Luke Cage: A Brooding, Atmospheric, Old-School Detective Series (Spoiler free)

“There’s something powerful about seeing a black man, that’s bullet proof, and not afraid” is a quote from episode 12 that perfectly sums up the premise of this new Marvel Netflix show and the themes that run throughout the series. I’m not going to lie, I spent the entire weekend binge watching Luke Cage and enjoying every minute of it. It’s very different to the fast pace of Jessica Jones and feels less of a superhero show than Daredevil. Here is why I enjoyed it so much.
The music is amazing. And I don’t just mean a soundtrack. This show celebrates old school jazz and blues by bringing in artist and band performances in club scenes throughout the first half of the series. The performances themselves are bold, brave and entice you into the scene (keep an eye out for Jidenna’s “Long Live The Chief” in particular) whereas the music playing is soft, atmospheric with powerful messages. It sets up what kind of show this is and the characters Luke will be dealing with; slow burning plots and antagonists. 
The performances are set in Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes’ club which incorporate some of the most beautiful shots I’ve ever seen in Marvel TV. The club often sees dark reds, purples and blues lighting up walls behind powerful, dangerous characters. The symmetry is my favourite thing about the club scenes; if it’s not the characters dead centre of the frame with equally symmetrical props in the background, it’s patterns on the floor (seen using over-the-head crane shots)/wall or the popular shot of Cottonmouth perfectly lining up in front of the crown of the Biggie painting. This show looks beautiful because the camerawork works in symbiosis with the set design wonderfully. 
Talking of that fantastic shot with the Biggie painting, that episode and the next (1&2) were directed by Sherlock regular director Paul McGuigan which is obvious when you see text messages on the screen and Misty’s brilliant investigation scenes which are similar to Sherlock’s “mind palace”; one second we’re watching Misty thinking about a theory, the camera tracks quickly into her expression and the next second we’re panning out to see we’re in Misty’s mind as she’s figuring out (correctly) what happened at the crime scene. With McGuigan’s help, this show feels like a crime drama running alongside a superhero series to create something new. 
I have to also talk about Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth. He by far out shone any other character, in my opinion. He wasn’t in-your-face threatening, his anger was controlled, his cackling laugh was chilling and effective, and some of his best scenes was when he said nothing at all but you could see the calculating cogs turning behind his eyes. He was a dangerous character because he could be reasoned with, he had a really sad back story that demonstrated how his life could have gone a completely different way (he was a musical genius) and you empathise with him. Ali brings the dark side to Luke Cage that makes you believe there probably men like Cottonmouth in this world.
The pace is definitely slow-burning, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially during the first half of the series. The blues rhythms, the moody oranges and yellows often lighting the protagonists and the smooth tracking camera movements create the feel of the pace. However, the plots kept evolving which meant it didn’t feel non-progressive. By the middle of the series, it felt like another series was continuing. The plot changes completely from how you think it’s going to go which was a surprise as well as a smack in the face. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want this review to be full of spoilers but watch out for new characters that will turn Luke’s world around.
Luke is an interesting character. I was looking forward to this new series because I liked him in Jessica Jones but I wasn’t entirely convinced that he could hold his own series well. He’s stoic, holds his cards against his chest, a man of few words and lets his actions speak for himself but all of this turned out to be the reasons why I’ve fallen in love with him. He doesn’t feel like a hero, just a man who wants to keep the people he loves safe, who happens to also have extraordinary abilities. The thing is, this show is more about the antagonists than it is Luke Cage. It felt like I was watching the bad guys doing their thing and Luke was reacting to it amongst his issue with not wanting to be a superhero. I had to slowly grow to love Luke because I wasn’t seeing much from him, which is disappointing. One of my favourite episodes was “Step In The Arena” (episode 4) which is basically Luke’s origin story and so revolves around him. It brought out his present character and made you understand why he’s a man that likes staying in the shadows instead of being in the spotlight. I really hope they make the next series all about him and put the antagonists on the sidelines instead. 
Overall a brilliantly produced show to add to the Marvel Netflix collection. A lot of thought and careful planning has gone into the way it looks and makes you feel, the characters are well-rounded, the directing is great and it’s never dull. I found the first half of the series better than the second half but I was happy with how they left the series final open, not quite a cliffhanger but wetting your appetite for Iron Fist early next year and the joining of The Defenders. I can’t wait to see the future of Luke Cage. 


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