Marvel's Luke Cage Review by Henry Tran

Marvel's Luke Cage 1.01: Moment of Truth

Marvel's Luke Cage 1.01: Moment of Truth

Written By:
Cheo Hodari Coker
Directed By:
Paul McGuigan

The first episode of Luke Cage seems to have the titular character, the third of four (after Daredevil and Jessica Jones) in the Netflix Defenders Marvel series, get lost in the margins. At the beginning, he subtly announces his presence while engaged in a friendly discussion between peers at a local barber shop. Then he mostly disappears through the run of the episode. It then proceeds to start world building. As with Jessica Jones, there is very little known about Luke Cage or the mythology around his character so the first episode has to be the tone-setter. 



This is also necessary because Cage has gotten some character development of his own as a supporting character on Jessica Jones. It's great that the latter series gets a nod in terms of another character acknowledging that Cage's relationship with Jones was a "rebound" that didn't work out (there aren't many relationships that can recover from a shotgun blast directly to the chin). Beyond that, the setup done in the episode is to establish that pretty much all of New York has become a dangerous cesspool of crime.


The previous two Netflix series were set in Hell's Kitchen, and also depicting the widespread criminality that sprung up in the aftermath of the destruction caused by the Avengers in the Battle of New York. Luke Cage has put some distance from that defining event (although it hasn't been forgotten, with people on the street hocking bootleg DVDs that claim to show "the truth" about what happened) and has moved all of the criminal proceedings northbound to Harlem. I had hoped the episode and/or show could also get an acknowledgement in about the havoc that the Hulk did in Harlem almost a decade ago, but no dice.



But then, the design of Harlem and how the neighborhood and sets are shot give the show a welcome retro-style atmosphere. The Netflix Marvel series each traffic in different color palettes. With Daredevil, it's green and red. Jessica Jones loves the color purple to accent its noir-ish feel and Kilgrave, otherwise known as the "Purple Man." Luke Cage looks to play with gold and yellow tinges wherever it can be put and seen. The criminal elements are primarily represented by Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes, a local crime boss who is doing business with arms dealers and drug lords. He runs a local speakeasy that, combined with the yellow color scheme, gives off a nice, intriguing mix of old "Blaxploitation" films and the era of Elliot Ness and Al Capone.


Cottonmouth proves to be a dangerous man in a scene where he directly addresses the camera (though he's actually talking to a snitching underling), walking into the frame that is filled with a giant picture of rapper Biggie Smalls. There is a crown atop Biggie's head in the picture that is framed in such a way that Cottonmouth looks like he's wearing when he stops to address the camera. It's not particularly subtle in terms of visual representation of what Cottonmouth is, but there is an elegance to the entire scene. That feeling is undermined by Cottonmouth brutally beating and killing the snitch off camera.



I think that brutality may come to be a big issue with Luke Cage, as it has become the defining fighting style for all of the Netflix Marvel heroes thus far. Daredevil is, at least, well trained in a variety of martial arts. Jessica Jones has super strength. Luke Cage is known more for his unbreakable skin, which also lends to his also possessing superhuman strength. The hero and the villain having similar fighting styles may lend to some repetition in the action sequences. We already know what will take down Cage so that makes him more or less invincible.


The majority of the first episode is spent building up Cage's world and so it's necessary to cap it off with an action sequence where he takes on a bunch of big thugs. He easily wins the fight, and secures the loyalty and thanks of the landlady to whom he owes rent money. These are familiar rhythms and patterns within this kind of show. There is a high-level political official involved in the proceedings as well (Mariah Dillard, played by Alfre Woodard, which I find odd now since she also played someone in Captain America: Civil War). I do like her mantra about the New Harlem Renaissance, though I can't help but think that she'll be another political official who will game the system and not be trusted. The Marvel universe hasn't shown anything to think otherwise.



All of this is a complicated way of saying that I liked this episode, though I didn't love it. I find that I'm not as eager to move to the next episode as I did with the previous two Netflix Marvel series. It's early so that means there's time to make things more immersive and continue to build the world that Luke Cage lives in. The series is unapologetically about black power. This is so unlike the world that we've seen so far in the MCU. Here's hoping the writers will take that concept and run far with it.

Our Grade:
The Good:
  • Quickly establishes a unique identity with its Harlem setting
  • Some inventive directorial choices
The Bad:
  • The overall sense of brutality could become redundant

Henry Tran is a regular contributor of review for Critical Myth; The Critical Myth Show is heard here on VOG Network's radio feed Monday, Wednesday & Friday. You can follow him on twitter at @HenYay

Marvel's Luke Cage by - 10/6/2016 10:43 AM220 views

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