Bob Garlen Reviews - The Netflix Original Series: Marvel's Luke Cage Season 1

Bob Garlen Reviews - The Netflix Original Series: Marvel's Luke Cage Season 1

My Review of the Critically Acclaimed Luke Cage, the Harlem Based Superhero For Hire, starring Mike Colter, Simone Missick, and Oscar Winner Mahershala Ali.

Luke Cage Season 1

Released: September 2016.

Showrunner: Cheo Hodari Coker

Developer: Cheo Hodari Coker

Based on: Luke Cage, Created by Archie Goodwin, John Romita Sr., Roy Thomas, and George Tuska

Length: 13 Episodes

Principle Cast:

Mike Colter as Carl Lucas/Luke Cage
Mahershala Ali as Cornell Stoke/Cottonmouth
Simone Missick as Misty Knight
Theo Rossi as Hernan Alveraz/Shades
Erik Harvey LaRay as Willis Stryker/Diamondback
Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple
Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard/Black Mariah

The first Marvel television series set in the district of Harlem, Luke Cage centers around a wrongfully convicted Ex-Con who goes on a noble revenge spree that reveals the hero he really is. He finds challenge in the city of Harlem from friends and foe as his past becomes unraveled. This leads to Luke experiencing Losses, Gain, and overall Earning the respect of those surrounding him. During his mission, he faces Cottonmouth Stoke, a Harlem based villain who’s past is every bit as tragic as Luke’s, possibly even more so. It will show Luke’s character as he battles the demons set before him. Luke will learn to look forward always, and always forward.

With inspirations coming from the comics, Blaxploitation Films, the Music industry, and Harlem itself, Luke Cage stands as one of the most culturally unique and insightful Marvel series. This is done by exploring a corner of the Marvel Universe most people never really get to experience. A series that has been through the many circles of development hell, having been planned as numerous Movies and television shows. Now graced with a proper home from Netflix. The series is under task from Showrunner and Writer Cheo Hodari Coker, who has an obvious love for the Luke Cage character, as well as a love for Harlem. It’s one of the most unique ventures of Netflix and Marvel mostly because, like Jessica Jones, the stakes are low in context, but unique in the idea of how it influences the youths of this world. This also stands as the most directly political of the Marvel Netflix shows.

Without a doubt, Mike Colter is perfect as Luke. I lightly touched on this in the Jessica Jones review, because I wanted to elaborate more here. What episodes I loved him most in were “Step into the Arena” and “Just to Get a Rep” which really pushed Luke’s boundaries both physically and personally. We see Colter really challenged by the Material and it does him a world of service. In these episodes, we get a strong sense of just how good natured Luke is as a character and these episodes really show why he should certainly be labelled Marvel’s Superman. Colter has shown enormous range and heart in the role, it certainly feels as unique and natural as Christopher Reeve felt as Superman. This is the most heartfelt and easy to root for performance of the series.

Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth was by far my favorite performance in the series. He felt like a tragic figure more rooted into this life out of necessity than by choice. Where characters like Wilson Fisk and Kevin Kilgrave both, in the end had a choice of their ‘career’, Cottonmouth didn’t. He was forced into this life at a young age, and seeing that he had such a natural talent for music, even implying he could have been a fantastic and successful musician had things been slightly different broke my heart. This is the kind of person you feel Daredevil might have been able to save. He is by no means a good person, but he is certainly worthy of viewer’s interest. He has a unique backstory that doesn’t root him as entirely as evil. He kept my attention the most and certainly had some unique interactions. He was a fantastic villain very reminiscent of the types of villains we saw in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. Ali is fantastic here.

Simone Missick is Misty Knight. I’ll be honest, I didn’t like this performance at all. She’s nowhere near likable and every person she talks to breaks down to her going to eager to play bad cop. I am not sure if it was Simone’s take of the writing or just the writing itself but I disliked the character heavily. I really wouldn’t want to see her in another series, robotic arm or not. I felt like Missick’s Knight could have been a compelling character, but I would feel like she would sooner insult someone than be interesting. Her go to move is yelling, then being obnoxious. I don’t know much of the comic book character, but I can’t imagine the character being this bland or downright insulting.

Theo Rossi puts up a cool front as Shades. A character who is every bit as despicable as Cottonmouth without any kind of tragedy to give him a heart of redemption. He is a cool guy character that fits Rossi so well. Shades is a favorite henchman with more aspirations than could be safely afforded. He is certainly a far cry from Wesley in Daredevil, and that works extremely well. He fits the title Kingmaker, or more appropriately, Queen Maker. Rossi really makes his character one you’d love to see cross The Punisher just out of the pure enjoyment the audience would get to see him brought down.

