Never mind the slow pace or the total lack of action to even qualify as a superhero series, Luke Cage is soon going to be counted as perhaps the best timed show in the television history. At a time when the United States is being roiled by racial unrest with the black community’s plunging confidence in the police, Netflix has brought to us a hero, a black, bulletproof man. The show gets 10/10 points for the irony itself.
Luke Cage (played by Mike Colter) is the third superhero to come out of the Netflix-Marvel marriage after Daredevil and Jessica Jones and it still seems unbelievable that these shows also belong in the same universe as those of Avengers, Captain America and Thor movies. The stark contrast between the fluffy and over-the-top, multi-million dollar- budget films and these, earthy, subtle television shows will confuse anyone. And for this very reason, I’d prefer the series over movies any day.
The day Netflix announced the show, a lot of people were left wondering how will they ever manage to churn out 13 episodes off a side character from Jessica Jones. We already knew about his powers and that he is so messed up because his wife has died. What new and exciting could happen to his story that deserves an entire series to be told? Will they go back in time and talk about his origin? That’s the only exciting premise we could think up. But the show’s makers’ are way ahead of us. The show is set in present day Harlem, a black-dominated neighbourhood in New York, and the flashbacks to Luke’s origin story happen in moderations.
The season takes off a few months after the Jessica-Kilgrave stand off and Luke has now taken sanctuary with a trusting old owner of a barber shop in Harlem. He wishes to live an ordinary life to the end of his days as is the dream of all superheroes. But trouble follows him there too.
He rubs the wrong people, arms dealer Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) and his cousin, Counsilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) the wrong way. The clash wrecks havoc on his life and those he cares about. It is now only in his power to restore peace in the community which he does by using his fists. But delivering justice is not that easy. There are corrupt officials, a faulty judicial system, powerful men and the mistrust of the people of his own community that he must defeat in his journey.
And this journey will test your patience. The initial five episodes are excruciatingly slow with the story gaining momentum in the sixth episode and reaching peak excitement with episode 7. The episode number vs excitement graph starts declining again, crashing miserably with the last two episodes. The fights and the action aren’t the highlight of the show but they are still effective enough. Luke Cage doesn’t have laser eyes or grows into a green monster but you are still intimidated by his raw power.
I say ‘intimidating’ but only for those who cross him the wrong way. Mike Colter gives a genuine human quality to the character which you wouldn’t really expect in a man who can lift boulder likes cardboard boxes. Colter is restrained, balanced, lovable and demands from you a respect which will come in very handy when he joins forces with his other superhero mates for The Defenders.
There is a shadow of Wilson Fisk in Cottonmouth except that this one is only slightly more narcissistic. He tries his best to be intimidating but his human side always manages to seep through the cracks. Therefore, he could never be the monster that was Wilson Fisk. However, Ali does a perfect job at playing this imperfect villain.
Harlem, a character in itself, is more realistically portrayed than Hell’s Kitchen. The same pivotal spots in the narrative, like the Barber Shop and Harlem Paradise (a club), play witness to almost all the major events. This tool made the neighbourhood seem actually like a neighbourhood unlike in Daredevil where I had to google Hell’s Kitchen’s area to figure out how big could a neighbourhood be?
Given the slow pace of the series, you will most likely give up way before you even reach the half-way point. But I suggest that you hang in there. Make sure you don’t miss out on being part of the history. And how will you know if you are part of one? Just look around for people wearing hoodies with signs of tell tale gunshot holes and you’ll know.
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