Luke Cage Review — Harlem Is A Bunghole

Never actually been there myself, but something tells me it’s not exactly an ideal vacation spot.

I think it’s safe to say at this point that the whole superhero fad is just one we’re going to have to live with. Not only have Marvel’s characters achieved enough status (and wealth) to be considered our generation’s Greek Myths to the point that in the not so distant future, people will actually be studying the history of Captain America in highschool, but you can release a movie where one of them just smiles throughout the entire thing, and it’d still get critical acclaims across the board. I mean how else would you explain the success of Doctor Strange? A film that a good chunk of the positive reviews admit is just Iron Man again with the only thing standing out being the visuals, which I didn’t even think were all that impressive. I could review it, but really, what exactly is there to say about a movie that plays its formula to the letter so hard it comes off more as an excuse to get these talented actors together rather than a proper film? Why don’t I just review that other Marvel thing that came out recently? The one with the black superhero, black politics, blaxploitation tributes, and pretty much everything the reviewers harp on when they talk about how progressive it is?

The thrust of that forced paragraph about Marvel being God is to contrast how despite my snark, I do like those Netflix shows. Yes, it feels like the producers ordered the amount of episodes first before deciding how to fill them in second, to the point that they’re more like thirteen-hour long movies that go through sometimes ridiculous lengths to stretch what should be at most, ten hours worth of material. But for all their chaff, what I like about them is how they get away from all that low-attention span action camp that has come to characterize The Avengers franchise, they’re far more focused on smaller character-centric stories that DC should have taken with its villains when they made that godawful Suicide Squad film. Everyone knows that when it comes to interesting protagonists, Marvel is the one who allows their heroes to have actual flaws and struggles that make audiences identify with them whilst DC’s stable are a bunch of bland symbols who only shine when they’re facing their villains. Yes, that’s countered with the fact that Marvel’s villains are nothing but a load of gimmick-y shit, but these shows have made a good effort to fix that problem, and when you add personal stories on top of that, it really makes for engaging ground to build all your elements on, even if said elements aren’t always necessary.

Am I the only one who thinks this looks stupid?

Well, they did at first, but unfortunately the longer a project goes on, the more unnecessary chaff it starts to take on. First, the second season of Daredevil was kind of bad, even before those ninjas came to ruin everything. And whilst Luke Cage is better than that, it’s such a step down from its predecessors that any hype I may have had for that Defenders crossover is all but gone now. I mean it was already ruined when you look back at the history of crossovers and think to yourself “wait a minute, how many of those have actually been good?”, but while we have yet to see how Iron Fist will play out, when the only noteworthy thing a show accomplishes is having a black superhero and representing him well, that doesn’t really speak well of the genre said superhero is in. It reminds me of all those blaxploitation movies I watched in college and how not entertaining any of them were, because anything that tries to create substance out of pushing the race of the characters to the limit is going to stop being fun to watch very fast.

Not helping is that Luke is surprisingly dull for a Marvel hero. With the drama regarding his dead wife having been wrapped up in Jessica’s spotlight show, he’s now just living a life with a barbershop owner who goes by the name of Pops, occasionally remembering his past as a framed convict and how his life in jail turned him into a walking bulletproof statue. Yawn o’rama, that’s basically every superhero origin story ever. Let me guess, some evil bad guys from his past come in, wreck his peaceful life, and motivate him to seek revenge? Well that prediction isn’t entirely true because the people from his past just happen to work for the dudes who fuck up Luke’s life after a few of the rowdier barbershop customers mess with them, but it’s still awkwardly executed to the point that I’m wondering why I want to watch an entire show centered on this giant baldy in the first place. Especially since Mike Coulter still plays him with all the charisma of a stock family photo covered in poo.

I honestly found myself rooting more for the first villain, Cottonmouth, because despite being a crook, at least he had class to him. And he’s clearly the underdog in this story given how his opponent is an impervious superhuman where the only tools available in regards to making him…um…pervious cost more than the amount of money spent into making this show. But what makes him really interesting is that he’s basically a black Lex Luthor, having to work hard all his life to get to where is right now, so it’s very understandable that he’d be wary of superhumans like Luke who can just ruin it all like it’s nobody’s business. Not exactly on the same level as Lex Luthor, but good enough to the point that when his character (spoiler) gets written out of the story at the halfway point, the show builds to a pretty high crescendo before nosediving into the Pacific Ocean when they replace him with your typical boring Marvel villain, meaning the show ends with boring vs boring.

You know, I don’t think I’ve seen Rosario Dawson in anything else lately.

