Luke Cage review – Almost bulletproof

What makes Luke Cage tick is, more than anything, the characters that power the world around them. The main cast of this show act as a seemingly infinite source of fuel that powers it along even when its writing doesn’t quite live up to its characters or their actors. The four main characters – Luke, Misty, Cottonmouth, and Mariah – are some of the best that Marvel’s Netflix shows have seen.

Each of the characters is trapped in some way. By their history, by their sense of justice, or by the system they’re forced to work within.

At the center of it is Mike Colter as Luke Cage himself. There’s no doubt that he made a strong (and probably fist-shaped) impression in Jessica Jones‘ inaugural season, but out of Hell’s Kitchen and into Harlem he comes into his own.

Colter brings a quiet rage to the character. He has a strong moral compass that directs him even as forces around him push him back and forth. His frustration with the busted system around him is palpable, and it helped carry me along with him on his journey. He’s a fugitive who can’t bear to see those around him suffer. He wants to stand tall as a symbol of strength, and refuses to hide behind a mask to do it.

All of these push and pull at each other, and Colter’s portrayal of Cage shows this. Cage’s durability comes as much from inside as it does from his unbreakable skin. Sure, he couldn’t do what he does without his super powers, but those conflicting forces shape him and give him the fortitude to wield those powers.

On the same side of justice is Misty Knight, a Harlem-based detective. Played by Simone Missick, Knight is an officer trapped in a system that is distracted by politics and rife with corruption. Too much time is given to the procedural aspect of her policework and not enough about the system she is trapped within, but the message still comes through. Even as she tries to pursue real, genuine leads, she’s directed toward red herrings that are easier and more satisfying not for her or for her community but for the police department and those in power.

As good as those two are, though, the two best parts of Luke Cage are Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and Mariah Dillard, two characters trapped in their history and their understanding of power.

Mahershala Ali will already be known to fans of one of Netflix’s other big shows, House of Cards, where he plays Remy Danton. Here he plays Cottonmouth, a gangster whose first concern is preserving and enhancing the culture of the Harlem neighborhood. We learn early on that violence isn’t Cottonmouth’s favorite way of doing things, but it seems like it might be the only thing he’s ever known.

He’s surrounded by music at all times, whether it’s the huge framed image of deceased New York rapper Notorious B.I.G. on his wall, the piano in his office that he plays during quiet moments, or the joy with which he watches the acts that play at his club – real life acts like Faith Evans and Raphael Saadiq. His investment in Harlem’s culture isn’t a front – it’s a very real one that informs the character in both the past and present.

His cousin, Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), is a local councilwoman who similarly chases the black heritage of Harlem, attempting to stop the gentrification of the neighborhood that’s happening to the rest of New York. Like her cousin Cottonmouth, though, her history has taught her that accomplishing things is done through manipulation and shady deals.

These two form the center for much of the show. They’re believable and even likable from their very first scenes. Their goals are believable, and their opposition to Cage and and other forces makes sense in ways that other villains’ motivations so rarely do. Neither has superpowers, nor do they have obscene amounts of wealth (not that they’re wanting, though). They’re just incredibly driven people who want to do the right thing through a skewed perspective.

These two get the show’s best writing and many of its best moments. They even get some of the best sets, with Cottonmouth’s club serving as one of the show’s primary backdrops.

Even the secondary characters and crossovers from other shows are enjoyable and significant. Frankie Faison (The Wire) plays Pop, a moral guide for Cage, and one of the forces that drives him through the show. Ron Cephas Jones (Mr. Robot) is Bobby Fish, a man who doesn’t stand quite as tall as Pop, but pushes Cage in the right direction all the same while providing a few light moments.

Crossover characters are a highlight, too. Turk Barrett, the poor chump at the wrong end of Daredevil’s fists and sticks, is more three-dimensional than ever and at moments even seems competent, if a bit greedy.

And then there’s Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple. Like Luke himself, she started life as a guest star, bringing Daredevil back from the brink of death time and time again as his selfish actions picked apart her life. She appeared again in Jessica Jones, finding a way to save the unbreakable Luke Cage.

And again, like Luke, this season is where she finds her footing. Instead of letting New York’s vigilantes interrupt her life, she’s now committed to helping them and those around them in ways no one else can. She’s an aggressive character changed by her interactions with these heroes but not scarred by them. Instead, she’s found her calling and her strength.

Dawson was a highlight of Daredevil, and her increased role in Luke Cage is making her an absolutely crucial part of Marvel’s Netflix Universe.

The only character that really feels like a miss is Willis ‘Diamondback’ Stryker, played by Erik LaRey Harvey. He looks the part in every way he possibly can, and the glee with which he executes the role is obvious.

The character, however, fits more into the mold of the villains at the end of Daredevil season 2 and even some of those we’ve seen on Arrow. His motivations are simple, but they’re very shallow. Where Cottonmouth and Mariah are people I couldn’t help wanting to see more of and be around, Diamondback is a caricature who doesn’t see as if he’s evolved at all from the pages of the comic. Even his eventual costume feels a bit silly.

With that said, none of Cage’s major antagonists jumps to the Super Racist Villain card that would provide an easy way to give Cage a target upon which to take out righteous justice.

Article source: