Last Friday I sat down with my girlfriend to watch Luke Cage, Netflix’s most recent series in the quadfecta that is The Defenders. Now, I wasn’t the biggest Luke Cage fan going into this series. Don’t get me wrong; I was excited, but that excitement came from watching the others series Netflix has put out. I liked Daredevil, and Jessica Jones was even better, so my enthusiasm was coming from a place of wanting to see another great TV show rather than excitement about seeing a character I loved on TV. Now I wasn’t completely ignorant; I had read a few Heroes for Hire, and I was impressed when he showed up in a crossover or two. He was more like a historical figure for me, the Jack Johnson of comics. Historical and important, but not really fleshed out. Now after watching the first two episodes of the series, I can say that this character has become real for me, more so that Jessica Jones or Matt Murdock. We have to start with the acting. Mike Coulter is perfect for this role. He was great in Jessica Jones, but in this episode, he really shines. From the opening scene, you get a sense of who Luke Cage is and what he believes. Coulter puts on a great performance, switching between sensitive to tough guy on a dime. I also liked that he’s a bit tougher than he was in Jessica Jones, everyone once in a while in this episode you get the “Man, good thing this guy is on our side” kind of feeling.
The second actor I want to highlight is Mahershala Ali. He plays Cottonmouth and just like Coulter’s Cage, we get to see who he is and what he’s about from his very first appearance. He’s got the perfect kind of charisma, great villains have, an unapologetic hustler who is all about the business when it gets right down to it. What I also liked about Ali’s performance is that while in the first scene we get to see who Cottonmouth believes himself to be, in the subsequent scenes we get to see him in his less polished form. We see him badgered by his cousin, belittled by an associate from another gang and downright out of control. Ali displays an excellent amount of range for a villain who can oftentimes be narrowed to the too cool gangster.
As for the style of the series, it stays within the vein of the shows that have come before it but provides its own perspective that differentiates itself from the predecessors. The most obvious example of his is the music, which has taken a queue from Jessica Jones and doubled down. The soundtrack is a fusion of gritty jazz and hip hop and works wonders. This episode is on the slower side, which is what I expected considering the pace of the other Netflix’s Marvel shows. We get to see a lot of introduction to characters and a lot of set up for relationships that are going to be primary points of conflict and alliance later on. My only complaint is that sometimes the writing can get to be a little too much. It’s the same way I felt about Jessica Jones writing; it’s trying to be so smooth that it slips and ends up being comical. But it’s a small flaw that doesn’t pop up too much in this first episode.
As first episodes go, it’s a slower burn, but by the time it ends you can already see each piece is going to end up on the board. We’re still in the opening moves, but the tension is palpable.
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Luke Cage E.01 - "Moment of Truth" Director: Paul McGuigan