Luke Cage: The Evolution of A Hero (spoiler free review)

Mike Colter brings a quiet rage to Luke Cage.

The series was my least favorite of the Marvel Netflix shows, but Luke is my favorite character of the four  (“Sweet Christmas!”).  Not only is he one of the four main heroes of the upcoming Defenders series, but Mike Colter brings Cage to life with a subtle, quiet, powerful gravitas as a guy who never intends on being a hero.  He is just trying to do the right thing reluctantly.  A bit different take from his performance in Jessica Jones, he is still true to character.  He continues to evolve from that first series into his own and watching that evolution is particularly enjoyable.

(L to R) Misty Knight, Claire Temple, Luke Cage, Mariah Dillard, Shades Alvarez, and Cottonmouth Stokes

Luke is trying to come to terms with his past.  Being an escaped convict, he is just attempting to stay low.  Luke Cage isn’t even his real name.  It’s Carl Lucas, a former police officer who was framed and wrongly convicted.  After being sent to prison, he is set up and nearly dies but is saved by an experimental procedure which also turns him nearly invulnerable.  The show follows Luke after he tries to set himself up in a new place after his bar explodes in Jessica Jones.  He returns to Harlem and works quietly in Pops Barbershop until events force him to square off against a series of different villains.

Misty notices Luke’s shirt is full of bullet holes, but no wounds

The acting in Luke Cage is the strength of the show.  Besides Mike Colter the show features Mahershala Ali as “Cottonmouth” Stokes, Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard, Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, Simone Missick as Misty Knight, and Theo Rossi as “Shades” Alvarez. All of them are outstanding. The one weakness was Erik LaRay Harvey as Diamondback, Luke’s primary physical foe.  Harvey plays Diamondback as a comic book character – unnecessarily bombastic with a weak backstory.  Even though he is the biggest physical threat to Luke, he is obviously little more than the muscle of the operation.  The real villains are Cottonmouth and Mariah.  Unfortunately, Mahershala Ali is only in the show for half the season.

Ali as “Cottonmouth” Stokes is terrific – just wish he was in the whole season

Which is why this show wasn’t as successful as its predecessors.  In each other Netflix Marvel show, the story is a protracted 13-hour marathon leading to an ultimate defining moment.  Each episode builds on the next while the characters are developed until finally it all comes to a head.  Luke Cage didn’t have that same feeling.  Basically, it was two different seasons rolled into one with the first half ending without a real confrontation between the hero and the villain.  It made it feel as if the first six episodes were a “gotcha.”  The villain died too easily and not very surprisingly.  The second half is typical superhero warfare and ends as such.

Rosario Dawson gives her best performance yet as Claire Temple

But the series is still worth binge watching, especially if you are a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Marvel Netflix series.  Rosario Dawson reprises her role in yet another show, but in this one she is more than an important side character and instead plays a vital part in Luke’s story.  And Mike Colter is not only believable as Luke Cage, but of all the main characters in the Marvel Netflix series he is the most heroic.  An everyday man who wants to do what’s right, stand up to the bullies of the world, and openly use his powers as a “defender” instead of for any personal journey.  Here’s to hoping the second season will improve Luke’s story!

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