A little over two weeks ago, Harlem’s Hero for Hire broke onto the scene (and broke Netflix in the process), becoming the fourth Marvel series on Netflix since the debut of Jessica Jones and Daredevil seasons 1 & 2. Having appeared quite heavily in the former, we had been introduced to the character in relation to Jessica Jones but this time around the Power Man got his very own show.
Here are my thoughts on the first season of Marvel’s Luke Cage. Caution: So. Many. Spoilers.
What it got right
Essence of the show
What I enjoyed about Marvel’s Luke Cage the most is that while it operates in the same universe as Jessica Jones and Daredevil, it feels considerably different. A little less dark and grimy and a little more bright and hopeful. But with villains hiding in plain sight.
Luke Cage shows Harlem as a community and depicts a superhuman hero attempting to be their saviour. A bulletproof Shaft.
It goes without saying that an indestructible man with incredible strength can only be truly tested by having hoards of bad guys coming at him. Marvel’s Luke Cage has several of these moments, and as you would expect, he swats them away like flies. Mike Colter’s physically is already quite intimidating but there is a scene where a bad guy literally breaks his hand on Luke Cage’s face. It’s beautiful.
There’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing a bunch of bad guys with guns having no clue how to beat one guy, and subsequently having their asses handed to them in the most epic way imaginable. It’s very reminiscent of the way Hulk smashes through the Chitauri in The Avengers. Which brings up a very interesting and important question: who would win in a fight between Hulk and Luke Cage?
While we ponder that…
I knew as soon as I heard Ol Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” in an early trailer that Marvel’s Luke Cage was going to have an excellent soundtrack. I expected an array of early 90’s hip hop, but we were also treated to some soulful RnB and jazz in several scenes that took place at Cottonmouth’s club “Harlem’s Paradise.”
Everything from special guest appearances by Faith Evans and Method Man, to each episode title being a song title by East Coast rap group Gangstarr, the hip hop influence is there for all to see.
Also, this beautiful symbolism courtesy of the King of New York, Notorious B.I.G and the would be king, Cottonmouth:
Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes
I don’t know what it is about these Marvel Netflix shows, but the bad guys always intrigue me more than anything else. Kingpin in Daredevil. Kilgrave in Jessica Jones. Cottonmouth in Luke Cage. I think it has to do with the villain’s being truly damaged human beings. Kingpin’s troubled past with his abusive dad. Kilgrave and his parents’ experiments on him. There is always an episode that details just what created the monster. Marvel’s Luke Cage is no different.
Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes played by Mahershala Ali, a talented pianist who was brought up by his Aunt Mabel, was introduced to a world of violence, encouraged to kill his Uncle Pete. But Cottonmouth is perhaps the most complex character in Marvel’s Luke Cage, as shown when one of his henchmen unloads on Pop’s Barbershop and subsequently killing Pop in the process. With Pop being a childhood friend of Cottonmouth’s, he throws his henchman off the rooftop of his building. That’s redeeming. But then he takes a bazooka, with the aim of killing Luke Cage in his apartment building. That’s a little less redeeming.
Like I said: complex. But this is what makes Cottonmouth an intriguing character who <MASSIVE SPOILER – Seriously why are you reading this if you have not watched the show> was killed off way too soon in the series.
I’ll miss him and his infectious laugh:
Luke Cage’s chemistry with everyone
Say what you want about Mike Colter’s acting, the dude has incredible chemistry with pretty much everyone in the show. The conversation he has with Misty Knight in the pilot – naturally leading to them sleeping together – was filled with smooth sexual tension. In flashbacks, we see his relationship with Reva in prison – also great chemistry. Claire Temple, played by Rosario Dawson, reunites with Luke Cage after they appeared together in Jessica Jones and they have such an obvious attraction to one another that makes for great viewing.
All that aside, the best chemistry comes to fruition in the form of Luke Cage and Cottonmouth. Each and every scene with the two of them together kept my full attention. Two men from opposite sides, with different motives, different strengths and different weaknesses, but are equal in terms of the one’s heroism compared to the one’s villainy.
Strong female characters
Despite our hero and villains being men, much can be said about the strong female characters that emerge from Marvel’s Luke Cage. Detective Misty Knight is a strong, no nonsense detective who has can own you in a fight and on the basketball court. She is integral to the role the police force plays in the entire first season, and has a few great scenes with Claire Temple, another strong female character who is introduced in the show by beating the crap out of a dude trying to mug her. We’ve been fortunate to see Claire in all of the previous Marvel Netflix shows.
But it’s not just the good side with some strong female representation. Flashback scenes of Mama Mabel showed she was quite revered in the neighbourhood, pruning flowers and fingers as if they were one and the same. Her niece, Mariah, who is running for Mayor, also proves to be quite a force to be reckoned with as she formed a formidable partnership with Shades after killing her cousin Cottonmouth – proving the Queen can take the crown too.
Shades as a surprise revelation
Cottonmouth was my standout performer but Shades was a hot contender for that spot. His history with Luke Cage at Seagate, his dealings with Diamondback and Cottonmouth as well as his relationship with Mariah meant he was always going to be integral in the show’s progression. But his cool and professional demeanour along with his calculated string-pulling behind the scenes actually made him steal some scenes on quite a few occasions. His character was quite a revelation and a consistent part of the show’s success.
What it got wrong
My one regret is that Cottonmouth, such a memorable villain in his own right, was not brought to justice by Luke Cage, but rather killed by his own cousin Mariah in a moment of blind rage. This was the weakest point of the entire season for me and a huge turning point. I had invested so much into Cage and Cottonmouth being the primary protagonist and antagonist, having one killed off so suddenly, meant that I had to shift my focus to Diamondback being the main villain in the series.
Unmoved by Diamondback
Of course, it might just be my own bias as I had enjoyed Cottonmouth’s turn as the main villain, but Diamondback did very little for me and as a result I found the climax to be considerably weak. I get that Diamondback and Luke Cage has history and that Diamondback was Cottonmouth’s benefactor, but his presence at the cost of Cottonmouth did more harm to the first season than anything else. For me, the villain ranking in season one goes as follows: Cottonmouth #1, Shades #2, Diamondback #3.
Overall, Luke Cage did a lot right, but it swung and missed with a few integral parts of what could have been an amazing first season. What are your thoughts? Did you enjoy Marvel’s Luke Cage? Let us know in the comments below.