TV show in review: “Marvel’s Luke Cage”

TV show in review: “Marvel’s Luke Cage”

Allison Mueller

Nathaniel Nelson / Winonan

Earlier this year, I was pretty negative about Marvel’s last Netflix offering, “Daredevil: Season Two.” In fact, I called it a “muddled and overstuffed narrative mess” and criticized a large portion of the season. That shoddy craftsmanship made me cautious about future offerings, which was only exacerbated after the completely mundane and narratively inept “Captain America: Civil War.” Then, suddenly, “Luke Cage” comes up to bat.

As Luke Cage would say, sweet Christmas.

“Luke Cage” is hands down the best thing Marvel has ever done. Now, I loved the first seasons of “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” with their unique blend of blockbuster superheroics and hard-boiled noir. But as for Cage? This show isn’t just a big step for Marvel. This is a big step for modern TV as a whole. By balancing audience-pleasing bombast and comic book action with a timely, political narrative and throwing in a splash of classic 1970s blaxploitation, Marvel Studios and producer/showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker have found lightning in a bottle.

“Luke Cage” centers on a black superhero of the same name, who after gaining bulletproof skin and super strength in prison, rejoins the outskirts of society to watch over the people of Harlem. The story is wonderful, unfolding at a pace that is simultaneously quick and restrained. It’s a perfect balance of development and action, and every episode manages to be a standout in one way or another.

The action is something else entirely. Unlike the martial arts and Korean action film inspired set pieces of “Daredevil” or the subdued simplicity of “Jessica Jones,” the action of “Luke Cage” takes full advantage of his bulletproof prowess. He’s not a martial arts master or an agile fighter. He doesn’t need to be. Cage can just walk. And that’s what he does. The sequences let Cage revel in his invulnerability, simply lumbering from point A to point B and leveling everything in his path. Occasionally, a fight will get a little bit choreographed, but that’s not the point. Cage is a hero who doesn’t need fancy moves, and it shows. That’s not to say the scenes are boring. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. These things get ridiculous, and they get that way fast. It’s an immaculate merger of style and substance, which is something that no superhero story has done well since “Batman Begins.”

The one thing I have to say about all of the Netflix/Marvel shows are that they all completely blow the films out of the water in the style department. “Daredevil” wore its Frank Miller inspiration with pride, and “Jessica Jones” was some straight-up hard-boiled noir ecstasy. “Luke Cage” takes a different approach, but in doing so sets itself apart. It’s biggest inspiration, from the character archetypes to the amazing soundtrack, is 1970s blaxploitation films. This is “Jackie Brown” meets “The Last Dragon,” or “Man with the Iron Fists” mixed with “Black Dynamite.” For any other hero this obviously wouldn’t have worked, but for Cage, the style fits like a glove. It’s interesting, hilarious and unapologetically black.

That brings me the real accomplishment of the show: Its immaculate handling of race. With the political climate as it is, we’ve been needing a good minority hero for some time. After years of white guys named Chris taking the lead, it’s refreshing to see Marvel Studios diversify their heroes. Not only that, but it’s not just a simple race swap. “Luke Cage” is as political as a show can get. Racial politics are everywhere in the show, from Cage’s treatment in prison by a racist psychopath to the constant struggle between black men and police. This is a hero whose trademark look is a bullet hole-ridden hoodie, and that kind of symbol speaks for itself. “Luke Cage” is the exact kind of superhero show we need right now.

This show is a triumph in every sense of the word. It just oozes style, which is a welcome change of pace from the relatively lackluster and bland Marvel Cinematic Universe aesthetic. The story and characters are well crafted, and even the side characters constantly get moments to shine. More than anything, “Luke Cage” is a story of what it’s like to be a black man in America, and that’s where the show really stands out. This is the progressive kind of superhero show we’ve been missing, and for Marvel’s sake, I hope it’s not the last. 5/5

-By Nathaniel Nelson