I’m keeping this spoiler-free, so expect a broader discussion of the show that dodges the details. Let’s get something straight right out of the gate: you are probably going to hear or have already heard that the portrayal of Luke Cage in the new Marvel Netflix series is “controversial.” Fuck anybody pushing that narrative. This is one of the best, if not THE best, translations of a Marvel superhero into a live-action format and there is nothing about this version of Cage that isn’t faithful to the spirit of the character as he has existed for decades. Any source claiming there is controversy here is either baiting for traffic or has a political agenda that extends well beyond appreciating this character for who he is. This is not to say that the series is afraid of engaging political themes, it does so unflinchingly and with a maturity rarely seen in television, superhero-themed or otherwise. It’s a bold move for Marvel and Netflix, but honestly, anything less would have felt lacking and disparagingly inauthentic. The series embraces Black Lives Matter, police brutality, and street-level criminality as a matter of course, as an indelible part of what these characters face in their daily lives. It’s also careful to round that out with an equal dose of culture, history, and context thanks in large part to being set in Harlem. What we are treated to ultimately is a rich, complex, and ground-level look at the black American experience today, through the eyes of a hero reluctant to exploit his powers but eager to effect change in the world. And speaking of those powers, when the fists start to fly they do so in earnest. And unlike the balletic grace of Daredevil or the indirect brutality of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage hits as hard as a Mack truck and is presented as a relentless and unstoppable force. The fight choreography is unique to this character and unlike anything we have seen before, a hybrid of old-school boxing and street-fighting that manages to adeptly convey Cage’s strength as well as his implacable invulnerability. There is tremendous visual power in seeing him shrug off a hail of gunfire, and his powers are straightforward enough that there’s little difficulty with suspension of disbelief. The series is incredibly well-integrated, both in terms of the Marvel Universe as well as our own. Real life history melds with ground-level perspectives on meta-humans, the Avengers and the invasion of Manhattan. It feels quite a bit more grounded than other Marvel fare and less alienating to the casual viewer who may not be plugged in to every little detail of the Marvel Universe chronology. A similar approach is taken with the character of Luke Cage. Cage may not be as obscure a character as Jessica Jones, but I imagine this will be many folks’ first real introduction to him. The writers do a magnificent job of tweaking his origin story to feel more organic while still paying homage to his blacksploitation roots. Whether you know him or not starting out, you get to know him thoroughly throughout the series run. His origin story is conveyed via flashback and includes a pretty hilarious send-up of his original costume and look. This goes down mid-season, a solid move as you are already well-acquainted with the character by then and the somewhat mad-sciencey origin of his powers seems less jarring than it might have had the series tried opening with that story. There’s a lot to be said for just how smart the show is. Literary references from Langston Hughes to Donald Goines, deep discussions of the historic and current civil rights struggles and sharp insight into African American culture pepper nearly every episode. Several episodes also showcase musical performances from a range of brilliant and meaningful artists. The show brims with vibrant life, where these elements may feel like background fodder anywhere else they have a presence here, by design, that engages and brings them to the fore. For instance: an appearance by Method Man might have felt like any old celebrity cameo in a show of a lesser caliber, but here it’s woven into the fabric of the series in a way that gives his (albeit brief) role impact. Maybe “impact” is a good term to use to characterize the show as a whole. It’s never didactic or patronizing, it manages to maintain relevance without being too zeitgeisty. There are a few pop-culture references that may come across as dated a few years down the road, but the perspective as a whole is so thoroughly fleshed out that everything works well in context. It hits hard, gets its hooks in, and remains compelling. Consider the bar raised, and consider me eager for Season Two. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.