Fans have been waiting to see Power Man take the screen for decades, and with Marvel’s Luke Cage finally dropping on Netflix the dream is now a reality. But did it live up to expectations and match the early hype? After making his debut as a key player in Jessica Jones Season 1, Mike Colter returns as the Hero for Hire in the making alongside a number of iconic Luke Cage comic characters including Simone Missick as Misty Knight, Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth, and Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard (a much improved spin on Black Mariah). And of course, the Netflix MCU’s secret weapon, Rosario Dawson‘s Claire Temple returned as the single thread tying all the Manhattan heroes together so far (and we got a hint of what will send her into Iron Fist territory next!)
The critical reception to Luke Cage has been pretty divided, with many commending the show’s courageous confrontation of race in America through the lens of superhero action while taking issue with the series’ narrative structure at large. I hate to say it, but I’m completely on board with these criticisms.
I had an interesting experience with Luke Cage. I watched the first five episodes in a set of screeners sent out to press last month and fell in love with it. The characters are phenomenally written and performed, the cinematography is gorgeous and sumptuous, and the soundtrack is a refreshing change of pace from your standard superhero fare with a vibrant pulse of hip-hop. But then I watched the last eight episodes over the last week, and the series as a whole revealed structural and storytelling issues that weren’t readily apparent in the first few episodes.
The show’s crippling weakness is the way it stalls and treads water, only to take the obvious path an episode later. It builds false conflicts that are immediately washed away or suddenly rendered irrelevant by the time the following episodes credits role. Very few of the episodes hold a compelling arc of their own, relying too heavily on serialized storytelling and the belief in an audience eager to binge-watch. And with all of Marvel’s Netflix series, it’s about four episodes too long, which leads to a lot of wheel-spinning and aimlessness in the back-third.
However, what Luke Cage gets absolutely right is its characters, who are fascinating; rendered with care and beauty. I’ve never seen so many bad ass women getting shit done in a single narrative and that is something to be admired. Forget about the Bechdel test, these women have careers and ethics and problems of their own, and while they’re all tied up in Luke Cage, they’re never defined by him. Cottonmouth and Shades make for two completely compelling villains, though they’re both somewhat underserved in the end, and as Cage himself, Colter is charming and strapping as ever. Which is what makes it so frustrating that Luke Cage gets the narrative so bungled, because there’s infinite promise in this cast and concept.
Bottom line, there’s a lot I like about Luke Cage, but I can’t love it. But enough from me, we want to hear what you guys think. Did the series live up to your hype? Do you think the criticisms are vaild? Do you wish the Netflix MCU would allow for more crossover? (It’s really hard to believe Jessica Jones would just sit out some of the third act stuff.) Sound off below with your thoughts!