“Never backwards, always forward,” Pop, the mentor of Luke Cage, says this to the titular protagonist of Netflix’s latest superhero drama. While Pop is referring to Cage’s need to move beyond his troubled past, the phrase is also representative of Marvel’s "Luke Cage” as a whole. The bold “Luke Cage” is ambitious in its scope, and while it can be messy – in part due to its ambition – it nevertheless keeps momentum, enthralling the audience with its soul and excellent characters.
“Luke Cage” is the third of Netflix’s Marvel shows, based on characters owned by the comic book giant; it’s kin with “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones.” This latest installment in the franchise focuses on Cage (played by Mike Colter), who moves to Harlem following the events of “Jessica Jones.” He struggles to protect his neighborhood from the crime boss Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), and to protect himself from a past coming back to haunt him.
Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker should be applauded for his choices of unapologetic, electrifying images and musical accompaniment to underpin the narrative of “Luke Cage.” While the series retains the film noir sensibilities of the other Netflix-Marvel shows, “Luke Cage” sets itself apart by adorning itself with various trappings and components stemming from African-American culture. The series’ score smoothly transitions between jazz and hip-hop pieces, setting the mood of each scene wonderfully while playfully twisting elements from old blaxploitation films. This, in addition to the show’s various homages to Harlem’s history and culture, gives “Luke Cage” an inspiring refrain – which the cast plays off of with superb finesse.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the show’s focus: “Luke Cage” seems to contain many shows, including a family drama, to police procedural and superhero origin story. The resulting collision of these multiple storylines and genres cause some of the show’s potential to be lost.
Despite of all this, “Luke Cage” still manages to hone in on one poignant, relevant question: what it will take for a black hero to survive in a system that laughs at the notion?
A sense of helplessness will overwhelm viewers, as they realize that no matter what good Luke Cage does, his heroism will be distorted and denied by forces that want to use the fear of a bulletproof black man to their advantage. This cruel world isn’t just vicious to Cage, however: Misty Knight – played by Simone Missick – is almost always the smartest person in the room, but is rendered dull by a corrupt system. Others’ ambitions are also dispelled, when the cruelty of Cage’s world rears its ugly head.
Throughout the show, Cage is depicted fighting crime in a hoodie, bringing to mind the disturbingly frequent killings of black men and women that occur across the United States. Such imagery is appropriate and timely.
Lovingly crafted and brimming with heart, “Luke Cage” manages to transcend its muddled focus, delivering a very poignant, relevant social commentary to the audience. Watch it if you can and prepare to say, “Sweet Christmas.”