Luke Cage: Why the new Netflix series is 'must see' TV

More than just another superhero show, Mike Colter's bulletproof character is 'searingly relevant'

Luke Cage
(Image credit: Marvel)

Following Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the third in Netflix's series of Marvel Defenders comic adaptations is available to stream from today - and critics say it's their most powerful and important yet.

Luke Cage was first introduced to viewers in the Jessica Jones series as the superhero's mysterious, super-strong some-time lover with whom she shares a dark secret.

Played by Mike Colter, he is an ex-convict, wrongfully jailed and subjected to a government experiment that has left him with unbreakable skin.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

In the new series, adapted by former hip-hop journalist Cheo Coker, Cage returns to his roots in Harlem to defend the people and the neighbourhood where he grew up from small-time street crime and high-level corruption.

The show examines black culture through its music, literature, television and film, while never forgetting it's a superhero series, says Kwame Opam at The Verge.

While it takes on a lot and sometimes "strains to pull off its ambitions", says the critic, when it works, it excels, making the series more than another excellent Marvel series: "It's must-see TV", he says.

Joshua Alston at AV Club describes the series as the most recent symbol of "the new golden era of blackness". Cage's fleeting appearance in Jessica Jones hinted at great things to come and now Colter has turned him into a totem of black masculinity.

Alston adds that the superhero-fights-gangster story isn't exactly boundary-pushing, but much of the show's success has to do with Colter's "marvellous" performance.

It's also one of the most stylish television worlds around, says the journalist. Beyond the stylistic and narrative elements, there's "a beautiful focus on black skin" - a reference to the comic book's racial allegory in which "a black man's biggest liability becomes his most powerful asset".

Luke Cage is the result of a meticulous vision, concludes Alston, "a wonderfully, powerfully, unapologetically black show".

More than that, Luke Cage is "vital and alive and of-the-moment", says Daniel Fienberg at the Hollywood Reporter. "It sings with the rhythms and swagger of Harlem and it's a genre show that wears its intellectual curiosities like a badge."

Fienberg found the show so "satisfying as badass street poetry and muscular urban renewal parable" that he hardly cared that the superhero aspect was a bit repetitive and underwhelming.

Luke Cage, he concludes, is infused by the conversations we're having now about race and gender and the American urban space in 2016, and it's "searingly relevant and entertaining".

Luke Cage trailer amazes critics with 'Wu-Tangified' Marvel series

22 July

Marvel and Netflix have wowed fans and critics at the San Diego Comic-Con with a first glimpse at their new web-TV series Luke Cage, featuring short clips from the show and the first substantial trailer.

Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the series stars Mike Colter as Cage, a former convict who uses his newfound superhuman strength to fight crime. The series will join fellow Marvel web shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist in the lead up to a Defenders crossover mini-series in 2017.

Cage first appeared as a gentle but hulky love interest in Jessica Jones and the new show will be dedicated to his story. After being subjected to a sabotaged experiment that has given him unbreakable skin, a fugitive Cage attempts to rebuild his life in Harlem, but is soon forced to confront his past in a battle for the city.

"The footage from the new show looked amazing," says KM McFarland for Wired, adding that showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker "dropped the best quote of the hour when he said: 'The world is ready for a bulletproof black man'".

Footage from the series shows Cage ripping off a car door and knocking down a series of hapless thugs with such ferocity that it "plays like a slapstick comedy routine instead of a fight scene", continues McFarland. It is "perfectly soundtracked" with ODB's Shimmy Shimmy Ya, confirming Coker's assertion that he'd brought about the "Wu-Tang-ification of the Marvel Universe".

Marvel fans who watched Jessica Jones will know a bit of Cage's backstory, says Alex Abad-Santos on Vox. His wife was killed, and he plans to avenge her, which means "lowering the boom on some street-level bad guys".

"The best bit of the trailer is watching Cage use his superpowers," continues the critic. Like Daredevil's acrobatics or Jessica Jones's unbridled strength, Cage has his own style and the result is "fight scenes that almost have a jaunty sense of humour about them, [as] Cage ploughs through bad guys like they're bowling pins".

Plot details are still scant, but "it's apparent that the bulletproof hero will be tackling a criminal enterprise that threatens to engulf the entire neighbourhood of Harlem", says Evan Narcisse on Gizmodo. The Comic-Con panel revealed that Harlem was central to the themes of the series, with actors and Coker highlighting its significance as "a place where black folk managed to organize politically and artistically" - so "a threat to Harlem's stability is symbolic", he adds.

Other clips from the series showed House of Cards' Mahershala Ali as gangster night-club owner Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes in conflict with his politician sister, Mariah Dillard, played by Alfre Woodard.

Marvel newcomer Simone Missick will play blaxploitation-style kung fu detective Misty Knight, while Rosario Dawson stars as nurse Claire Temple, completing a trio of Marvel-Netflix appearances after Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

Luke Cage debuts on Netflix on 30 September.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.