We’re late to the party, of course, but that’s the nature of our Weekend Reviews. This time, we look back to last autumn’s addition to the Marvel Cinematic/TV Universe, Luke Cage, Powerman, Hero for Hire.1

Cast and Crew

Directors: Paul McGuigan, Phil Abraham, Andy Goddard, Marc Jobst, Clark Johnson, Magnus Martens, Sam Miller, Vincenzo Natali, Guillermo Navarro, Tom Shankland, Stephen Surjik, George Tillman Jr.
Writers: Cheo Hodari Coker, Archie Goodwin, Nathan Louis Jackson, Matt Owens, John Romita Jr., Roy Thomas, George Tuska, Akela Cooper, Aïda Mashaka Croal, Jason Horwitch, Charles Murray, Christian Taylor

Mike Colter as Luke Cage
Simone Missick as Misty Knight
Theo Rossi as Hernan “Shades” Alvarez
Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple / Night Nurse
Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard
Mahershala Ali as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes
Erik LaRay Harvey as Willis “Diamondback” Stryker
Jaiden Kaine as Zip
Frankie Faison as Henry “Pop” Hunter
Edwin Freeman as Younger “Pop” Hunter
Ron Cephas Jones as Bobby Fish
Karen Pittman as Inspector Priscilla Ridley
Frank Whaley as Detective Rafael Scarfe
Chance Kelly as Albert Rackham
Jade Wu as Connie Lin
Jacob Vargas as Domingo Colon
Deborah Ayorinde as Candace
John Clarence Stewart as Alex
Sean Ringgold as Sugar
Justin Swain as Bailey
Michael Kostroff as Dr. Noah Burstein
Tijuana Ricks as Thembi Wallace
Darius Kaleb as Lonnie Wilson
Dawn-Lyen Gardner as Megan McClaren
Sonia Braga as Soledad
Brian ‘Sene’ Marc as Wilfredo “Chico” Diaz
Sonja Sohn as Captain Betty Audrey
Parisa Fitz-Henley as Reva
Clifton Cutrary as Teenage Carl Lucas
Jared Kemp as Teenage Willis Stryker
Dapper Dan as Dapper Dan
Thomas Q. Jones as Comanche
LaTanya Richardson Jackson as Mama Mabel
Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker2
Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith as himself
Sway Calloway as himself

Premise

A wrongfully-convicted prisoner left super-strong and bulletproof by an experiment tries to lay low, but criminal activity pushes him to step forward as “Harlem’s Captain America.”

High Point

The manner in which the series integrates so many things—Luke’s backstory, his journey to heroism, the public response, the broader Marvel Universe, and a comparatively grounded street-level setting, is extraordinary. We even get an amusing nod to Cage’s original outfit. The show takes what made Marvel a success in the 1960s, and realized it on television….

Low Point

…with Diamonback feeling the most out of place, the most like someone from a conventional comic book.

The show starts strong and remains strong for most of its thirteen episodes. Pacing and plotting start to drag and ramble with a switch of villains and an uneven conclusion. Diamondback is useful because he can slug it out with Cage, but Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth makes a far more compelling villain, Harlem’s would-be answer to Lex Luthor or Wilson Fisk. And the show needs good villains, even more so than its predecessors. Whatever his personal challenges, Cage is Avengers-level powerful, and would not be out of place in the Marvel movie. We can only watch so much of him up against street thugs, who are comedically out of their weight class.3

The Scores

Originality: 2/6 We have the latest Marvel series, but Luke Cage does try to define its own territory within the broader universe.

Effects: 6/6 Luke quickly goes public, and uses his powers freely. The effects feel necessary and have been well-handled.

Story: 4/6 The story begins strong; it goes somewhat awry in the later episodes, though it also lays groundwork for an interesting second season.

Acting: 6/6 The Marvel shows cast strong actors, with Colter, Ali, and Dawson standing out. Some of the incidental characters are weaker, but not enough to pull me out of the show’s version of reality.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Production: 6/6

Overall: 5/6

In total, Luke Cage, season one, receives 34/42

Notes

1. Luke is hired for some non-heroic jobs, gets offered a bodyguard/enforcer position, and gets called a “Hero for Hire” by a rapper. He does not work as Marvel’s “Hero for Hire” this season, though perhaps we’ll see that take on the character in the future.

2. Pay close attention in Episode Six.

3. Mariah presents unique challenges, of course.