Tuesday, October 04, 2016

'Luke Cage' Is a Very Enjoyable, Utterly Black Superhero TV Series

The super-strong, bulletproof Luke Cage is one of the most, if not the most, iconic African-American comic book superheroes ever.  Yes, he’s identified as a legitimate superhero.  He’s an Avenger, and has stood among the likes of Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Wolverine.  But he’s probably the most distinctively practical and down-to-earth among them.  Though he used to be known as “Power Man”, he has long abandoned carrying a superhero codename, and has become more popular with Luke Cage, the new name he had assumed.  He also doesn’t wear a superhero costume, donning street clothes instead.  Most notably, he’s a “hero for hire.”  While his peers do superheroing pro bono or receive regular checks from the government, he makes a living by charging a fee for his superhero services.  However, he makes the whole thing work in a way that doesn’t make him less of a hero.

He’s such a unique, interesting superhero that I believe he deserves his own full-length movie.  Actually, if it had been up to me, the character would have had entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe through a Heroes for Hire or Luke Cage movie, with The Rock playing the role.  However, Mike Colter as Luke Cage in another excellent 13-episode Marvel/Netflix series is sufficient consolation.
Luke Cage is the “blackest” superhero story I’ve ever encountered in film or TV.  Being set in Harlem, the show celebrates its rich culture and history, and explores important, timely issues that blacks are dealing with.  Even though I’m no American and far from being extremely knowledgeable of the themes it explores, it made me appreciate the messages it was intending to convey.  It made me appreciate the emphatic beauty of having a black superhero packaged as a “bulletproof black man in a hoodie.”

There are significant differences between the comicbook and MCU versions of Luke Cage.  I feel that the MCU adaptation is too angsty, while I always get an optimistic, fun vibe from the comicbook original.  That said, Mike Colter’s Luke Cage is a wonderful badass and a well-rounded character.  The changes to his characterization and character history are reasonable enough to the context of what direction the show is going for, so they’re not much of a distraction.  Overall, he’s a hero worth rooting for.
It’s a challenge for a story to bring vulnerability to a character when he’s bulletproof and super-strong amidst non-powered antagonists.  But Luke Cage amazingly manages to pull it off.  Though the villains – MCU reinventions of comic book villains Cottonmouth, Diamondback, Black Mariah, and Shades – don’t have the innate superpowers to take on the titular character in a head-on fight, the show still brings in to the plot sensible conveniences and devices that allow the villains to harm Cage in non-physical ways (and even physically later on).  The villains really contribute to the emotional torture and struggle for identity that Luke Cage has to go through in order to create a riveting arc for the character.

I enjoyed Luke Cage a lot.  Though I think that the first half of the series is stronger than the second half, it’s a terrific, satisfying debut season all in all.  Now, I can’t truly say if Luke Cage is superior to Daredevil or Jessica Jones.  They are all great in their own respective ways.  Each of them has different themes, tones, and pathos that each explore through a riveting character-driven superhero narrative.  But simply, Luke Cage offers a fresh, distinct superhero flavor to Marvel’s Netflix lineup.

Miscellaneous musings (with spoilers, of course):
  • There’s one aspect, though, which I can say Luke Cage is objectively superior to both Daredevil and Jessica Jones:  its music.
  • Seriously, Luke Cage’s score gives all sorts of feels.  It could be the best score in all of MCU properties – both in film and TV – to date.
  • Cottonmouth > Diamondback.
  • Seriously, Cottonmouth is a very charismatic, well-layered villain.  His death was a surprise, and significantly gave the plot a sense of the unexpected.  But I prefer that he remained the main villain till the end if that alternative was Diamondback. 
  • Diamondback, as the show’s ultimate big bad, is unimpressive and almost cartoonish – a big reason why I mentioned above that the first half was stronger than the second half.
  • Cottonmouth laughs a lot.  But not in a “stereotypical villain” way.  I like it.  It’s almost as charming as the show’s music.
  • Diamondback’s “power suit” is hilariously bad.  It’s easily the lamest costume I’ve ever seen in the MCU.  Thankfully, it’s only shown at the near end.  It’s so bad that it could have derailed the show for me if it had been around a minute longer.
  • I wish that rather than have season twos for Luke Cage and Iron Fist, we’ll get a Heroes for Hire series instead – headlined by the two characters.  The two heroes make an iconic buddy pairing in the comics.  There’s a need to have an entire series revolving around them.
  • Claire Temple is looking to be the Phil Coulson of the Netflix side of the MCU.  She’s probably the one who will bring The Defenders together.  But I wish it’s not through her death compelling them to do so, as with Coulson in The Avengers.  Really like the character.
  • Among all Netflix shows, I think Luke Cage has made the most apparent, unrestrained references to the MCU films.  Is the gap between film and TV finally closing in?  Can the Russos succeed in convincing Marvel to finally allow the TV and film parts of the MCU to converge in Avengers: Infinity War?  Fingers crossed!

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