Once again, Marvel have begun a new venture in their cinematic universe. Luke Cage is the third of five Netflix exclusive series that are being produced, with Daredevil and Jessica Jones paving the way previously, and Iron Fist and The Defenders seeing us out the other side. With such strong pedigree from its predecessors and lots of hope for the future, Luke Cage certainly has its hands full to try and beat its way to the head of the pack.
Overall, the first episode of the series is a good one. Instead of diving in head first with lots of flashy tricks, it takes its time to build up a head of steam (a method helped by a lot of the groundwork being laid during Jessica Jones last year.) Luke Cage shows us the titular hero making ends meet and attempting to help his community through non-superpowered means. When the show runner claimed Luke Cage to be The Wire of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it seemed a little surreal to make the statement, however, after watching the first episode, it seems less of an attempt to drum up publicity, and more a belief that they are playing with fire. Of course, it’s not 100% accurate (The Wire is The Wire. No one can hold a candle to that title!) but there is definitely enough of a spark there to make the claim at least somewhat valid.
In an attempt to abide by their beliefs, Luke Cage is certainly a lot more adult in its content when compared to other aspects of the MCU. Scantily clad women, swearing and blood are much more evident when compared with Captain America: Civil War or even Jessica Jones (the latter, albeit, only slightly less so.) it’s hard to compare the small screen heroes to their big screen counterparts, simply because so many of these shows are a lot more visceral. Although it’s still Marvel, there is a very definite line that must not be crossed to ensure the Super’s aren’t completely unmarketable to children, however, there are certainly a few scenes which show the screenwriters almost inching into the “forbidden territory” only to pull back at the last second.
All the action is set to a beautiful soundtrack using tracks from a variety of genres, such as funk and soul, each evoking a link to the Harlem neighbourhood that is the setting for the show. Of particular note are the live acts at Cottonmouth’s club, which create a relaxed, yet energetic atmosphere.
Despite the high quality production and acting, it often feels that the writers were unsure with how to portray Mahershala Ali’s character Cottonmouth, the main antagonist of the series. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with his character per se, the problems stem from comparisons to the other antagonists of the Marvel/Netflix series, and how Cottonmouth seems to be almost an amalgamation of some of their more interesting traits. Whilst Kilgrave was a psychotic madman, and Fisk was a “legitimate businessman,” Cottonmouth feels like the latter whilst trying to emulate the former. It seems the writers are trying to make him an original character but ultimately are going nowhere. Hopefully that will change as the series continues, but after having two strong villains from the off, it feels as if they’ve stumbled with Luke Cage.
Overall, the first episode of Luke Cage is a fantastic start. If the trends of the previous two instalments are anything to go by, there will be plenty of character development for all involved and lots more action to boot. Jessica Jones gave us the first female superhero protagonist, let’s see how they work with their first black hero.