Luke Cage: The Complete First Season
Luke Cage is the first Marvel Netflix series I’ve had the chance to see, thanks to them sending me a copy of the Blu-ray release of the Complete First Season.
As we meet him, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is an ex-con reduced to working menial under-the-table jobs for cash. He’s clearly capable of a lot more, but he makes the best he can of the life he has, and I love seeing how mature and responsible he is. It’s great seeing an adult superhero character, particularly one who responds to trouble without seeking it out. His powers — bullet-proof skin, super strength — are well-suited to this kind of mediating role. Coulter does a terrific job radiating quiet confidence, which is exactly what the character needs.
That quickly changes, though, as Luke comes into conflict with Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali), a nightclub owner and neighborhood gangster. A couple of hustlers screw up an arms deal he’s arranged, which eventually leads to Luke reluctantly becoming more visible and trying to clean up his neighborhood by taking out Cottonmouth’s businesses. (The nightclub setting also allows for some good music.)
Due to knowing they would have a 13-episode season, I suspect, the pacing is relaxed, with the first almost-hour installment just about done before we see Luke Cage being a superhero. If you didn’t know what you were watching, this would seem more like a crime/cop drama, which gives it a very different feel from the CW superhero shows. Some call it slow; more charitably, it’s atmospheric, although I would have rather seen a tighter, perhaps eight-episode season.
Alfre Woodard appears as a local two-faced politician (and Cottonmouth’s cousin), and Simone Missick plays Misty Knight, here a police detective. Cottonmouth is shadowed by Shades (Theo Rossi), who works for Diamondback and was in jail with Luke.
Episode four finally gives us Cage’s origin, with a very fuzzy (big hair and beard) Luke abused in prison. After that, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) shows up to connect this back to events in Jessica Jones and play danger nurse. In this series, double-crosses shouldn’t be a surprise to the viewer, either, with various characters revealing true allegiances and fated endings arriving.
The slow development allows for more emphasis on mood, and given how long the episodes are — almost an hour each — it makes for sinking into another world for a good long period of escapism. That also makes it more binge-able, as you’re eager for more to happen and so more likely to try another episode. With all the political and crime-focused storylines, there were major segments where Colter wasn’t on screen for long periods. My interest did wander at those times.
As I’d heard about other Netflix shows, certain scenes could be more violent than I was comfortable with, with blood flying from beatings and people thrown off roofs. It was never bad enough to drive me away, and the moments are all the more shocking because they’re not common.
There’s one bonus feature, “Offstage at Harlem’s Paradise” (23 minutes), which features Mike Colter, Alfre Woodard, Theo Rossi, and Simone Missick having a conversation on the set of the nightclub about working on the show. There are also comments from Jeph Loeb (executive producer) and Chef Hodari Coker (show creator) about casting Cage. Producer/Writer Aida Croal weighs in on Woodard’s performance, as does executive producer Charles Murray on Rossi. Overall, there are as many or were more show clips and other people talking than the promised round table, but it’s a nice summation of the season. Don’t watch before you see the show since there are spoilers!
My biggest complaint was that the Blu-ray didn’t keep track of of where I was. The first three discs (episodes 1-10) have only the specific episodes or a play all feature. I’d play all, but if I got called away long enough for the player to turn off, it wouldn’t remember where I was when I restarted. Also, the package is a standard Blu-ray case, which means the four discs are stacked two and two.
According to the credits, the show is “based on the Marvel comics by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas, and John Romita.” (The studio provided a review copy.)