Nothing like a Bulletproof Black Man who isn’t afraid…
That’s the story of LUKE CAGE, the latest Marvel entry into the Netflix world. After Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Luke Cage takes center stage, moving the superhero business from midtown New York to uptown Harlem! Otherwise known as the “Wu-Tangification” of the Marvel universe, the Cage series is a wonderful expose’ into Black culture and history – the historical significance of Harlem expertly merged with the realities currently experienced by Black folk in America today.
Luke Cage is a beautifully shot and wonderfully crafted show that is able to unite the ‘Blaxploitation’ roots of the comic book and character – offering the hope, beauty and power of Black life all set to a wonderful musical soundtrack.
Perhaps influenced by shows like “The Wire” and “New York Undercover,” showrunner/ producer Cheo Hodari Coker shows off his love of Black culture with an uncanny proficiency in screenwriting/storytelling and direction. Outside of the Marvel movie and character references, Coker was allowed to bring his vision to the screen, making this series unapologetically about Luke Cage, Harlem, the fight for his people and who he wants to become.
For those who may not know, Luke Cage was a superhero created in the 70’s as an homage to the Blaxploitation and black power movements. Just imagine Shaft or Superfly with super powers. In this alliteration, Luke Cage is an ex-cop, who is framed for a crime and while in prison is experimented upon with a type of the super soldier serum that made Captain America.
His journey leads him to Harlem and in the effort to find himself, he becomes Harlem’s knight. This show isn’t groundbreaking because it mainly features Black characters, but it becomes important and self-aware because of its execution of Black culture, politics and life with well-defined roles and story – addressing racism, gentrification, police profiling, an underworld economy under the guise and banner of Marvel/MCU.
Perhaps the best thing about the series was the great acting performances throughout. Starting with Luke Cage, played by Mike Colter, we are watching a star in the making. Colter is a gentle giant with a strong intelligence and hero’s mentality, aspects that are greater than his super powers. His portrayal is eerily accurate to the comics, with many nods to his comic book look and persona littered throughout the series. Colter’s infectious personality combined with Cage’s journey merge into a wonderful soliloquy.
But the real power of the series may be in the plethora of strong Black female characters. Misty Knight played by Simone Missick is as tenacious as she is vulnerable. The show does a great job showing her visual abilities to detect a crime scene, and her sexiness is as powerful and lovely as Pam Grier in Foxy Brown.
Mariah Dillard (aka Black Mariah) played by Alfre Woodard is a major antagonist for Luke Cage in the comics, and her growth from altruist to willing villain is matched only by the Kingpin in the Daredevil series as a conflicted baddie.
Rosario Dawson is the common thread weaved throughout this Marvel Netflix universe as the “Night Nurse” aka Claire Temple. She is hardnosed, charismatic and owns every scene she appears. The energy between her role and Cage is electric.
But unlike the Marvel movies, what the Netflix series does superbly is establish well-defined villains. Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth is incredible! He is as irrational as he is ruthless… fallible as he is evil.
Shades, played by Theo Rossi, is the wild card and perhaps the glue of the series as his motivations aren’t fully defined, but that’s what makes his character special. “Pops” (Frankie Faison), ‘Bobby Fish’ (Ron Cephas Jones) and Willis “Diamondback” Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey) round out this great cast.
Some of the other highlights besides the many ‘Easter eggs’ of Black culture and the Marvel universe, are Coker’s use of a myriad of camera angles and musical influences to connote the emotionality of the series. The angles impose feelings of control, dominance, power, and destruction while the music underlies the show’s soul and passion.
It would have been easy to have rap as the main influence, since every episode was named after rap songs made by Gang Starr, but they did not handcuff themselves. The performances range from soul to rap, and from old school to new artists to provide a creative balance for the series.
In the end, “Luke Cage” (aka Power Man) gives the viewer everything we could have wanted and more. So I got nothing but ”Bulletproof Love” for you Luke Cage and as Method Man says in the rhyme, “The streets got your back!”
Darryl King is a video director, film writer and avid Marvel/DC comic book/movie lover. Check out his reviews of Suicide Squad, Batman: The Killing Joke, and Captain America: Civil War right here on MMT.