I really wanted to love Luke Cage. I do like the character; definitely more than the other two characters that have gotten Netflix shows. I’ve never cared at all for Daredevil and I mostly know Jessica Jones through her relationship with Luke Cage in the comics. The show is good. There is a certain level of production quality that never slips. The cast is great, the production values are high and though it dances around them a little too much it has some great messages. But the plot and dialogue are nothing special and the tone frequently conflicts with the action.
There is a lot to like about this show, such as how black it is. A lot of shows throw out the idea of diversity, but most of those shows are still from a very white perspective. The Flash has the West family, but their stories are all secondary to Barry’s and most of the rest of the cast and guest stars are white. That is not a complaint about the Flash; its cast feels just right for that show, but rare is a show that embraces a minority POV as strongly as Luke Cage does. Mike Colter is great as the title character. He plays Cage as more erudite than most takes on the character; he is a smart guy who just happens to be an unstoppable, bulletproof strongman. The bulletproof is a big part of it. In a time where this country seems to have weekly shootings of black men by police it is something to have a superhero whose closest thing to a costume is a hoody filled with bullet holes. Really, every part of the make-up of Luke Cage is just about perfect.
That is why it is so disappointing that the dialogue and plotting lets it down so much. It starts good, with a series of events forcing Luke into taking action. But after that it becomes a big jumble of nothing, spinning its wheels until it hits the last episode or two and is allowed to finish up. For the first half of the show, things happen. Actions have consequences. Then Diamondback shows up and things change for the glacial. Really, the shows eventual primary antagonist is a void of a character. Attempts are made to make his vendetta against Cage personal, but it doesn’t work. Diamondback pales in comparison to Kingpin or Kilgrave. It is worse that the show has to remove a legitimately interesting villain in Cottonmouth to get to him.
Then there are the problems with tone. Luke Cage wants to be serious, important television, but as much as it mocks them it can’t escape its pulp roots. It tries to simultaneously get viewers to take its musings on seriously at the same time as it villains shooting rocket launchers in the middle of the city with no repercussions. It is about a man given unbreakable skin through a science experiment, but also takes the time to make fun of idea of a superhero wearing a costume. It wants to have it both ways, to stay true to the comics while distancing itself from them. It doesn’t work.
Still, the show is more good than bad. It is a good show with a handful of niggling problems that keeps it from realizing its potential.
How about the other superhero shows starting new seasons this fall? I have a few thoughts.
Agents of SHIELD – Now in its 5th season, this show is adding Ghost Rider to the mix. That is sure to move the needle for some people, but it does nothing for me. I’m just as disinterested as I’ve been since after the first handful of episodes. Maybe I’ll catch up one day with a Netflix binge.
Gotham – This isn’t the show I thought or wanted it to be. It is not a Batman prequel show, but an insane show that happens to share some characters with Batman. I didn’t think it could go further off the rails, but the showrunners seem to take sentiments like that as a challenge.
Arrow – I was pretty down on last season’s meanderings, but I’ve caught the first two episodes of season 5 and have been a pleasant surprise. They aren’t great, but it feels stronger than last season. Adding a handful of new characters to Team Arrow and moving some of the longtime members into interesting roles has shaken things up enough, as has eliminating/putting on the back burner all the Ollie & Felicity stuff.
Flash – Flash’s season 2 was a bit of rough patch. There were a lot of really good episodes, but a lot of it was a less effective retread of season 1 with added bad decision making by Barry and spending a lot of time setting up Legends of Tomorrow. So far season 3 has largely sorted out a lot of season 2’s mess while setting up what should be some good stories. Hopefully it will fully return to season 1 form.
Supergirl – The first season was good, if uneven, but the first episode of season 2 was excellent. If this is the focus and tenor of the second season this could be great. The new additions, Superman and Lena Luthor to start with, have been welcome and the slight adjustment of character relationships really works. I can’t wait to see this unfold.
Legends of Tomorrow – The first season was a mixed bag, with some truly great episodes and some pretty bad ones. They made some good changes, like dropping the Hawks, and some I’m not too happy about, like losing Captain Cold. Still, the kept most of the strongest parts of last season and this year are going to be doing what is my favorite superhero team, the JSA. If they do that team even a bit of justice I will be really happy.