Other than seeing Method Man making a brief cameo and switching Luke’s bullet riddled sweatshirt, the best thing about Marvel’s latest superhero (although Cage wouldn’t agree with me) adaptation on Netflix is filled with an awesome soundtrack and heroes for the present time and age.
Introduced in Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) gets his own show where he tries to rebuild his life in Harlem. He meets Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) again and deals with nightclub owner Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes (Mahershala Ali), politician Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), a criminal from Luke’s past named Shades (Theo Rossi) and a pair of detectives (Simone Missick and Frank Whaley).
The show — the third Netflix series to concentrate on a character from the entertainment juggernaut’s vault of comic book heroes — isn’t perfect. At times it’s messy and bloated, in need of another edit. And it’s not especially different in structure from its predecessors, Jessica Jones and Daredevil.
But in the moments when Luke Cage clicks, it delivers a story with a complex social commentary on a topic that it doesn’t normally touch: blackness. The titular protagonist is, of course, a black superhero. But the series explores the vulnerability of black lives to make an important point about its extraordinary man with indestructible skin.
Nightclub owner Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes is a viper in a tailored suit, violence pressed in elegance. His cousin Mariah Dillard is a councilwoman, a volatile giantess hiding behind impassioned speeches about community, families, and neighbourhoods. The two control Harlem, and Luke Cage, our hero, is a seemingly regular man just trying to lay low by taking a job at a barbershop.
The series’ harsher moments contain searing flashes of inescapable imagery. Cage’s bullet-riddled hoodie calls to mind real-world deaths like that of Trayvon Martin. A mysterious Tuskegee-like experiment in prison is what gave Cage his powers, an experiment he signed up for but had no idea what it entailed.
It’s impossible to look at Cage and the hoodie he wears and not think of the disturbingly frequent killings of unarmed black men and boys that continue to dominate real-world headlines. This world is designed to consume black life, spit it out and create villains like Cottonmouth and Dillard who have seen the odds stacked against them and whose only way to achieve power is to circumvent the law and bend the system.
Luke Cage is a story about a superhero with indestructible black skin. That’s what helps him survive. But the series’ most thorough point and what makes Cage a hero isn’t his ability or superpowers but his resilience.
All thirteen episodes are musical albums as much as they are one story. Each episode has roughly more than 20 minutes worth of music, which is a lot of music to cover in just a short period of days. Music is a huge part of the series; it’s like a character. And according to the series producers, the music has been influenced by the likes of Wu Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest A$AP Ferg and Method Man.
Race matters in Luke Cage, but especially in the way that the show fully embraces its Harlem location with style and substance. There’s an intimacy of place here and it extends to all corners of the series in cultural specificity and details. The idea of Luke Cage not just as a hero, but as a black superhero, is important here.
The series is by far a social commentary that takes on a powerful stance in the public. Luke Cage is by far the boldest move taken by Marvel.