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Marvel's Luke Cage Review

Luke Cage Review: New Marvel Series Is Strong, But Not Without Weak Spots

grade_BNetflix’s superhero dramas, because they don’t have to sweat the week-to-week ebbs and flows in ratings, are able to spend protracted amounts of time with the villain. And that can indeed be a sweet storytelling luxury, as demonstrated thus far by Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones series.

But there’s a point in Marvel’s Luke Cage (premiering Friday, Sept. 30, all 13 episodes) where two crime bosses are drilling down so deep into their dealings, the viewer almost feels remiss for not possessing a degree in Illicit Business & Finance.

And yet those talkier moments, which take place largely inside the cavernous Harlem nightclub run by Cornell “Don’t Call Him Cottonmouth” Stokes, are perhaps the only significant weak spot in this telling of the rise of reluctant, impervious hero Luke Cage.

Mike Colter of course fills the title role, which he first played opposite Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones. The challenge for the Good Wife alum is that, while as perfect a physical match for the character as one would dream, Luke isn’t armed with Jessica’s snarky zingers or Matt Murdoch’s wry sense of humor. He’s a quieter-spoken character, more at home trading jokey jabs at the barber shop where he sweeps floors. And yet Colter brings a needed intensity, especially as the deadly drama quickly escalates, that threatens to boil over at any given moment, usually resulting in him ricocheting dozens of thugs’ bullets.

As the series opens, Luke is still mourning wife Reva, whose death was detailed on Jessica Jones. And he has pretty much given up the bartending thing, until called on to “upgrade” from washing glasses at Cottonmouth’s club to filling them. It is during that gig that he first meets Misty Knight, and as quickly as they (ahem) get to know each other, they eventually discover they each are full of surprises.

Played by Simone Missick (Wayward Pines), Misty is a greatly interesting character, and part of the reason why is because — and Luke himself observes this — she is a woman, and not a girl. She has lived a vivid life and has tales to tell, including of her basketball prowess on the playgrounds of Harlem. The question is, will the aforementioned (and torrid) hook-up with Luke keep her from seeing the incredible truth right in front of her, when a bulletproof, hoodied vigilante begins making a well-meaning ruckus?

Mahershala Ali (House of Cards) is compelling and threatening as Cottonmouth, whose suddenly comprised criminal enterprises threaten to taint the Harlem-enriching achievements of their benefactor, semi-crooked city councilwoman Mariah Stokes (four-time Emmy winner Alfre Woodard). As that relationship evolves, Ali and Woodard enjoy an often animus-filled rapport that simply crackles.

Other characters include Pops (The Wire‘s Frankie Faison), the sage barber shop owner who looks the other way with a grin when Luke lifts a washing machine with one hand; Shades (Sons of Anarchy‘s Theo Rossi), a smirky tough who surfaces to keep Cottonmouth in check; and Misty’s NYPD detective partner Rafael (Ray Donovan‘s Frank Whaley, playing things too broadly at times). Rosario Dawson reprises her Marvel-verse role of Claire Temple midway through the run, in part to give Luke the “Nothing hurts you, so what are you afraid of?” pep talk he at the time needs.

Harlem is itself a wonderfully utilized character, both a welcome departure from the well-explored Hell’s Kitchen and a distinct neighborhood unto itself. That Netflix’s Marvel shows shoot on location in New York has perhaps never been better justified.

Again, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and now Luke Cage take… their…… time in unspooling a 13-episode story, rarely serving up action scenes just because. As such, each skirmish that “Harlem’s Captain America” (as one character dubs Luke) allows himself into — or, later, initiates — boasts a special immediacy. And as one-note as his ability may appear to be on paper, the series finds multiple innovative, whiz-bang! ways to illustrate it (and to a more frequent degree than was done with Jessica Jones’ own skills).

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Welcome to the Netflix neighborhood, Luke.

Luke Cage Cast Video: A ‘Necessary’ Evil
Pushes New Hero Into Action Mode

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17 Comments
  1. yurina says:

    As much as I like a slow cooked show, the glacial pacing in the Netflix Marvel shows really pisses me off… all of them feel like a 6 episode show stretched into 13 episodes. The pacing REALLY needs to improve. Iron Fist and Punisher please save us

    • stacy030 says:

      It’s odd. You wouldn’t think Netflix shows would be obligated to have a certain number of episodes. If you only have a story for 6-8 episodes, why try to stretch it to 13? I really liked Jessica Jones, but there was no reason for it to be 13 episodes.

      I would love for there to be a Netflix show where each season gets as many episodes as its needs to tell the story of the season. If that means season 1 gets 16 episodes and season 2 gets 6, so be it.

      • johnhelvete says:

        I think it is a case of Netflix will pay the writers/producers for 13 episodes so they end up doing 13, even if the series would be better served doing 10 episodes per season. I get what you are saying, there is no reason a season on Netflix could not be 11 episodes for example since all of the episodes are released at once and there is not a set number of weeks that have to filled on the weekly schedule.

    • HR says:

      I love the pacing of their shows. I like that they take their time, it allows me to get a great understanding of where everyone is coming from not just the main characters, it makes them feel more real. I don’t think many are used to it because everything else we watch is so in a hurry to get from A to B. With Marvel on Netflix, I’m glad they’re not.

    • Jesus says:

      Waaaaaaa waaaaaaa

    • John Cleaver says:

      Pacing?

      Watch Heroes (the later seasons, excluding Heroes Reborn), Dragon Ball Z, NBC’s “The Event”, or NBC’s “The Cape” if you want to see REALLY bad pacing.

  2. ndixit says:

    I love the netflix Marvel shows but the pacing is a problem. It was particularly a problem for me in JJ where the show moved at glacial speed and giving too much time to subplots before the real action began midway through the series. DD had some of the same problems too but I think because it is a more conventional superhero story, it does have more happening in the early halfs of the season to not feel too impatient. I think the Marvel netflix shows might benefit from a 10 ep run instead of 13.

  3. Davidj says:

    I’ve never had a problem with the pacing, but then I usually only watch one episode of these shows a week so it’s easier to appreciate each one, and not get burnt out or bored by the story.

  4. Joey says:

    For me, the pacing of the shows has never been a problem. JJ’s only problem that I could see was Will Simpson, who dragged by himself and dragged any character he got his hooks into down as well. Example, Trish is infinitely interesting when paired with Jessica, but geez, was the show boring when Will was her scene partner.

  5. parstl says:

    How can people comment on the show when it has not debuted for the general public? Wait and review it for yourself…what a concept.

    • chiguy79 says:

      Have you read the comments? No one’s said anything particular about Luke Cage, they’re all talking about how well Marvel/Netflix pace their shows. Reading comprehension, now there’s a concept.

  6. Tom Hunter says:

    Looking forward to watching this over the weekend. My wife and I both have enjoyed the last three Netflix/Marvel series.

    Just wondering if Misty Knight will retain her bionic arm for this series??

  7. Stacey says:

    Looking forward to binge watching this one!!

  8. michel says:

    The nice thing about being a Marvel hero is they can pepper in as many more heroes and villains as they want to keep things interesting. I think his character is interesting enough to work well in that environment.