Rosario Dawson’s Claire character also shows up for no better reason than because she’s been in every single one of these shows so far, so why not also the one actually about black people? And despite that sarcastic quip I made, she along with the rest of the important black women in Luke Cage make up the true heart of this show given how they’re actually human beings with personal flaws that go somewhere, even if it’s not always positive. I’ve been noticing an upsurge in popular shows about women fighting to accomplish what men can do as of late and whilst I’m not sure why it’s happening now and what took so long for it occur, it’s an upsurge I wholeheartedly support because unless your name is Ann Coulter, there are no grey areas in regards to gender equality when it comes to stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with human biology. It’s like trying to describe the cons in regards to gay rights. There are none, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Unfortunately though, the majority of the show revolves around Luke, and there’s only so much the people surrounding him can help things when the guy who’s ultimately spearheading the plot’s direction has no character arc and no real personal stake in what’s going on other than Harlem is my city. There is some attempt at it with the villain introduced in the second half, but it’s so cliched and doesn’t really affect the story in any major way, making it hard to get invested in  The only flavoring given to Luke’s journey is all that black culture stuff I mentioned before. I’m not educated in the subject matter, but from what I gather, many events in this show parallel actual famous black movements from their time as slaves to the days of Martin Luther King Jr. You’ll have to read the AV Club’s episodic posts to get the full details, but the bottom-line is that these writers did their research, and anyone who’s into black history will probably orgasm at how effectively this sort of stuff is incorporated into a superhero story.

Fun fact: that’s just a sample of all the money these two made from participating in this show.

But there’s a limit to how much all the black culture research in the world can do you if the only thing you use it for are the technicals and making the plot move a certain way. I’ve said before in regards to Millennium Actress and Mad Men that I don’t like when the setting is in control of the story, because it just makes me go “okay that’s true, but so what?”, and the Assassin’s Creed video game series has been stagnating ever since the first Ezio installment for similar reasons. Currently I’m watching this new Netflix show called The Crown and whilst each episode is tied to a specific historical event in Queen Elizabeth’s past (Winston Churchill’s declining health, the Great Smog of 1952), they’re nothing more than a backdrop to focus on Elizabeth’s journey into a cold-hearted queen who has to put her professionalism above per personal feelings. There’s also this Amazon show called Good Girls Revolt which is basically Mad Men if it was more centered on the female perspective and while the time period is part of the reason for the conflict exists in the first place, said conflict is still the driver pushing the pedal through the plot and character arcs. Luke’s arc never grows into anything more than becoming the savior of Harlem, and since all of the important conflicts happen more to people around him for very arbitrary reasons, it comes off like there isn’t really much at stake to necessitate him being a savior in the first place.

I suppose Luke Cage is worth watching if you just want more of the same-old superhero storytelling, except with a black edge and a growing impatience for that Black Panther movie to show up. However, if you want a show that actually represents black culture in a way that actually drives the story, I suggest watching The Wire instead. Besides, it is incredibly obvious that every single positive review of Luke Cage calling it one of the most progressive superhero shows of all-time obviously did not finish it before review. See, I would have thought an appropriate final bout for a show where the only person who has superpowers (besides good human resources management skills, I mean) is the protagonist in an area as nasty as Harlem would be a psychological showdown that forces Luke to realize that violence alone can’t solve problems. Something along the line of Jessica Jones’ finale before David Tennant’s neck got snapped or the one to Doctor Strange where Cumberbatch wins by (spoiler again) talking things out with the world-destroying power. But no, the show ends with the final villain taking Luke on in the middle of the streets surrounded by many onlookers whilst wearing fictional military super-powered armor.

Oh my god this final climax was stupid.

…Are you fucking serious? That’s like watching the 1999 Disney version of Tarzan with Clayton whipping out a gorilla mech at the last minute.

Minor Quips

  • Fully aware that eleven out of that 85 million-opening weekend came from me, thank you very much.
  • I guess technically, Luke Cage does sort of work as a tale of promoting the power of black women, albeit a very flawed one.
  • So is Iron Fist basically just every Chinese martial arts story ever?

8 responses to “Luke Cage Review — Harlem Is A Bunghole

  1. SPOLERS! Villain swap was the worst thing in this show. Suggest the final battle for Harlem between him and Luke, give Cottonmouth some interesting past and replace him with “Luke i am your brother” guy, whose whole personality is his love for the bible and 46 laws of power.

    Luke felt like black Captain America with intellegence of the hulk. Even the old comicbooks version of him with afro and bad jokes would have been better than what he ended up being in this show. An unkillable, deadly serious guy who whines and chickens out multiple times for no reason whatsoever. Like what threat to him was there?
    -“I will you send to jail Luke”,
    -“Oh no, i may not be able to break those prison walls again!”.
    -“I will kill everyone you love Luke”,
    -“Oh no! I wish i had a power to stop you”.

    Was there any reason he didn’t beat him up half-dead? Some sort of code, which was never mentioned in the show? It’s not like Cottonmouth had a power to control mind or something, so he was easy to get rid of.

    I didn’t knew it had historical depth. But it doesn’t add much of a value to the show, because you will not notice or care about it if you don’t already know it. I don’t think anyone would go for superhero story, to learn about history.

    P.S. Was there ever a case when Marvel managed to make hero and villian interesting, both at the same time?

  2. The only superhero TV show or movie I watched in recent years and really, truly liked the whole way through was Jessica Jones. I found Luke Cage’s character in that pretty dull too, so needless to say I’m not exactly rushing to watch this series.

  3. I wonder if Luke Cage would’ve been better/fun if it was less gritty, and more camp in the style of 1970s blaxploitation.

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