Following the success of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the latest could-be Netflix superhero hit is Luke Cage, which comes with all the hype you’d expect of another Marvel adaptation for the small screen.
The entire series is available now on the streaming service. And, as cinema continues to pump out bigger and louder comic book movies with ever-diminishing returns, it could be exactly what is needed for those bored with conventional superhero stories.
It’s as much a crime drama as a superhero one
Audiences first got a glimpse of Luke Cage, played with steely intensity by Mike Colter, as a compelling love interest and occasional partner-in-fighting-crime in Jessica Jones.
Since then, he’s moved from New York’s gritty yet trendy Hell’s Kitchen to the slightly less lavish surroundings of Harlem, sweeping floors at Pop’s Barbershop by day and washing dishes at the Paradise club by night.
Said club is owned by Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali), who is consolidating power as the city’s latest drug lord.
Corruption and all manner of underhanded, behind-the-scenes tactics are afoot, and Cage soon gets roped in.
It’s a slow burner
Don’t head into this superhero show expecting all brawn and no brains. As is the case with a lot of long-form TV these days, it takes plenty of time setting its scene and establishing its characters in the beginning.
Yes, there are exchanges of gunfire and a few bloody fists when it’s needed, but Luke Cage is thick and fast on dialogue, exposition and sowing the seeds for future plot points too.
A fresh take on comic book clichés
On the face of it, this has all the usual superhero tropes: a protagonist struggling with the burden of their abilities (“I never asked for all this”), a love interest put in harm’s way, and all kinds of shady sub-characters.
Cage struggles with the moral implications of using his powers for good, and where the line truly lies as criminal activity comes ever closer to hurting those he cares about.
Still, the show’s relatively impoverished setting of Harlem, and cast of almost exclusively black characters, seems a world away from The Avengers (referenced with a wink as “those other guys downtown”).
Good things come to those who wait
Adrenaline junkies might be tempted to move on after the first episode – with little in the way of action to keep those who are just along for the spectacle.
But stick with it. The whole Luke Cage series is available for you to binge, and later episodes are slightly more action-packed than the season’s considered opening suggests.
There’s also a fresher feel to the show than its contemporaries, once it really latches on to the ‘blaxploitation’ riffs that knowingly inform a lot of the show’s style and themes.
The world needs Luke Cage right now
It seems that almost every day we see more tragic news coming out of America involving police officers, guns and racial tension. With Donald Trump involved in a too-close-to-call race for the White House, America has never seemed so combustible.
So Luke Cage’s take on black power is refreshing and timely: with the surrounding societal issues and political context, it feels infinitely more relevant than another shield-clutching goon in spandex.
Luke Cage is available to stream on Netflix now