If you’ve read my reviews before, you know I’m a fan of Netflix’s original programming. In general, I think it’s one of the most consistently entertaining and high value programming of any service, from TV channels, HBO, to other platforms like Hulu. However, I have seen Netflix stumble. Jessica Jones wasn’t to my liking, and I was mixed on Daredevil Season 2. So, what do I think of Luke Cage? To be honest, I am a bit conflicted.
The superhero Luke Cage was conceived in a time where blaxploitation films were the norm, so it makes sense to see a strong black male character come to life. While the genre and Luke Cage’s popularity fell after the fad somewhat ended, I see this series as a return to form. Visually, auditorily, and story-wise, this is most certainly an homage to those films.
Luke Cage as a hero is interesting—he’s bullet-proof and super strong, which may have been an interesting power when he was created, but has a lot more meaning in today’s world. With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and seeing the frustration shown by the black community towards young black men being shot by police, it’s clear that a bullet-proof black man is obviously connected to these events. Cage also doesn’t wear a mask. He doesn’t have a secret identity. He simply makes himself a symbol of power being brought back to the working people of Harlem by dismantling the crime that he sees tearing it apart.
Compared to Jessica Jones, which featured Mike Colter in his first appearance as Cage, this series is a huge step up. I had two big criticisms for Jessica Jones: first, that the story was a muddled mess, with so much going on that it became a bit boring to follow a lot of the time. Luke Cage contrasts this by having a clear cut story centered around Cage. My second criticism is that Jones as a hero seemed to only use her super strength to break door knobs, and we really only see her use her powers three times in the whole series. Comparing this to Luke Cage, who busts up drug dens single-handedly, swinging couches and wrapping people in car doors, you see a huge difference. Luke Cage is a huge step up from Jessica Jones. However, it still has its faults.
Similar to Daredevil, there is a shadowy underground crime boss who is working against Luke Cage; unfortunately, he wasn’t a very well developed character compared to Wilson Fisk. Also, the way they worked in a weakness to Cage felt somewhat lacking as well, but I understand it is difficult to create something to beat a bullet proof man. However, through the magic of the wonderful visuals and style that serve towards the “blaxploitation” angle, I found these issues minimal compared to what I think as my final thoughts.
Overall, I think of Luke Cage as a wonderful blaxploitation inspired series, but not a great superhero show. The incredible cast, with Colter as well as Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard, are accented by a soundtrack filled with hip-hop, funk, and jazz, serving the series well in that manner. We never saw any of this in Jessica Jones when Cage’s character was introduced, which may be part of the reason I found his character somewhat bland. Personally, I think this setting and tone is what has defined Cage’s character, and losing it will return him to being somewhat weak as he was before, so it is my hope that Netflix will retain some of what made Luke Cage great in the next series featuring him.