By Patrick Tedder
Luke Cage is representative of the absolute best Marvel has to offer on Netflix as well as its worst. Like practically every Marvel show put out, there’s simply not enough story to justify 13 hour long episodes in a Netflix format. Around episode seven, everything looks like it’s going to be wrapped up in a nice neat and well-crafted story and then … it keeps going.
Of course, one can hardly blame Netflix or Marvel for delivering an opus in the form of the blackest superhero presentation to ever get a fair and legitimate production for the masses. This is a magnum opus for all of the years that black superheroes were afterthoughts, and at their worst, racist caricatures that perpetuated oppression. It’s as if Marvel wasn’t entirely sure that it would get the chance for a season 2 and so they went all out so that if nothing else, this black superhero would leave a mark for some time.
Luke Cage feels like Shaft or even a blacksploitation film, but instead of being the joke, the minority, like it’s main character it breaks through walls with a mighty fist. This is seen in its embrace of popular African-American music, language, cameos and the city our hero protects, Harlem itself. Anything short of this bold approach to present a great production in any sort of whitewash would have been a continuation of something Marvel, nor any forward thinking studio should embrace. This is where Luke Cage shines.
Another area where Cage excels is in its cast and the characters they portray. While potentially packed full of too many characters, each one gets a deserving amount of attention to show growth and range that moves the plot forward without dragging. Not one actor is miscast.
Where things fall apart is that for a 13 episode series, the show can feel erroneously filled with fluff. It’s never so egregious as to make you want to stop watching, but had they trimmed the fat off scenes and even areas of plot Marvel would have had a masterpiece on its hands. The empty areas in 13 hours gives the audiences too much time to start thinking about the flaws behind the bombastic style.
Another element that Marvel might be wise to fully realize is how it wants to connect its properties. With each new Marvel program that doesn’t hit the big screen, audiences are teased with very slight nods to a major superhero battle or reference to other heroes in their universe. On the one hand, it’s nice that one doesn’t have to watch every Marvel property to enjoy the product at hand, but on the other hand, such superficial lip service comes as a slightly insulting distraction and makes one question whether Marvel really knows how they want to handle their vast IPs.
Regardless of my criticisms, I must make it clear that Luke Cage is an important show. It’s pop culture and it has something to say. While it never veers so far off the commercial path as to outrage its audience, the show lightly tackles police brutality, safety within black communities and what it means to be black in today’s society.
Much has been made of the stylistic choice the character Luke Cage makes. He’s the common man; no capes and masks, just a hoodie and a badass attitude. The character of Cage is intelligent, benevolent and unlike many other heroes, he wants keep his head down because he is black, not just the usual tropes we’ve become accustomed to. It gives the audience something to think about, without alienating. It doesn’t solve anything, but it’s a fantastic cycle of art imitating life and vice versa. It’s progress.