin, but as the series progresses he becomes even more ruthless. His huge poster of the Notorious B.I.G. is fitting, as it is his goal to do more than someone of his social standing should be able to do. His pairing with Theo Rossi as Shades, a messenger of sorts, shows just how far Stokes is willing to go. Similarly, Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard is absolutely fantastic as someone to hate. She’s slimy, and confident in a way that you just can’t wait for her to get her comeuppance
+ plot wise, I found this to be much deeper than Daredevil and especially Jessica Jones. All the characters have their own motivations and endgames, and shifting alliances and a HUGE shake-up keep things interesting. With so many characters, it is no wonder that the game of chess is a running motif throughout the series
+ the hip-hop soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal. Fans of hip-hop, rap and even some blues now and then will find much joy in the songs chosen, both in-universe and as background to the action
+ I found the references to previous MCU characters and events, and especially the other Netflix series, to be far less hamfisted than someone straight up saying “that dude with the hammer” (though I think that phrase did come up, verbatim). Maybe this is just because more has happened on street level, but it was overall less jarring

– I’ll keep saying it until it is ever formally addressed, but when things are absolutely going to hell all over the streets, it is strange to not see Spider-Man or even Iron Man jump on in. Though I guess if they weren’t bothered by Frank Castle’s rampage they won’t care about this…
– not necessarily negatives, but it is strange that the events of The Avengers are still a major in-universe talking point whereas the events of Age of Ultron or Civil War are not mentioned

> It’s hard to ignore the parallels to current real world racial issues, though they are only rarely outright mentioned
> Rob Morgan as Turk Barrett, the arms dealer from Daredevil, makes a few more appearances, obviously getting sick of this superhero business

Should you watch this show: Yes. Despite the at-times anachronistic “blaxploitation” feeling, this series proves to be stronger than Jessica Jones and at least half of Daredevil so far. A more sympathetic hero makes for a more “comic book style” story to be told with less (but still stome) brooding on rooftops.

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