Review: Luke Cage

Marvel’s Luke Cage is the latest show in Netflix’s ongoing production deal with the comic book giant. Set in Harlem, New York, Luke Cage returns to its titular protagonist (Mike Colter) who we find working as a dishwasher after the fallout of the events of one of Marvel’s other Netflix shows, Jessica Jones. He’s no ordinary man, as these stories so often go, and it’s quickly revealed that Cage has both super strength and unbreakable skin. Cage quickly runs into trouble when a weapons deal goes wrong and tensions escalate between the New York police and local gangs. At the centre of the conflict is Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali), a crime boss seeking to fill the shoes left empty after the events of Marvel’s Daredevil.

From there, events proceed more or less predictably if you’ve seen either of the other two Netflix-produced Marvel shows. The first act of the hero’s story sees them put up against everyday criminals, who find themselves completely ineffective at dealing with the vigilante’s powers. There’s a certain satisfaction in watching some random criminal fire a gun at Cage, only to see the bullets fly off as he turns around angrily, and I was pleasantly surprised to see this plot element used sparingly. Cage is averse to violence, seeing it as something unnecessary and painful. This plays beautifully into the development of Cage as a character, from being a reluctant third party, to the super-powered saviour we’d all expect at the end of the season. 

The show resolves the issue of creating tension with an invincible character, by having a number of people revolving around Cage who he needs to fight to protect. Frankie Faison puts in an excellent guest performance as Henry “Pop” Hunter, Cage’s mentor and father-figure. Simone Missick also shows some fantastic range as Mercedes “Misty” Knight, a police detective struggling to find answers in a city that’s increasingly seeing police as useless. Rosario Dawson also returns to reprise her role as Claire Temple, the resident superhero nurse who members of all the Netflix superhero shows seem to run into miraculously when in need of medical attention.

Sadly, the main plot remains solid until about two-thirds of the way through, when serious hitches in the storytelling slow the action to a crawl. New characters are introduced, old ones are removed, and the grounded setting and themes of the first act are elevated to dizzying heights to end in an underwhelming final action set piece. All throughout there’s still the same great level of characterization though, and the last 40-or-so minutes are spent giving closure to the myriad characters and alluding to future plotlines and series.

Overall Luke Cage is an easy recommendation, and while it suffers pacing issues, it’s well worth a watch.