With all of the subtle nods to the Marvel cinematic universe from Jessica Jones, and now Luke Cage, I sincerely hope there is some sort of plan for The Avengers and The Defenders to eventually meet up.
I doubt this will happen… mainly because the Netflix Marvel domain has much more leeway for mature content than Disney’s Marvel empire. But hey, one can dream.
After getting through the entire season tonight, I would say that Luke Cage was good. I have some problems with it, but I would say that the good aspects of the show surpass its flaws.
Luke Cage as a character is pretty great. I like that he’s compassionate, I like that he’s a bit of a boy scout, and I like that he’s relatively consistent in the content of his character. The turmoil in Cage’s life is caused by this cosmic obligation he seems to have to make a difference, but his fear and his unwillingness to do so is ultimately holding him back. It was interesting to see him journey throughout his thought processes and his development.
That being said, there is this inescapable distance I felt with him the whole time. I was wondering why I wasn’t digging him as much as I was digging Daredevil, and at first I started blaming it on the show’s inferior writing (which is still true, and I’ll get to that later), but what really hurts Luke Cage as a character is his invulnerability. It’s the same problem that Superman has; if there is little to no threat of your protagonist dying or becoming dramatically damaged, then it is impossible to establish a complete connection with him because at one point, you just expect him to get out of every conflict unscathed.
And finally, just like Superman, when there is something that gives Luke Cage a run for his money, it’s some sort of cosmic creation. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, but having to contrive some sort of made-up weakness tends to not work for me when I’m trying to relate to a character.
This was made all the more worse by the fact that the villain, Cottonmouth, is not really a compelling villain, nor is he even close to an equal to Luke Cage by any stretch of the imagination. There is nothing that Cottonmouth has that can threaten Luke Cage in any sort of compelling way. At one point, I just felt like it was an ant-versus-a-lion standoff. And sure, it was amusing at times for Luke Cage to trounce this evil guy, but I was never emotionally invested because I never got the sense that Cottonmouth would pose some sort of threat.
<At this point, I can’t really talk about how I truly feel about the whole sequence of events without spoiling everything, so I’ll issue a spoiler warning from here up until the next picture, the one with the two guys in the suits.>
Okay, onto the spoilers…
Once Cottonmouth dies, and Diamondback comes in to fill in the void, the show became much more entertaining and interesting. Diamondback was not only a challenge for Luke Cage because of his Judas bullets, but he was also an insane man and was much more fascinating to watch than the milquetoast Cottonmouth. His insanity was menacing and creepy.
Unfortunately, Diamondback has his own set of issues… for one, the script, at one point, decided to use his insanity to conveniently cause him to make stupid decisions that compromised him and the other bad guys. One might make the argument that because Diamondback was crazy, that it’s not necessarily a flaw in the show for him to compromise himself and the other villains. And sure, I can accept that argument, but it doesn’t make for compelling storytelling if you’re just going to have the bad guy make stupid decisions. It makes it feel like our heroes didn’t necessarily earn their victory, which was even worse for Luke Cage because I was having a hard time relating to him anyway.
<Okay, back to non-spoilers>
Shades, the guy who stands by Cottonmouth’s side, was a very interesting side character. He never poses any threat to Cage either, but it was fascinating to see him work alongside Cottonmouth and his cousin.
And speaking of Cottonmouth’s cousin, Mariah Dillard, the politician, was much more fascinating of a character than nearly all the other villains. The inner workings of her mind quietly came out in some of the ugliest moments, and I found her to be extremely intriguing. In secret, she was some spawn of Satan, but when the cameras were on, she was Oprah Winfrey in public office. The way she manipulated the system and the media seemed much more compelling and frightening than Cottonmouth ever was… granted, she also never truly posed a true threat to Cage, but I still enjoyed her performance.
In fact, <minor spoiler, kind of> one of my favorite moments in the show was the end of episode seven, where the relationship between Mariah and Cottonmouth comes to an excruciating climax. It was one of the only times where the show truly wowed me with a performance. </minor spoiler, kind of>
In fact, I’d say that the female characters on this show typically hold their own much better than the men. Misty Knight, the secondary protagonist, had some very interesting development, and I enjoyed getting to know her. Her occasional emotional weakness and vulnerability was much more relatable to the untouchable Cage. In fact, I would argue that making Knight the focus of the show would have made for better TV… but of course, we’re here to watch the superhero, not the cop, so Luke Cage we must focus on.
Also, Claire comes back, and the chemistry between her and Cage was fantastic. The two played off of each other very well and, in my opinion, they made a great team.
The show truly attempts to put black culture and art into the DNA of this show. I thought it made the show stand out from the other two previous Marvel series. There is a vast array of music made by many black artists, and I found the quality of the songs to range anywhere between extremely pleasant to “meh”. Regardless of how much I liked the songs, they all seemed very fitting with the tone and the feel of this show.
The show also attempts to touch on the feelings and environment between police and black neighborhoods in general, but there’s never a point where it becomes an extreme focus, and it never feels like its hitting you over the head with a point.
The script for this show generally works well, but it is significantly weaker than all of the other Netflix/Marvel shows I’ve watched. During many points where they had to lay out exposition, there was this inescapable forced feeling that many of the scenes had. There’s a point where one of the villains is telling his life story to someone he’s holding hostage, and I couldn’t help but think that the scene felt extremely inorganic, like he’s only telling this hostage all of these important details solely because the audience needs to know this information.
I’m going to discuss my feelings about the final episode, because I feel that it’s important. Skip to the picture of Luke Cage man-handling a dude if you haven’t seen the show yet.
<Spoiler> In my opinion, the ending episode was a massive letdown and an exercise in extreme cheesiness. Nearly all of my cinematic pet peeves appear in this final episode. Luke and Diamondback are fighting, and the fighting is interlaced with civilian commentary that serves as unnecessary comic relief or unnecessary cheesiness. Then Luke Cage defeats Diamondback because… I don’t know… it kept cutting back to a fight Cage had when he was a young’un, and they were going on about how he should just keep taking hits and then he should fight back…. so Diamondback basically makes Cage’s ribcage a pile of spaghetti for thirty full seconds, and then he tuckers out, leaving Cage to land the finishing blow. It was extremely anticlimactic.
Then they get to the police precinct, and Luke Cage goes on a preachy tirade about how we need to care more for our city. To make matters worse, they thread a bunch of excruciatingly unnecessary flashbacks within this preaching to give context that only a moron would need.
Then some things happen, and it’s over. </Spoiler>
In the end, Luke Cage is another solid Netflix/Marvel experience. I enjoyed Cage as a character despite the fact that he’s slightly uncompelling and unrelatable. I enjoyed the majority of the villains despite none of them sticking out. I enjoyed all of the side characters. I enjoyed the story, though some of the writing is a bit lacking, and I ultimately enjoyed the entire season despite the fact that the final episode was nothing short of disappointing.
You don’t really need to watch Daredevil or Jessica Jones before you watch Luke Cage… but it will definitely help bring context to a few scenes here and there. Otherwise, I would recommend watching Luke Cage despite the fact that I found it fairly unexceptional.