Last Friday, Netflix released the first 13 episodes representing season one of “Luke Cage”. This is now the third series they have done based on Marvel characters and the 4th season overall as Daredevil has two seasons. Daredevil was the start. I wrote about that show here and it was nothing short of BRILLIANT. Daredevil was followed by the Netflix original series Jessica Jones, about a would be hero turned detective with super strength and an intuitive mind. Both of these first two series were based in Hell’s Kitchen NYC and had some crossover content. Jessica Jones introduced us to the title character of this latest series, Luke Cage. Luke was in fact a pretty significant part of the plot in Jessica Jones. That show was also BRILLIANT. I reviewed Jessica Jones, here.
As we learned in Jessica Jones and the Marvel Comics of course, Luke Cage is the result of an experiment that went wrong yet created in him bulletproof skin and extreme strength.
Well true to Marvel form, when introducing new characters they build them into a contiguous story line and narrative before spinning them off. Luke Cage is set in Harlem NY and this ties into the end of Jessica Jones as we see leave Hell’s Kitchen (his bar in ruins) and he is humbly and quietly working “under the radar” at the close of that series. These shows all tie into the Marvel universe that is being portrayed in the Feature Films , ABC’s Agents of Shield and other current Marvel plot lines. It’s all so seamlessly integrated into the overall Marvel Universe story.
This new Netflix show follows the other two into the dark and gritty. Netflix likes to take this to the R rating level with edgy violence, some partial nudity in some saucy sex scenes, and R rated words including a widespread use of the “N” word. That latter usage however seems to be utilized well within the context of the story and is by no means used in an egregious manner. This is not a Wolf of Wall Street F-bomb type thing at all.
The first episode starts out really slow. DO NOT let that stop you from watching the rest of this series. This is 13 hours of content. The equivalent of five full length movies. The first episode and a half spends time developing our devious and delicious villains and the supporting characters that will complete the plot. The show does have a proper “conclusion” but also leaves several potential second season plot lines open through an ambiguous “end” to certain characters. It is thus far as its two predecessors have been, BRILLIANT.
The characters in this series are complex and written very deep. You get to do this when you have thirteen episodes not driven by individual episodic success but by the collective content of the whole season. The writers get to dive into the development of these characters to a level you rarely find on regular television and even in the movies. Simone Missick is killing it as Misty Knight. Who she is veiled in the beginning so I will not give away who she is (Marvel fan-boys already know).
The scenes are largely dark and ominous, but there are beautiful bright sunny scenes as well showing a vibrant Harlem community that works and plays in the foreground. The people go about their daily business despite the sinister activities lurking in the night and in the shadows. This show dives in to local politics better than any of the other Netflix series featuring Marvel Universe stories and perhaps better than any Marvel franchise ever has. This is a show with intellectual political villains as well as tradition “powered” evil villains. This villainy was so well done it literally carries the show.
Thus far we have two villains. The first is a politician, the second a gangster boss. The two are related and have an interesting relationship. These villains are well written and deeply developed within the first few episodes. They are not simple, single-minded villains. They are complicated and in some ways conflicted. They have a false sense of morality that permeates and clouds the things they do. As a side note: guess the age of actress Alfre Woodard, playing Black Mariah. No Googling… yeah, I did a double take on her birth date. 1952? Yes friends Harry S. Truman was still in office and Eisenhower had just been elected. Wow she looks fabulous for 63 years old. And she is all over this Villain role.
Our protagonist is equally complex. As best as my knowledge allows, this appears to be a pretty good adaptation of Luke Cage from the comics. Luke Cage was born in Harlem and ended up at one point in Seagate Prison and part of Stryker’s heinous experiments. There is some dialog at one point in an early episode where Luke is asked where he’s from, his response was initially, “Chicago”. Pops replies, “you ain’t from no Chicago” Luke then says “Savannah, Georgia”. Now this does not mean Luke was “born” there so the integrity of the Marvel universe remains intact. Was the “Chicago” answer an Easter Egg nod to the second adaptation of this character in 1992, who did hail from Chicago after leaving New York?
We will learn a great deal about Luke Cage’s origin story in a series of flashback memories. The director also utilizes flash forward and even uses the same flash forward scene twice before actually continuing the story from that point. An interesting but by no means novel use of the flash forward technique. Yet this is used in conjunction with the flashback style of origin story telling that helps us learn about Luke. Despite all this plot and narrative complexity, it just seems to flow well. It works.
This is another huge win for Netflix and yet another feather in the cap of Marvel Entertainment’s epic success story.