“I’m gonna tell Cottonmouth how to spell my name.”
We might be paraphrasing a bit. But that is just one of the many quotes you’ll be repeating after watching Marvel’s Luke Cage. The third Marvel/Netflix series on the way to The Defenders, Luke Cage continues the gritty vibe of Daredevil and Jessica Jones but manages to bring something completely different to the MCU. Picking up from Jessica Jones, the series explores Luke’s initial desire to be left alone, eschewing heroics and minding his own business. However, that doesn’t last very long. The series itself is a very tasty mashup of 90’s hip-hop music, blaxploitation (see films like Foxy Brown, Shaft, Super Fly), science fiction, black history and drama.
Mike Colter seems more self assured as Luke, embracing all facets of the MCU and the character. With many supporting roles under his belt (Ringer, American Horror Story: Coven, The Following), Colter turns in a career best performance — nailing Luke’s swagger and journey from lone wolf to Harlem hero. The way Colter walks, talks and all the way down to his deep voice, trademark scowl and “Sweet Christmas,” he evokes everything that fans and casual watchers will love about the character.
From Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin to David Tennant’s Kilgrave, Mahershala Ali’s Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes continues Marvel’s trend of casting great villains in their Netflix series. Ali’s Cottonmouth is just as ruthless as Kingpin, using to extreme methods to protect his business, family and keep his people in line. Like Colter, Ali is great at showing his character’s evolution. Wait until you hear Cottonmouth’s laugh, which is amazing as it is goosebump inducing. With Cottonmouth, you’re never quite sure what he will do when faced with a problem and that is what makes Ali so magnetic in the role.
Alfre Woodard’s Mariah Dillard is less of an antagonist, however that doesn’t mean she isn’t any less formidable. Cottonmouth and Dillard of course work together but don’t necessarily always see eye to eye. Dillard is fiercely protective of her political campaign and image, going to great lengths to do so with a temper to match. Having an actress of Woodard’s stature in the show, she easily elevates every scene she is in, particularly playing well off Ali and Colter.
The supporting characters are perfectly placed in the way they interact with Luke and other parts of the MCU. Simone Missick manages to successfully pickup on the fan favorite nuances of Misty Knight, while updating her to modern times. Her chemistry with Colter has to be seen to be believed.
Theo Rossi and Frank Whaley are particularly impressive, adding to Cage’s dilemmas as you get deeper into the series. For those who are concerned about ties to larger MCU, there are tons of Marvel easter eggs to be found (some more notable than others) as Rosario Dawson returns as Claire Temple, fitting in very well with the Harlem hero and background.
The cinematography and the writing take this show from good to a must watch series. First and foremost, Cheo Hodari Coker was the perfect choice to tell Luke’s story, with his keen voice for telling stories of crime drama and character conflict based around those of color. Coming at a time when stories of minorities need to be heard and diversity/inclusion is paramount, Coker manages to illustrate why these issues are so important by developing the characters and storylines thoroughly. From the dialogue, character interactions to the facial expressions conveyed by the actors, Coker nails everything about Luke, his world and why audiences will love the series. Even using Gang Starr songs as the episode names? Very clever and you will completely understand why after watching.
Manuel Billeter’s exceptional cinematography underscores Harlem perfectly, making the city come alive as a character itself — just as he did with Jessica Jones. As you dig deeper into the series, you’ll find yourself forgetting Luke Cage is a series based off a comic book and viewing it as a straight up crime drama, complementing both Billeter’s and Coker’s work here.
Lastly, the music manages to add a layer of culture to the show. Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge’s score is the frosting on top of everything, weaving in and out of each episode at the perfect time. Underscoring each character’s motivation and giving each episode it’s own hip-hop induced flavor, you’ll want to download it from iTunes if Marvel/Netflix decide to release it as an album. Listen for yourself, because no description or detail will do it justice.
After finishing this series, people won’t be wondering how to spell his name. Keep doing Luke right, Marvel. You’ve just dropped the proverbial mic with this series.
All episodes of Marvel’s Luke Cage land on Netflix September 30th.