Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What's On Netflix?: MARVEL'S LUKE CAGE

Welcome to another installment of WHAT’S ON NETFLIX?, where we pick out a film or series currently playing on Netflix and review it for the fans. This week’s selection has dominated the conversation in geek circles everywhere over the past week and is another great series in the Marvel Netflix Universe…LUKE CAGE.

Luke Cage is the fourth and most recent entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Netflix. This series brings us out of Hell’s Kitchen and into Harlem as we follow Luke Cage (Mike Colter) as he has his first solo adventure after his strong introduction in the brilliant Jessica Jones series last year. Created for Netflix by Cheo Hodari Coker, this series was bold in its storytelling, plotlines, and events in many ways and really brought Marvel and the real world on a clear collision course with one another. Despite its genuine strengths and great angles, however, it only managed to be good and failed to live up to the standard of excellence I’ve seen in the previous three seasons of the Marvel Netflix shows.

There are many, many positives in this Luke Cage series. I think the biggest positive was how much this series stepped out of the confines of being “just a superhero show” and had something to say on real issues of our day. Whether it was race relations, use of the N-word, police shootings, the “Black Lives Matter” movement, not being criminals and setting a good example, etc., this series had something to say about sociopolitical matters. This really impressed me and impressed me even more so because it wasn’t shoehorned into the series just to be edgy or to otherwise talk about something that doesn’t fit. This series is clearly set in a Harlem that is feeling many of the problems we see in our world, yet it also sees many different issues due to the proliferation of superheroes in their world. All the choices and situations that set up these social commentaries make perfect sense for the different characters and don’t feel misplaced. That natural evolution and presentation made the commentary all the more powerful and effective as it enhanced, rather than detracted from, the main plotlines of the show. In this fashion the series is extremely commendable and worthy of a lot of public attention. There are also a variety of views expressed on a number of the issues which I also thought was a strength in the storytelling as well.

Another real strength of this show is the casting and the performances as a whole. Mike Colter as Luke Cage is a national treasure. This guy is so enigmatic and has such a great onscreen presence that you are absolutely captivated and drawn to him in ways lesser actors (or even other great actors) just can’t manage to achieve. How he is not more of a household name I will never know but hopefully the merits of what he does in this series helps in that regard.

The two supporting female characters are stellar as well. Misty Knight, the newcomer played by Simone Missick, is a really strong introduction of a great Marvel character. She doesn’t knock it out of the park in every episode, but she brings a lot of great layers to this character and is sufficiently good to really merit further exploration and maybe even her own show some day. Claire Temple (aka, the Night Nurse), the returning player from all the previous Marvel Netflix shows played by Rosario Dawson, is beyond phenomenal in this series. She is given more to do than even in her main role in Daredevil and Dawson took it and ran. She had such great personality and spunk that just captured the screen and she played off of Luke Cage superbly well.

The villains (for the most part) are superbly portrayed as well. Mahershala Ali, as Cottonmouth, knocks his role out of the park as usual. Alfre Woodard, who plays Mariah Dillard, is a different kind of villain in these series and she performs her role extremely well with a couple fascinating climactic moments throughout the course of the series. Theo Rossi as Shades also brings an added dimension and SPOILERS Erik LaRay Harvey as the broader villain Diamondback brings a great physicality and power that is great to see on the screen. END SPOILERS

Luke Cage is also a technically strong show. The music in the show is superb and a lot of jazz, hip-hop, and rap really figures prominently into the show (including into the episode titles). The cinematography in the show is also extremely strong (in company with the previous Netflix shows). Further it captures a sense of place so well that it feels alive and less like a set for a television show. Each of the main places that they visit feel real and tangible which made the series feel more purposeful.

As I eluded to earlier, however, this series has some issues. Primarily, the series has some problematic story issues as well as lacks a certain X-factor that is present in the other Marvel Netflix series. With respect to story issues, this season didn’t feel adequately focused. Something happens part way through that changes the course of events a lot and spoiled much of the dramatic engagement I had with the story up to that point. More problematically on top of that was the fact that they replaced the earlier dramatic story with a rushed second one that just felt poorly set up and, eventually, executed.

The X-factor criticism is more difficult to explain and isn’t meant to be an unfair criticism of this show. It doesn’t weaken this show as a whole, but it doesn’t allow it to press into that next level. There are a lot of repetitive plot points that should have resolved faster, and several moments that just didn’t pack the punch that they felt like they ought to have in a show with all the immense strengths this show has otherwise.

Overall, Luke Cage is a strong show and a good entry to the Marvel Netflix Universe. It showcases some extremely talented actors and manages to break through the bounds of the superhero genre to say something about the world we live in which was cool to see. I think it has some real story flaws and lacks a hint of spice that would elevate it to that next level though.

Ryan’s Score: 8/10

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1 comment:

  1. Haven't seen the Luke Cage series yet but I hope its good enough to watch.