5 v. 5: The BAD from Netflix's Luke Cage
Luke Cage punched his way onto the MCU's stage with his own series September 30th. The series was met with mostly positive reviews and some mixed criticisms. We've been Good. Now, it's time to be Bad. Complete our latest 5 v 5: Luke Cage with the Bad.
If you haven't finished the show, check out Luke Cage, Black and Bulletproof for more about Power Man in our lead up to the show and finish watching. Come back when you're done.
We pit 5 things we liked against 5 things we didn’t like. These are some places the show fell a little flat. You decide which ones hit home and add your own in the comments. Your opinion is the one that matters!
In this 5v5, we pay homage to the style of Luke Cage and named each section after one of the greatest NYC hip-hop albums.
Sweet SPOILERS follow.
One: We were hoping for an Iron Fist Introduction
Enter the Wu-Tang
We love team-ups, especially of the superhero variety. We’re glad the series didn’t turn into a full team-up though. That is coming next with The Defenders. We still wanted to see some hints or at best an introduction to our next Netflix Marvel superhero. Jessica Jones did an awesome job of yielding some screen time to introduce a new hero without letting it take over her show. Iron Fist and Luke Cage are all but attached at the hip in Marvel comics. A little bit of Danny Rand would have had our inner fan boy smiling from ear to ear. At least, NYC Comic-Con did the job after the fact.
Two: A Straight Plot, Solid Twist
Licensed to Ill
The series had some slow moments where other Netflix/Marvel series have kept firing. We love the 10-15 episode formula as there is sufficient room to explore. There is not enough space for too much slow filler like in 24 episode series or the circular storytelling that plague those network shows. By having only one superhero, the show kind of loses a little steam in spots. Daredevil Season 2 and Jessica Jones both had some time to give to other major superheroes which really tickled our inner superhero fan.
The series also stayed a little too focused on one conflict type. Physical vs. Physical. Black Mariah even calls out Copperhead for not thinking outside the box with Luke Cage. If he is bulletproof, can he drown? Can he be electrocuted? We were hoping the villains would get a little more creative. Shooting a missile at him was pretty good, but we were hoping for a different type of conflict to be experimented with all together. The brilliance of Jessica Jones was the villain attacking a physically invulnerable hero psychologically. His power was mental and her power was physical. An opposite villain like The Purple Man was perfect for Jessica Jones. It made for a more compelling, dynamic conflict. Previous success of the Netflix Marvel shows led to a little higher expectations.
The Hammer Tech bullet lacked some suspense as they continued to use the device to threaten Luke Cage. Even in the final conflict, Diamondback comes at Luke Cage with a fist fight. There was more to explore. Black Mariah only scratched the surface with the more interesting, contrasting conflict we were hoping for.
Three: Bring More Ruckus!
If you're going to go with a physical v. physical conflict, the fight scenes really have to wow. The action left a little to be desired. The battle at the Crispus Attucks complex in series was the jam! The rest of the season was a B-side of MCU Netflix action. It wasn’t bad. Don’t get me wrong. It was was pretty good, but it’s easily in the bottom half of Netflix shows for action. It’s closer to Jessica Jones than either Daredevil for impressive action sequences. The Luke Cage trailers gave us the best action beats but the show never took it to the next level like Daredevil season 1 & 2.
The Diamondback fight just didn’t pack the punch we were hoping for from the show. Going in, we knew it would be a difficult task to find a suitable counter to Luke Cage’s physical powers and stay grounded. Diamondback matched punch for punch, provided personal conflict, but their strength of fist never really impressed. It was a lot of old style practical effects. Not bad, not great. Supplementing with some visual effects and real feats of strength would have been great. Remember, Harlem is where the Incredible Hulk fought the Abomination in an epic scale battle.
Four: Wanted More Visually Powerful After-Effects
It’s pretty clear from Luke Cage that the Netflix budget didn’t include the more expensive CGI. Practical effect dominated the action. Maybe they saved some money to use with Iron Fist. We don't know. Overuse of CGI is something we are cautious towards, preferring weight be given to story, character, and craft. But let’s also be honest, CGI really helps take superhero action to the next level. Watch the Captain America: Civil War behind the scenes of the airport scene vs the final version. It's amazing what they do with CGI to supplement now. Effects in films have never been better and it isn't all CGI - it's craft!
Luke Cage got away without requiring a bigger budget for effects. They used practical effects well, smashing cars, old school TV style editing - moving from a punch to the guy falling back into the broken car. It worked just fine and we didn’t have any major complaints. But we aren’t touting the amazing action in the series. In fact, we’re a little worried for Iron Fist. Iron Fist just won’t work without effects to show the magical mysticism of his martial arts - especially alongside Daredevil. The trailers do him justice so far but if that is the extent of it, it will definitely be a low point in the series.
Five: Heroes for Hire Need a Pay Raise
Paid in Full
Luke Cage never hit the high notes for a superhero genre show. It felt TOO grounded for us. The action was good but not great. The effects were ok but not outstanding. The show had exceptional style and a good story, but it remained a little bit too ground as a bi-product. The series worked best as more of a cultural, social look at Harlem than it did as a superhero show. We’re fine with that. But, we’re not in awe of the series because of it.
The superhero beats just didn’t impress enough for the show to work equally well on both street level cultural drama and a high octane superhero action show. For instance, arguably the best action beat was rooted significantly by the song choice and style, not necessarily the action.
It just didn’t go far enough to really stand out among excellent Netflix counterparts. Luke Cage made some excellent statements, had some emotional draw, some very human moments, but didn’t resound loudly enough. It sacrificed some of its superhero characteristics to remain a poignant, street level social drama. Where Daredevil has The Punisher and Jessica Jones had Luke Cage, this series didn’t bring anything big. Where Daredevil had The Kingpin and Jessica Jones had The Purple Man as genre-leading villains, Luke Cage had Copperhead, Diamondback, and Black Mariah. The later being the closest to the two previous acclaimed villains. Luke Cage’s hallway scene was the good but still the weakest of the Marvel Netflix shows.
If the show had introduced Iron Fist, pushed Misty toward her superhero status with a robotic arm, added some more impressive and more "super" action, we may be singing a different tune. Luke Cage was good. But the moments it spoke loudest still didn’t resound over previous Netflix/Marvel excellence. Good show, just didn’t stand out.
Now we're ready for Defenders!