I didn’t know what to expect when Marvel and Netflix’s first collaboration, Daredevil, debuted in April 2015 but it turned out to be a far slicker, and nastier, beast than I was expecting.
While the second season had its ups and downs, the first showing for Jessica Jones in late 2015 proved to be even better, with a strong cast and a more physcholigical edge - not to mention a properly twisted villain.
As the third Marvel property to arrive on the streaming service, Luke Cage has a lot to live up to and by the evidence of the first seven episodes it seems to mostly be rising to the challenge.
It’s a very different show- and that’s impressive in and of itself when it would be much easier to just rehash the same elements with different faces.
I especially like the way each series has its own colour palette- Daredevil dripped with shades of red, Jessica Jones pops with scattered rays of purple and neon. Here the prevailing colour is yellow, giving a feeling of streetlight-lit streets at night and bringing in a touch of comic book stylisation that’s slick and subtle.
Each series is also deeply tied in tone to it’s central character. Jessica Jones for example had a psychological depth due to her twisted past and the nature of the antagonist Kilgrave. Luke Cage has a more straightforward feel, befitting a bulletproof protagonist who isn’t interested in becoming a hero.
And there’s a lot to like here, with the cast a real highlight. Mike Colter builds on the part established in Jessica Jones with a performance that’s strong and likeable, with touches of humour and acres of charisma. He also looks like wading through bullets is a conceivable hobby.
The great Mahershala Ali brings a huge amount of presence and charm, despite being one of the main villains, and he’s matched by his on screen cousin played by Alfre Woodard in a subtly layered performance.
Relative unknown Simone Missisk holds her own in the role of Misty Knight who is more than just a potential squeeze for Cage and I practically whooped when Rosario Dawson reappeared. She’s the connecting thread throughout these New York set tales, and brings a lot to her part in this show.
So it’s a stylish show with a great cast, and music fans will be well served by an eclectic mix of tracks, including some full lengthed performances at Ali’s Harlem’s Paradise club. There’s action too, though the scenes are less common than you might think.
On the storyline side, things are a little less rosy. Luke Cage moves very slowly to begin with and doesn’t go out of its way to really set up the plot. Instead we spend a lot of time listening to likeable people talking without very much really happen.
When those themes start to be introduced they’re more than a little familiar. You’ve got shades of vigilante justice which was already explored better with the Punisher in Daredevil season 2 and the reluctant hero which we’ve all seen before.
The broad strokes of the plot have a tendency to get bogged down in big business and bigger politics which are hard to care about, even when the lines are delivered by great actors. Flashbacks finally add some texture but otherwise there’s a lack of real structure.
The action is as blistering as you should expect from these Marvel shows but the scenes themselves quickly become repetitive. Cage has a habit of walking slowly into places and letting people shoot him before saying something supercool then beating the crap out of everyone.
Naturally it looks good but at just halfway through the season it’s already starting to grate, especially in light of the complex fights of Daredevil and the more cerebral stuff of Jessica Jones.
The slow pace might be the biggest issue so far, which is a trap these Marvel shows often fall into during their middle episodes. I fully expect events to accelerate in the final third (one solid twist has already been revealed) but so far it’s all mildly disappointing.
Luke Cage is another solid show from the Marvel/Netflix partnership, with a strong collection of characters led by Mike Colter and an impressively different feel to its stablemates. It has moments of overfamiliarity and some undercooked plotting but there’s plenty to like in the first half of the series, and no doubt a rousing finale on the way.