This past weekend, Marvel and Netflix’s latest work, Luke Cage, was released, and by all reports it has been a smash hit. A number of my friends have been going on about how awesome and badass it is. I see what they mean, but, at the same time, part of me is like, “It wasn’t that great.”
This is one of those moments where I think I should be quick to make myself clear, lest someone take that the wrong way. 😛
I liked Luke Cage. I even loved Luke Cage at times. But it wasn’t like this “perfect” masterpiece, ya know?
If you will kindly please refrain from killing me for saying that, at least until after I have explained myself… 😉
To start off… I think this may be the most unique addition yet to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in several ways.
I mentioned before, back in my first review of Daredevil, how the “Defenders” series they’re putting together on Netflix has been much more ground level than the movies or TV shows. Daredevil delved practically below the ground level, and Jessica Jones had a distinct everyday-life sort of texture to it. Luke Cage is simply street level. As in, this story is about perfectly normal people on perfectly normal streets. It’s a “normal” that is hard, rough, tough, sometimes bloody without warning, and full of life. I could genuinely believe pretty much everything about this setting. And still there was something romantic to it, to this place where sinners and saints and celebrities and everyone else all mix together freely, that made it even more compelling.
This made the story, especially with these characters – ADD moment: brilliant performances by the actors all around – all the more real and riveting.
…well, I say “riveting.” The first half of the series was exactly that, but later episodes took so many twists and turns and even retread some ground, and by the time we reached the conclusion, it was dragging and dragging, this ordeal going on and on and on. Just like real-life ordeals, and I was almost afraid to reach “the end.” Which is a double-edged sword, but also quite the accomplishment. Most of all, I think that might have been deliberate, to drive home the weight of Luke Cage’s story.
And what a weight it is. I don’t want to spoil anything, but…
Daredevil and Jessica Jones and pretty much every other superhero story involves the hero struggling mightily against insurmountable odds, taking hits and losses along the way, and finally emerging in absolute triumph over his or her foes. Luke Cage does not do that. Luke Cage tells the story of a man who wants to live a normal, quiet life, but takes up a responsibility, and it’s a heavy burden, with unexpected difficulties. It tells the story of a neighborhood that wants to be greater than it is, and that is the source of their collective strength even while madmen run loose. It tells the story of people trying to do the right thing, fighting hard for it. And it tells the story that tells us all that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, how strong you are, how right you get things, how lucky you get, what victories you achieve, or what losses you suffer… sometimes you still lose.
At the same time, sometimes you can survive that loss, and come back stronger for it.
So, as I said, very different. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There’s the culture on display, there’s the music, which is phenomenal but also a little tiring after twelve hours of it, there’s the nature of the enemies Luke faces, the struggle he deals with, and how it all comes down to something personal for everyone involved. It’s not the grand ideals, and it’s not even money that drives people, it’s something within themselves.
And somewhere in all of this is how Luke Cage himself stands both as a black superhero and as a public figure without a mask, doing his thing in the streets of Harlem.
All of that together makes this show feel pretty enriched, culturally. I can see why people are raving about it.
But it really did feel like we were slogging our way through the later episodes. This is not least because of the switch up in villains. The antagonists who were introduced early on felt more complex, while the “big bad” of the show, the “final boss,” felt like he had this lifelong obsession with destruction just because he had daddy issues, which he never shut up about. He might have been mentally unstable and physically dangerous, but I didn’t really find him all that interesting. There wasn’t anything subtle, charismatic, symbolic, or redeeming to him. Even more, he just wasn’t very entertaining.
I also wasn’t a fan of Luke’s couplings (plural). Maybe I’m just a fan of Luke and Jessica. After he played such a big part in her show, it rubbed me a little wrong that she did not, apparently, play a part in his. And then, not only do they not even bring her in, they give him a quick pair-up with Mercedes Knight, which was needless but still believable, and then shoehorn in a slow-boiling, and rather “said” and not “shown,” attraction with Claire Temple? I’m sorry, but could they not have left at least one of those couples as just friends, please? Did they have to muddy things up like that?
I did like other aspects of how they treated both women, giving them legitimate personal arcs that were entirely separate from their love lives. I’d go into details, but that goes into spoilers. 😉 Suffice to say, outside their attachments to Luke, I was pleased.
And back on the note about villains: I was oddly satisfied that they did not succeed in taking down all of the villains this time, and not all of the defeated villains are dead. Marvel’s had a tendency to go lethal on them, leaving them with limited windows to develop and explore them, and always needing to scramble for more, not always doing them justice. This time around, good and evil had a small war, and though that war finished, the fight is waiting for both sides to enter the ring again and resume. Future developments promise to be most intriguing, and it will be so much more satisfying when the bad guys eventually get their comeuppance.
So even when they didn’t get things exactly “right” in this show, they didn’t get them necessarily “wrong” either.
In the end, I simply enjoyed Luke Cage, and I can appreciate everything it is and represents. It’s generally well-crafted, with great skill, interesting and entertaining. It stands out from a crowd that is already pretty diverse, unique and strong. Is it perfect? No. But it’s pretty good.
I have my hopes for what they might do in the future, and I am excited to see what happens. Heck, we might see something of Luke again sooner than expected, if they establish his friendship with Danny Rand in the upcoming Iron Fist, to be released in April, soon followed by the much-anticipated Defenders, bringing all our Marvel-Netflix heroes together. 🙂
But for Luke Cage, alone, on its own two feet:
Rating: 8 stars out of 10.
Grade: Solid B.