Erik Harvey LaRay is Fantastic as Diamondback. While his character doesn’t get a properly explored character arc, he has character and charm. He is certainly evil, and does a wonderful job by having fun in his role. If anything, he reminds me of Simon Phoenix from Demolition Man, which is a great departure from the main hip-hop tone of the series. LaRay is welcome addition that will certainly benefit from a Season 2 Appearance and could certainly become a presence as fun as The Walking Dead’s Negan. LaRay provided a great alternating performance from Colter’s Luke Cage. In all honesty, if Colter’s Luke Cage is Superman, LaRay’s Diamondback is Lex Luthor. Outlandish, Over the top, and Fun. I was happy to see him survive the series, but I certainly wish he had shared some set up scenes with Cottonmouth.

Rosario Dawson is a great actress but at this point Claire’s involvement is an Ex-Machina. It seems very ridiculous that she gets involved the way she does but I was happy to see her. She could have been introduced in a more organic way, but the show’s use of her does make up for it. She carries a major character arc, closes doors for her, and balances the positivity brought down by Missick’s Knight. Claire is a character we’ve lived with and when it comes to her it’s easy to care about her. When the Season Finale comes, I felt a great deal of pain for her. She feels like she lost something but we do see her make the best of it and makes for a good ending of that character arc.

Alfred Woodard was a fantastic addition to Luke Cage. With a bravado that makes her illegal activities slip seamlessly into the darker world Luke Cage Sets up, Woodar’s Black Mariah is dark in nature. She really does a fantastic job at manipulating the pieces on the board and almost makes up for killing the most engaging character in the series. I really would love to see her share scene’s with D’Onofrio’s Fisk just to see how that interaction evolves. She is certainly a similar character in spirit, and has her own dark tragedies. Woodard’s return for Season 2 will certainly be welcome and I think she will be able to strengthen the show.

Ron Cephas Jones appears as Bobby Fish, Frank Whaley comes as Detective Rafael Scarfe, and Frankie Faison plays Pops. These three actors do a wonderful job of enhancing the world and make it feel real. Jones’ as Fish is the cool-guy uncle that makes everything seem fun and has a reasonable solution that fits his character. Whaley’s Scarfe is a pure bad guy that has fun and never misses the mark of who his character is. He plays a dirty cop that you enjoy. My favorite person in the series is Faison’s Pops. He is a moral center of the show, and he represents what Daredevil seeks. He did bad and he changed and attempted to make his home a better place. He is the Uncle Ben of Luke Cage’s world and when he passes you feel a great deal of heartache with Luke. Faison’s Pops was easily the best guest star of the series.

The use of Licensed Music fits the series. The series has a specific tone that fits the use of the music in the series and the theme by Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Adrian Younge is very fitting for the character. The Opening Credits doesn’t fit the theme in my opinion, but the Music catches the tone of the series very well and is certainly something to be proud of. The music is certainly the effect of pre-planning and numerous meetings with the showrunner and honestly, I think this is the strongest area of the series. The music is a character and it is well represented. The Music never plays favorites, although one could say it’s use around Cottonmouth is certainly more loving than the writing.

The Series is well directed. While all episodes hold good visuals and interesting and unique choices, it’s really the first half of the series where it shines. While fun is add in terms of how the directors play with Diamondback, the gritty, down-to-earth approach brought with the Mob tone centering around Cottonmouth. I am not the only one in agreement as many have expressed their dislike of the second half of the season compared to the first half. I do think directing could have made it better. I think they were a little too comfortable with a formula set up in the series that by episode 7 they didn’t really feel the need to push the envelope.

The Story for the first 6 Episodes is Marvel’s strongest. It really did almost everything it needed to be an extraordinary story arc. It feels very comic book-y in that aspect and it was a welcome origin story for numerous characters, unfortunately it also saw the death of the strongest performer. Coker’s work as showrunner is commended for the first half, but unfortunately the last half crawls to the finish line. It had the opportunity to really end on an engaging note, Diamondback was fun and really deserved a bigger role in the Finale instead of a fight that was over in opening 10 minutes of the finale. The entire finale was boring, and would have benefitted from its confrontation between Cage and Daimondback taking place much later in the story. While the detective aspects involving Shades and Black Mariah were ok but never really did anything to justify taking 40-50 minutes of the finale to wrap up.

In all honesty, the series was ok. If it was just the first 6 Episodes as a Season 1 this would be an even more glowing review, as it would have left me wanting more considering how it would have ended. Cage already on the lamb and leaving the audience wonder if he was going to be jailed for killing Cottonmouth would have been a strong ending. Unfortunately, this continued and what we got wasn’t as exciting as our imagination could really dream up. The celebrity appearances seem updated of the methodology of the old 60’s Batman show, but given the tone of the second half it doesn’t really feel out of place. Truth of the matter is, with the ending the way it is, this is far from Netflix’s best. Jessica Jones might have tanked the ending, but it tanked it at the very end. Daredevil had its conflict in the last half of the finale and at least kept my attention for that. Luke Cage’s finale was boring and that does drag its grade down. Luke Cage, in my opinion is a 7/10.

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