The story of Luke Cage is as much about a desire for a fresh chance in life as it is about a hero performing compassionate acts for the community -- thought that is also a prevailing theme on the Netflix side of the Marvel Universe.
Director Cheo Hodari Coker immerses you into the chaotically vibrant world that is Harlem, New York in every scene, creating a fluid but unbreaking bond between the city and its hero that even Daredevil doesn't enjoy.
Perhaps it is because Cage doesn't wear a mask and openly walks amongst the people he protects, but either way, there is never a question of if he belongs to this city, but rather what took him so long to get here.
That feeling is cemented thanks to a score that approaches the show as if it were one long drumbeat. Each scene is a new layer, each punch and quip accented by some sort of musical punctuation. Music is as much a hallmark of New York and specifically Harlem as anything else, and it's well represented in Luke Cage.
At its heart, the first seven episodes are centered around the theme of overcoming fear, obstacles, and one's own self-doubt. Marvel fans are well acquainted with this type of storytelling, but Coker and star Mike Colter excel at delivering sterling moments that aren't necessarily derived from the books but rather inspired by them.
Don't worry, there's plenty of fan service here, including some fantastic references to Luke's comic origins and Heroes for Hire days, and the producers include a healthy dollop of in-universe referencing to both Daredevil and Jessica Jones -- all of which will be eaten up by longtime fans.
Still, the show is at its best when it focuses purely on Luke and his developing relationship with the various citizens of his now adopted home.
Mahershala Ali portrays Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes, and is a worthy adversary. The actor has the charisma to rise above the simple "drug and weapons kingpin" foundation upon which he is built. When Stokes speaks, every line seems to have emphasis, and even the smallest aside feels important. As for his cousin, Mariah Dillard played by Alfre Woodard, the character's rather expansive arc was a pleasant surprise, and it will be interesting to see how the character evolves going forward.
No one steals the show though like Simone Missick. It should not come as a surprise because over the course of the first few episodes we've seen her completely becomes the character of Misty Knight.
Missick never loses her sense of subtlety and nuance. She commands attention in every scene she occupies, even alongside Colter, and it's a performance worthy of praise.
It also bears mentioning just how fantastic Rosario Dawson is yet again as Claire Temple, who's role is much expanded in Luke Cage than her brief appearance in Jessica Jones. More Claire Temple is always a plus, but her developing friendship with Luke delivers much more than just an extended cameo, and I'm excited to see how her role changes and grows as the season continues forward.
Always Forward, Never Backward
Those are words synonymous with not only the city of Harlem but also the people who live there, and any hero looking to protect it should adhere accordingly. Luke Cage is a story of one man's quest to find his place in the world, but also his purpose, and it's a journey that fans should count themselves lucky to be a part of.
Rating 5 out 5 Stars
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