Another half year, another series from Marvel and Netflix; and this time it’s Luke Cage up to bat. Unlike the previous series for Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the character of Luke Cage was already introduced in its precursor Jessica Jones. So how does the series stack up to the rest? Is it unique enough? Is it familiar enough? Can it stand on it’s own?
The short answer: HELL YES! *puts money in the swear jar*
In terms of characters, story, pacing, flavor and even relevancy to current social issues, Luke Cage knocks it out of the park in every way and becomes the greatest Marvel TV/ Netflix series yet. So let’s go over just what makes this series so wonderful – without any Spoilers of course – in this Spoiler Free Review & Primer of Luke Cage.
Characters Development & Pacing – Heroes & Villains & POWERFUL Women:
Again, we’ve already met the main character Luke in its predecessor series Jessica Jones, and just like there, Luke is still the smoothest character there is. From meeting Luke again here to seeing him grow through the series, he becomes the most likeable character in any Marvel TV series. Though we also have to bring up supporting characters of the series. Whereas Jessica Jones got off track with its side stories sometimes and resulted with no valuable pay off, everything with Luke Cage is connected and supporting characters are there to support and challenge Luke each step of the way while also bringing life to Harlem.
As for villains, this series doesn’t make you wait to introduce the series villain – or should I say villains. From the start you’ll get an early sense of who to watch out for and the problems they’ll cause. Though at no point to they stay stagnant. Their motivations and angles will grow, thus making them less of a one hit wonder and more of a rapid-fire takedown. But stay vigilante, because much like how we waited a few episodes before finally meeting Kingpin and Killgrave, there may be a 3rd villain lying in wait to take on Cage.
Though one thing that will become amply clear very quickly in this series is the host of powerful, well-written female characters. In fact, at times this series has more powerful female characters and interactions than Jessica Jones did. From powerful police chiefs to corrupt politicians, Luke and his primary nemesis might be male, but there are a host of powerful women trying to take him down as well as watch his back.
This all bring us to the series pacing. Whereas Jessica Jones dragged on at points and Season 2 of Daredevil fragmented a little too much, Luke Cage is like a snowball rolling down the hill. Each event feeds into the other and it becomes less of a “when will this get resolved” but rather a cycle of impressive resolution and resurgence that take the plot somewhere you never thought it would go. Nothing is dragged out and every moment of every episode is loaded with importance.
A United Universe – What Jessica Jones Failed At:
As I mentioned in my Spoiler Free Review of Jessica Jones, one of the biggest problems I personally had with the series was how it tried to promote Jessica as this “Hell’s Kitchen Hero” and yet Daredevil doesn’t show up once AND the vast majority of the series doesn’t hide the fact that it took place in the Lower East Side. That paired with a host of other issues – reactions to powered people, etc – made Jessica Jones a series better viewed OUTSIDE of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Luke Cage as a series not only suffers none of that, but also makes up for it by not only existing in the world created by Daredevil and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also inviting Jessica Jones into the fold as a pivot series in this universe. What Luke Cage as a series does is more than just insert movie Easter Eggs (which there are a lot of) and bringing back Claire Temple (the Agent Coulson of the Netflix Mini-verse) in her biggest role yet. If Daredevil set up the criminal underground of the New York landscape, Luke Cage exists within it and around it. There will be cameos and there will be name drops to gangs we’ve met in Daredevil even though it openly embraces happening in an entirely different part of the city. This is the same criminal underground and Luke Cage takes that to a whole new level and brings about repercussions that are sure to have dire consequences for the future of all of these Netflix series that exist within this universe. Though despite these wide reaching repercussions, this series is all about its shining star – Harlem!
Setting – The Life, Color & Music Of Harlem:
Much like how Daredevil Season 1 made it a point to make Hell’s Kitchen just as big of a character as any of the others, so too does Luke Cage aim to make Harlem an important character in this series. Even if they never said it, you can tell this isn’t Hell’s Kitchen in every way. Instead of nothing but dark and gritty streets after dark or gray overcast skies, Luke Cage shows Harlem at all times and all angles. There isn’t just an abundance of bright daytime scenes (which is a very welcome addition to the Netflix universe) but also a stellar effort to portray the look, feel and sounds of Harlem properly.
This isn’t just shown in the speeches about the neighborhood (we you’ll get much like you got in Daredevil) but rather in every waking moment. Every character, every relationship, every show of solidarity paints the picture for you. This isn’t just two people fighting over THEIR idea of a neighborhood (as we saw in Murdock vs Fisk) but rather every character showing what this city means to them as well as what it represents.
This is best seen in the musical choice for the series, which blends seamlessly with the story as a fair amount of time takes place in a nightclub called Harlem Paradise – which you will learn in the first minutes. By making this a key locale, it allows for multiple transitions that feature a classic or up-and-coming Jazz/ R&B musician/ singer. Harlem might have its dark street corners, but it also has a wealth of beauty, talent and spirit. Luke Cage never fails to show how its characters live and breathe in Harlem, and how Harlem lives and breathes in each of them.
Tackling Actual Social Concerns – Killings, Cops, Violence & Mob Mentality:
The final thing to note in this series is how it tackles real world social concerns going on now. I can in no way begin to describe all the hell that’s been going on in the world: from cop shootings, violence against blacks and a swelling rise of mob mentality spurred on by politicians. Though this series takes on each one in one way or another and tries to remind people that not only are we all the same, but that it’s important to find the truth and move forward – always. Luke Cage is very much the hero we need right now and it’s a series we need as well.
Is Luke Cage an entertaining series? Yes
Is Luke Cage a socially and morally relevant series? Yes
Is the writing of Luke Cage well crafted enough to provide both and yet not seem forced at any point? Yes
This is why Luke Cage is not only a great series, but also the best series Marvel has put out yet. So find yourself some time and start streaming!