Marvel Hits its Netflix Stride With Truly Original LUKE CAGE
This review originally appeared in the Washington Post:
Of all of Marvel’s current and upcoming Netflix series, “Luke Cage” was the one that required the most reinvention.
“Daredevil” had a rich comic book history of superhero/vigilante antics to draw inspiration from. The opening minutes of “Jessica Jones” are straight out of the first issue of Marvel’s adults-only comic book. “Iron Fist,” which debuts in 2017, will lean heavily on mystical martial arts.
“Luke Cage” doesn’t have such luxuries of influence. The character’s comic book debut in the 1970s was Blaxploitation with super powers. We weren’t going to get the guy who said, “Who’s gonna [mess] with me? I’m the scariest [N-word] ever was,” which Cage says in the very first issue. And the PG-13 version currently featured in Marvel Comics wouldn’t be able to take advantage of Netflix’s more mature television freedoms.
Marvel and Netflix were going to have to create something new with the live-action adaptation that begins streaming Friday. What they’ve done is create the best take on the character, who’s part of a small field of black superheroes who matter in the comic book mainstream.
The origin basics are there. Luke Cage is a bulletproof black man (you find out exactly how that came to be later in the season). But he’s no “hero for hire,” saving the day and then giving you a receipt. “Luke Cage” gives us a hero who feels that the bravest thing he can do is stay out of sight.
Cage, played charismatically by Mike Colter, knows he can take down those who are bringing problems to his city, such as the sophisticated gangster Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) and corrupt politician Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), but not without possibly sacrificing those he has become close to.
Watch the Trailer:
So when “Luke Cage” begins, you’re meeting an innocent man jailed for a crime he didn’t commit. Cage escapes, along with powers of invulnerability and super-strength he didn’t ask for after illegal experiments. He’s determined to never go back to jail. You’ll see the world he’s built for himself. That world is something we’ve yet to see in the live-action Marvel Universe.
To put it simply, it’s a world that is black.
Yes, “Luke Cage” is the blackest thing Marvel has done. Black hero. Black love interest. Black villains. Black city. Black soundtrack (by Ali Shaheed Muhammad, of the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, and Adrian Younge).
“Luke Cage” isn’t trying to be a movement, producer-writer Cheo Hodari Coker has said, but it is a special moment in comic-book-inspired shows.
The show doesn’t buckle under the pressure. If anything, the producers, writers and actors appear to know they’re a part of something that hasn’t been done before by Marvel and give it their all to make it spectacular.
Colter’s charisma isn’t showy — it comes through even as Cage is forced to try to keep things muted, whether he’s hiding or fighting. Even when he’s being riddled with bullets and tossing bad guys through windows, he looks as if he’s holding back, as if to say the “keep it 100” version of Luke Cage is something you’re just not ready for.
“Luke Cage” passes the Marvel authenticity test, too, taking the best elements of a character, modernizing the story and making it must see for not just fanboys. It is Netflix’s best Marvel show to date. And it is unapologetically black and beautiful.