Marvel was having a really solid run with its original TV properties on Netflix. Everybody loved Daredevil. Jessica Jones was cool and hip. The announced show based on the Punisher has greatness written all over it. Luke Cage had to be incredible, right?
Initially, I was really excited. With a strong African American lead in Mike Colter, I felt like I was getting a glimpse into a world I longed to know more about. With the whole #OscarsSoWhite campaign, this show (from a casting perspective) was like a breathe of fresh air. The problem is that I don't feel that it went much deeper than simply putting these characters in these roles.
Maybe it doesn't need to do that? The reality is that Luke Cage is an important character. Has a superhero of this ilk that is also African American ever been on TV? As one of The Defenders he is obviously one of the four key players in that shows events. I guess I wanted more from Luke Cage. I wanted this show to go deeper.
Ultimately, this list isn't really a dissection of Luke Cage's subject matter. That is quite solid and in keeping with the other Marvel shows. Rather it is a look at the execution. After being blown away by Marvel's other TV offerings, it was hard not to examine, "5 Reasons Why Luke Cage is A Disappointment."
Too much Dialogue
Without giving much away, the abundance of dialogue eventually changes. However, until that point this show almost seems like it's trying to hit a certain "minute mark" with every episode (more on that later). In fact, by the third episode I found myself getting a bit tired of how the information between the characters was disseminated. First one set of characters would get it. Then they'd talk... and talk. After that the other characters would parse through it. It just felt forced. The worst part was also knowing where the dialogue was going. The other Marvel TV shows kept you guessing. Sadly, Luke Cage, for entirely too long, seemed to be spinning its wheels.
The Fight Scenes Are Weak
Compared to Daredevil (even Jessica Jones) the fight scenes just don't measure up. Initially, I figured it was because of the Hulky presence of Mike Colter. He is a formidable man with an incredible screen persona. At the same time, he seems almost too big for the fight scenes he is being asked to do. There is a deftness of movement that Charlie Cox (Daredevil) and Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) are able to achieve. Mike Colter, because of his size, just doesn't have that. Now, before you start citing the fighting skills of Vincent D'Onofrio (he plays Wilson Fisk in Daredevil), you have to look at his fighting scenes. Most of them are like sloppy boxing matches. They don't require the full body movements that Colter and Co. are trying to achieve.
The Bad Guys are Bad at Their Job
Cottonmouth (portrayed by the supremely talented Mahershala Ali), Mariah (the always good Alfre Woodward) and Detective Scarfe (the perennial Frank Whaley), have big aspirations. However, as you watch this show it become apparent that they are not going to be able to pull them off. For their plans to come off, it seems like they would need a lot of divine intervention. Take Cottonmouth, he's never on firm financial footing. Luke Cage early on steals all of this money, and there's very little he can do about it. Mariah is just too dependent on Cottonmouth even though her (somewhat Clintonesque) character is supposed to be self-made. She, like Cottonmouth, just doesn't seem to have their business in order. Detective Scarfe, SPOILER ALERT if you haven't seen the show, kills a witness and has people looking into him not halfway through the series. Now, Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) and Domingo (Jacob Vargas) more than acquit themselves well here. Granted, they are pretty cookie cutter in their villainy, I will take that as opposed to the others.
13 Episodes Are Too Many
Truthfully, this show really doesn't get going until about episode 5. As a result, it makes one wonder how it might have played if it had less episodes and didn't have to follow Marvel's prescribed formula. You might ask why I am not blaming Netflix? Well, if you have watched any of their other TV offerings, you know that some of their shows are a mere 3 episodes. Honestly, about two episodes in I couldn't help but wonder how much better Luke Cage might be if it was, say, eight episodes? First off, we would lose the musical numbers. Secondly, we could cut down the dialogue quite a bit. Thirdly, maybe the story would be told in a more linear way? Imagine if they opened the show with Luke Cage in prison? Then we see how comes to be the man that he starts the show being? It's a thought for a Blu-ray release at least.
Marvel is Phoning It In
I know this might be unpopular to say, but Luke Cage honestly feels like something of an interlude to The Defenders Netflix show. How might it have been if they would've merged Luke Cage with the Iron Fist show? If Luke Cage is merely a place holder until all the Defenders get together... what might Iron Fist be? In Daredevil, I can feel the heat of Hell's Kitchen. In Luke Cage, I think I am getting a little of the feel of Harlem but not nearly as much as I should. Yes, I realize that this is a comic book property and not the History Channel. However, one of the things that really gives Daredevil and Jessica Jones its gravitas is its sense of time and place. On top of that, Pop's Barbershop, the lynchpin of this entire show feels like a set. They try and make it gritty but it ends up looking like a soundstage. It's almost like after achieving what they achieved after making the aforementioned Marvel TV shows, Marvel decided to make Luke Cage with leftovers. Sure, Harlem's Paradise looks incredible but ultimately it isn't enough.
Too Many Pop Culture References
This might be the biggest bone I have to pick with this show. It is filled with Pop Culture references. This wouldn't be a problem if they weren't simply there to be references. It is almost like every episode the writers room had a quota that they needed to satisfy. Alright, that might be harsh. Overall, it isn't the content that makes Luke Cake disappointing. It's how that content is presented. In regards to Pop Culture, there's a needless reference to Al Pacino, an unwarranted conversation about Lisa Bonet, a Jet Li vs. Bruce Lee discussion, etc. Look, if overt references are your thing, that is totally fine. It just seems to undercut what this show could be. All that said, the Biggie Smalls painting in Cottonmouth's club is ill.
What'd you think? Did we get it right? Wrong? Do I need to be shipped off to Seagate? Let us know and as always... be respectful!