Luke Cage – Pilot: Moment of Truth Review

When I started this blog, some of my first posts were reviews for the Netflix show, Jessica Jones. I was compelled to write about Jessica Jones because I was intrigued by it’s noir storytelling. These days all comic book/superhero shows and movies feel very cookie cutter so it was refreshing to see something that looked very different. I grew to love Jessica Jones, however, because of it’s rich, complex, and flawed characters and appreciated that this detective noir story was very much an authentically female story. It tackled real women’s issues in a way that felt neither forced nor obtrusive. So when I heard that Jessica’s love interest, Luke Cage, was getting his own series, I decided to keep my ears open.

Yesterday, Marvel’s Luke Cage was released on Netflix and considering the political and social climate as well as my own recent blog post, I’ve decided to review this show as well.

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The premier episode of Luke Cage introduces it’s audience to the character Luke, a man with impenetrable skin and awesome strength. He is hiding out and taking odd jobs that will pay him under the table. One of those jobs is general cleaning at Pop’s Barber Shop, a staple of their Harlem community. Pops looks out for Luke, having known him since before his wife died, and encourages him not to hide, but to go out and help people “like those guys downtown”. But Luke isn’t interested. He insists that all he wants is a quiet life sweeping floors and washing dishes. However, that quiet life is upended when an arms deal, coordinated by local club owner, shady businessman, and Luke’s other boss Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, is hijacked by men connected to Pop’s Barber Shop. Suddenly, Luke finds himself caught in the cross hairs of an escalating turf war.

I need to say, right off the back, Luke Cage is one of the most unapologetically black t.v shows marketed towards a “mainstream” audience I’ve ever seen.

I love that. I appreciate it – much in the same way I appreciated that Jessica Jones was one of the most unapologetically feminist t.v shows marketed towards a “mainstream” audience I’d ever seen.

Luke Cage fits in to this Marvel world of superheroes while also doing something I wasn’t expecting. 10 minutes into the episode, I realized that this was a modern day ‘blaxploitation’. From the original music setting the scenes and sometimes spelling out who a character is, to the way people talk (I heard at least one “sucka”, one “you dig” and plentiful use of the “N” word), to the themes of ending political corruption and street violence, to the types of villains and heroes present – all of it called back to the ‘blaxploitation’ genre of the 1970’s. Fortunately, this is all tastefully done and lacking the cheese and shoddy writing of many ‘blaxploitation’ films. It pays homage heavily to the genre without making fun of it or going over the top.

Mike Colter does an excellent job portraying the reluctant hero Luke Cage, however, the true standout stars of this first episode are Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth, Alfre Woodard as councilwoman Mariah Dillard, Frankie Faison as Pop, and the music! Yes, music is a character all it’s own in this show and truly steals a few of the scenes in the pilot episode, including – but not limited to – the scene where Cottonmouth beats Shameek to death for stealing his money.

I’ve gotten a good feeling so far that Luke Cage will progress nicely and serve as an interesting and engaging story in it’s own right. However, if it hopes to keep the comic book nerds entertained, it may need to do more than drop a few Avengers Easter Eggs. Still, a very promising and intriguing start. I look forward to seeing more soon.

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