5 v. 5: The GOOD 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, with some mixed criticisms. Luke Cage means so many things to a lot of different people.
To some he is Power Man a super strong, bulletproof superhero. To others, he is Luke Cage, a cultural icon and one of the most important black superheroes.
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.
Let’s get right to what we liked, the 5 Good from Luke Cage. Next, we'll look at 5 areas we hope Netflix and Marvel will improve to complete our latest 5 v 5: Luke Cage.
We pit 5 things we liked versus 5 things we didn’t like. You decide which ones hit home and add your own in the comments. 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.
Let’s start with the good. Sweet SPOILERS follow.
Five: Marvel Netflix Villains
Since Iron Man fought Iron Monger in the first big MCU film, detractors of the MCU have pointed to the villains. The MCU villains have been widely critiqued as weak. The Netflix Marvel TV show’s have not had that same stigma. Kingpin in Daredevil, the Punisher for most of Daredevil Season 2, and The Purple Man in Jessica Jones are each some of the best villains in comics and superhero shows on any screen, big or small.
Luke Cage picks up right where Jessica Jones left off. The series gives us three layered villains of different archetype. Cottonmouth comes right to the forefront of the the show. He has a depth, power, and struggle all his own. Mahershala Ali gives a good performance. Cottomouth drives the action and conflict in the story while yielding some of the stage to his political counterpart Black Mariah. The show builds towards its own big bad immediately as Cottonmouth yields power to an off-screen Big Bad, Diamondback.
Diamondback bursts onto the scene in the vacuum when Black Mariah’s tortured past and violent future come out for the first time. The plot unfolds to reveal not only two villains of different archetype. They each have their own merits on the show.
Diamondback has a personal connection with Luke Cage. He is a corrupted version of the hero Luke Cage, twisted by jealous rage and hate. They have history, but it is Alfre Woodard as Black Mariah that steals the show as the prominent villain.
Diamondback matches strength with Luke Cage. Black Mariah takes on our hero as an opposite villain, often the most interesting villains in the story. She is Lex Luthor to Cage's Superman. Black Mariah battles Luke Cage with subversive manipulation and uses her wits to escape our heroes. In the end, she is the one who stands tall. She leaves our heroes scattered and defeated as she slips out of their grip and outwits them.
Black Mariah is going to be a force in the NYC MCU, and we’re interested to see what role she may play in future Netflix/Marvel stories, Iron Fist and The Defenders. She is just getting started.
Four: Powerful Female Characters
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
For powerful as Luke Cage stands, it is the women in the series that drive our hero to act. The performances by Alfre Woodard, Simone Missick as Misty Knight, and Rosario Dawson's return as Claire Temple are the best of the series. Luke Cage is authentic and powerful. He is complimented by supporting characters that impact the series with their own distinct touch.
Black Mariah becomes his true villain. Misty Knight and Claire Temple become his most trusted allies. The actresses deliver powerful performances which overpower Power Man himself. Misty Knight is as much the hero of the show as Luke Cage fighting the same cause. The Night Nurse, Claire Temple, continues to be the Tony Stark of the NYC MCU coming in and out of each story tying them all together. She develops our heroes. In her final scene on the series, she might start taking some martial arts lessons, no doubt from a certain Defenders character.
We can’t wait to see how these femme fatales grow and interact with future stories and characters.
Three: Harlem Unite!
The Low End Theory
The characters in Luke Cage drive the success of the story and the show. Another big character in the show was Harlem. The style of the music, culture, and community mixed our heroes and villains to paint us a beautiful mural for the series. The flavor and culture of Harlem was on full display. The conflicts within the community drove our villains and heroes to action.
The dynamic culture and community moved not only the plot but set the tone and mood for the story. It was more than a strong man beating back villains like the Hulk dropping into Harlem just to destroy it. This story was about the hero of a community fighting for those who weren’t bulletproof. Luke Cage stands in face of the forces that would suppress the light of a vibrant community. Cottonmouth and Black Mariah fought to exploit this essential community. It was powerful in the show and it is powerful on the streets and corners of our own communities.
Two: Luke Cage, The Power Man
Ready to Die
We can’t continue without saying how much we enjoyed the man himself. There is room to improve which we will get into. But, the series did a very good job of recognizing what they had and not trying to be something it was not.
Luke Cage is not a character that needs some wild performance. His personality, motives, actions, and nuances are subtle. Luke Cage isn’t a highly layered character. He is powerful, solid - just like his abilities. He isn't a tortured soul. Michael Colter gives a very solid performance and notably doesn’t try to stray too far from the character. When the energy needed amped, Michael Colter came through and gave the character life. But, it isn’t high drama and Luke isn’t a fountain of emotional range. We liked that he stayed the charismatic Power Man. Luke Cage didn’t bend under the weight of a more established “movie star” into a reach performance. It doesn’t always have to be flashy. This was Luke Cage.
One: Easter Eggs & Foreshadowing
Luke Cage achieved something special. One one hand it displays its own very distinct tone and style. On the other hand, it felt like it explored more of the wider world of the MCU than previous Netflix/Marvel series. We love a rich, developed, cohesive world with hints, small goodies, and layered foreshadowing. Marvel is too big not to have a world filled with little hints, small interactions, and fun easter eggs. Here are some of our favorites.
Hammer Industries: Hammer Tech came back into the fold with numerous references. The "Judas bullet" was Hammer-tech. Hammer Tech also supplied Diamondback his power suit.
The Judas Bullet: Read this little bit at your own peril (fan theory that would ROCK the MCU). We felt like the show was setting the stage for this special bullet a little more than just able to kill Luke Cage. We just came out of Captain America: Civil War...would the MCU now use this tech to take out Steve Rogers? Perhaps in a big twist on the comics, Justin Hammer’s tech will be used to kill the MCU's golden boy, Iron Man, paving the way for a new lead to the MCU.
We don’t know but if you watch it closely and enjoy foreshadowing like we do...it kind of felt like there could be more to this thread. There are some compelling connections and similarities in the MCU to fuel this theory. We think it’s just a question of whether or not they want to pull the thread.
Heroes for Hire: with the barber shop now up for a new clientele, the series seems to set the stage for the Heroes for Hire. We hope so.
Misty Knight, the bionic Super Agent: This series almost went there. Almost. They talked about Misty losing her arm but just never quite made the move. In the comics, Misty Knight has a bionic arm which gives her a lot of action range. It gives her some physical superpower. While this hint was probably just a nod to the comics, we hope they go for it in future installments.
Come back; next we discuss the 5 Bad from Luke Cage. It was great but not perfect. We will dive deeper into some of the disappointments we came away from Luke Cage with.