Friday, October 7, 2016

Marvel's Luke Cage Season 1 Netflix Review

Marvel's Luke Cage (2016-)
Marvel's Luke Cage Season 1
Season 1 (2016)
Watch Luke Cage on Netflix

Created by: Cheo Hodari Coker, Archie Goodwin & John Romita Sr. (based on the comic by)
Starring:  Mike Colter,
Simone Missick, Mahershala Ali, Frankie Faison, Alfre Woodard, Theo Rossi
Rating: TV-MA or TV-14

In this Netflix original series, Luke Cage is wrongly imprisoned and given super strength and impenetrable skin through a failed experiment.

Luke Cage is the basic superhero story, a reluctant good guy versus a cartoonish bad guy. The first episode had a lot of agency in crafting the main character, but the character study was abandoned by the second episode.
Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) is the typical bad guy devoid of any nuance and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) smashes everything to defeat the bad guy. Both characters attack the people around their foe and not their foe directly to prolong the series and eventual confrontation.
The fights aren't an intricate dance like Daredevil, it's brute force smashing and it works completely. What doesn't work is the story arc. While the villains do shift, it was far from an upgrade. Luke Cage definitely needs episode long arcs to supplement the story and to build the character.
In the second half Cage became an intriguing symbol. It may have just taken me that long to notice. He's a black man wearing a hoodie, and he manages to become a positive force that units the city.
Luke Cage has a lot to like but it's embedded in a story that's lacking.
It depends.

Luke Cage is the third Marvel-Netflix venture following Daredevil and Jessica Jones. The Iron Fist will be the fourth collaboration next year in March.
The Luke Cage in this show is a bit different from the Luke Cage in Jessica Jones. This is due to the change in show runners. Rosario Dawson's character does carry over, and she mentions the shotgun blast to the head Luke sustained in Jessica Jones. In this version of Cage, he wouldn't even flinch over that.
Mike Colter as Luke Cage
With each episode clocking in at nearly an hour, it would have been beneficial to trim them down by ten to fifteen minutes. Episode four has a great ending juxtaposing Luke punching through rubble at two different points in time, but then the show just keeps going. It should have stopped on the emotional high. This happens again in the final episode.
We see the same scene played out in episode two and twice in episode three. It feels like obvious stretching.
Misty Knight and Cottonmouth
This show does offer social commentary. Cage is a black man wearing a hoodie. Despite being undeniably good, cops are wary of him. Police detective Misty Knight asks during an internal investigation whether she would be treated the same if she was a man. This show asks powerful questions. It's got great characters in Luke Cage and Misty Knight. Cottonmouth could be great if Mahershala Ali.had something better with which to work. The show has plenty of characters that don't cut it, and everything is tied together in a story arc that just doesn't work. I do like the music which recalls the '70s.

The pilot episode is solid, but the successive episodes weren't as good, instead relying on strong guy smashing bad guys. I liked the first scene with guys just talking basketball. It had a very real feel that we don't get again.
The overlying question to start is what will spur Luke to action. He's adamant that he wants no attention. We figure that out in episode two when he abandons his ideals of remaining low key and nameless.

This show needs small arcs. Episode five does this well when Cage helps the locals. These small arcs could have helped build the character and better transition him from wanting to hide to willingly standing up to corruption. The show needs these small victories, but instead it just builds the big arc with no intermediate payoffs. I get the feeling that everything is building to the last few episodes, but you can't save everything for the end. The show's go-to is have people shoot at Luke which makes him mad, then he goes off and smashes everything.
Luke Cage doing what he does best - smashing
What Luke does well is fight. It doesn't have the finesse of Daredevil, and that's a good thing. It's brute force, but completely satisfying. Thankfully episode one provides a fight instead of delaying the inevitable.

The character of Luke introduced in episode one doesn't advance. For a guy that wants to remain low key, in episode three he's picking up huge pieces of concrete in broad daylight as people watch. The cops see bullet holes in his shirt and marvel that he isn't injured. Why not question how such a thing is possible instead of shrugging and walking off. Why would Luke not try to hide what happened? That transition should have been gradual and it isn't. It could have been a really nice arc.

Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is the cop, a character that could have had her own show. She's an interesting character, though usually relegated to sidekick status. Her screen time is further reduced when Rosario Dawson returns. This just felt like an attempt to tie the Marvel series together.

The plot is the usual corrupt king pin, and that makes this bland.  Cottonmouth has such a great actor, but the character lacks motivations and conflicts. The show often resorts to making him cartoonishly evil. Episode seven provides a bit of backstory, but the show needs to expand who he currently is, not who he was. Cottonmouth has a Biggie poster on his wall and he admits it's all about the crown. That's as deep as the character gets.

To make the season longer, neither Cage or Cottonmouth attack each other directly. Episode three provides a shocker and a short cliff hanger. The problem with the ability to binge is that cliff hangers don't produce as much drama, when you'll find out what happens a couple of minutes later.
Flashback Luke Cage.
We get flashbacks for Cage, which wasn't bad and even acknowledges the comic when Cage wears the wide collared yellow shirt and head gear. Cottonmouth's flashback is boring.

Episode seven had Cage actually get hurt, but that seems slightly unreasonable with how invincible he's been up to this point. While this was bewildering, it was explained in a later episode that there is a material stronger than Cage.

I thought the season was leading up to a confrontation with Cottonmouth. It doesn't quite happen like that, and what does happen is so contrived. A new villain is introduced, Stryker. I thought Cottonmouth was misused, but Stryker is even worse. He's the true cartoon villain in this series. He and Luke have a past, and we realize revelations full episodes before Luke does even though we haven't seen more than he.

While episode nine ends in a cliff hanger, when it's teasing us about whether Luke Cage lives or dies, that's a question with an easy answer. This is a smaller arc which I said the show needed, but it's not building the character. It's just drama for the sake of it. I never believe for a second that Luke won't bounce back.

The second half definitely feels like it has more social commentary, but maybe I just noticed it more. I'm glad the show included it, and it should do more with it.
It also helps bolster a second half that I liked less than the first. I suppose it has a very comic book feel to it, but I crave story and character development.

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