Last month I outlined
my hopes for Marvel’s Luke Cage
on Netflix, based on the noir comic from Mike Benson, Adam Glass, and Shawn
Martinbrough. Last week I
promised I’d re-examine them more in depth and finished the series, and I’m
so, so ready to go.
Let’s start with my hopes on style: I said I wanted the
show’s look to be as much an action as it could be a description, that I wanted
to know it was Luke Cage just by
seeing it. Well, damn. I mean, damn.
Harlem is a legit character through all thirteen episodes.
Startling, corporeal; Harlem isn’t merely a neighborhood. It
grabs like a hand out of the grave. It’s not just about the shock factor
though. It’s about being alive, through
second and third and fourth chances, for persisting through being forgotten
because, really, what else is there to do? Its residents never seem to cut and
run even if on the fence. Their actions all indicate an investment and belief
that what they’re doing is actually good for what’s around them.Harlem wasn’t like The
Wire where the creators shadowed it with despair to highlight its reality,
and I was concerned about that because it would have been the easiest thing for
Marvel to do to show contrast in their universe. That would have been lip
service but it’s not what showrunner Cheo Hadari Coker did. How he lit Harlem
was earnest and resonates.
Luke Cage’s style
is killer, and it would be hard to argue it didn’t
influence how the violence is portrayed. Back in September I said I wanted it
to be eloquent, largely based on how wasteful it was in Daredevil season two. In Cage,
it never, not even once, interrupted the story. And there were
opportunities…the show simply didn’t take them.
Take, for instance, [SPOILER!], Cottonmouth’s death. As
Mariah beat him with the microphone stand, and when Shades pounded on his face
after he was already dead, I was just waiting
for the camera to cut to Cottonmouth’s misshapen, pulpy remains. But it never
happened! And I was so grateful, because it didn’t need to!
The same happened during the prison beatdowns. We saw
nothing like Punisher’s obscene and raunchy cell scene. Blood didn’t spill
everywhere as if that were the only way to realize someone was getting hurt.
And I get that Punisher’s nature – his existence, really – is based around that
kind of thing. But in DD, it was
almost easy to glance over because it happened so frequently that all shock
factor was lost. The bottom line for Luke
Cage is it spared its viewers eyes so it could create an impact in the
viewer’s heart. The severity of wounds and death spoke through loss of self and
life, not in pints of blood.
I mentioned contrast above. It’s the last thing I wanted
Netflix Luke Cage to have. I compared
it to the stars that grace the panels in Luke’s noir book, acknowledging that
we don’t get to see them in cityscapes, whether in comics or real life.
We got some phenomenal contrast with Pop’s barbershop. The
place actually gets repaired. And more than once! That never happens anywhere in
comics. It’s a hot button issue among the public and heroes, but no one ever
does anything about it. It gets played
up so frequently that it becomes played out. But not in Luke Cage. The storyline delves into characters’ integrity and
courage in ways that were so much more human and relatable than any superhero
story I’ve come across. It felt so good to watch.
There’s similar contrast with the music. I couldn’t tell you
one piece of music from any of the other Marvel or comic movies/shows. I know
it’s there, because it’s a crutch of storytelling that elicits viewer response,
but it’s so fleeting that it leaves absolutely no impression. The music in Cage, though, is like Harlem as a
neighborhood: vibrant and alive and constantly contributing. There’s a growing
Spotify playlist and even a double LP vinyl.
What was the last movie or show you saw that you actually wanted
to hear the score to? Mine was Into the
Wild in 2007. Nothing since, until now; and before that was Batman Forever when I was six. The music
isn’t a tool in Luke Cage. It’s not a
tap for a keg of beer. It’s a conduit to the future from the past. And it’s
I can’t express enough how Luke Cage wasn’t just enjoyable; it was beneficial. I enjoyed Daredevil and Jessica Jones. I enjoyed Civil
War and nearly all the other stuff Marvel has put out. But I also enjoy Twix. And what do I do after I eat a Twix? I
just shove the wrapper in the trash and shrug. But after watching Luke Cage…I’m better.