Luke Cage continues the streak of solid Marvel programming on Netflix. The show manages to capture the same tone that made Daredevil and Jessica Jones so successful, but like those shows, finds enough of its own style to let it breathe and flesh out its corner of the city. There’s also plenty in the series to satisfy fans of the comics.
As was the case with Jessica Jones, the efforts to tie Luke Cage in with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are a stumbling point in the writing. The references to Loki’s attack on New York in the first Avengers movie as “the incident” feel weird, especially as its been referred to on shows like Agents of SHIELD as The Battle of New York. The constant references to “the guy with the magic hammer,” and “the big green monster” come off as coy because Thor and Hulk are household names elsewhere in Marvel stories.
Halfway through the season, Diamondback replaces Cottonmouth as the central villain, and that’s where the show loses some steam. Diamondback is referenced in conversation early on, and he looms over the events of the first half of the season, but it’s Cottonmouth who feels more developed as a character. When Cottonmouth is murdered, it almost feels like an aside to the narrative, and it’s a waste of character development. What’s worse, Diamondback, who should have come with a massive payoff, never lives up to his promise. Some of that is due to the fact that his character is motivated by “daddy issues,” and that’s disappointing, but that’s not all of it. I’d also say Erik LaRay’s performance is over the top. As Cottonmouth, Mahershala Ali has charisma, and LaRay doesn’t match it.
As a plot device, the “Judas bullets” could have worked better. Since Hammer was shown in the Iron Man movies to be an incompetent version of Tony Stark, it’s hard to take Hammer Tech too seriously. The show did need something to threaten Luke and raise the stakes, so it’s hard to get too upset about it, but they’d have done well to remain ambiguous about the manufacturer of the bullets.
Shades’ loyalty to Mariah isn’t given much context. It becomes somewhat easier to understand toward the end, when they’re both at odds with Diamondback, but in the closing moments, when they share a kiss, it became weird. I would add Claire and Luke’s budding romance to the weird factor, but it’s more forced than weird. Maybe it’s enough to say the romances on this show are not its strong point.
Mike Colter’s performance is outstanding on the show, and with only a couple of exceptions, it’s well acted all around. The ending is somewhat unsatisfying, and it didn’t do as much to set up The Defenders as it could have, but the series hit all the marks it really needed to.