The MCU Ranked: ‘Luke Cage’ (Season 1)
Showrunner: Cheo Hodari Coker
Heroes: Luke Cage/Power Man (Mike Colter)
Villains/Support Cast: Cornell Stokes/Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), Misty Knight (Simone Missick), Hernan Alvarez/Shades (Theo Rossi), Willis Stryker/Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey), Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard)
Cameos: Rob Morgan turns up once more as Turk Barrett, the recurring criminal who can’t catch a break across the Netflix MCU. Rachael Taylor crosses over from Jessica Jones to fill out the airwaves with ‘Trish Talk’. Stan Lee is visible for a recruitment poster for the police force. Method Man appears as himself when Cage stops a robbery in progress while on the run from the cops.
Plot: Luke Cage is trying to lead a simple life in Harlem, working minimum wage jobs and keeping his unbreakable skin and super strength under wraps. When his employer, ‘Pops’, asks for Cage’s help in protecting a young member of the community he gets drawn into a conflict between gangsters. Cage is forced to go public and fight for the safety of Harlem.
Review: Although Luke ‘Power Man’ Cage made his debut as a supporting player in Jessica Jones, this solo outing does not feel like a spin off. It can be entered into without having seen the previous shows and stylistically feels like it’s own beast. With a red, green and gold colour scheme and a unique focus on race relations in Harlem it’s clear that this has its own path to follow.
Luke Cage is almost unstoppable. His skin is indestructible and he can knock someone across a room. When his mentor, former gangster gone straight ‘Pop’, asks him to help out a youth who got caught up in local gang violence Cage finds himself in the crosshairs of ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes. Stokes is a ruthless gang leader with a complex past who works with his cousin, local councilwoman Mariah Dillard. Trying to untangle the mess is police detective Misty Knight, and nurse Claire Temple once again gets caught up.
Unlike everything else in the MCU, Luke Cage isn’t a superhero show with a morality theme wedged in somewhere. It’s a discussion of social issues that include a superhero acting as catalyst. It helps the series stand out and feel more meaningful than another Marvel hero with a different setting, especially as almost every MCU property star a white dude.
So things are looking pretty good. Mike Colter, as we previously discussed, appears to be the comic character Luke Cage magically brought to life like an old ‘a-ha’ music video. Like Charlie Cox and Krysten Ritter before him, Colter gets somewhat upstaged by the immensely talented actor playing the fascinating antagonist. First Vincent D’onofrio as Kingpin, then David Tennant as The Purple Man…now Mahershala Ali in the same year he collected a well deserved Oscar for his role in Moonlight. The performer was already starting to make waves and this turn as gangster Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes only further cemented his talent.
Cottonmouth is absolutely fascinating, being at times horrifically violent and other times revealing the soul of musician. His barking laugh and slick appearance only make him more intriguing, and the brief insight into his childhood asks more questions than it answers. Of course, with this stunning characterisation, comes the shows biggest failing. Cottonmouth gets killed off halfway through the season. Initially this doesn’t seem to bad as his cousin Dillard seems poised to take his place along with ‘Shades’ as advisor. Instead we have another well dressed, psychotic gangster turn up to take his place.
Willis ‘Diamondback’ Stryker is not a valid replacement for Cottonmouth. Harvey puts in a decent performance, but they’re trying so hard to make him scarier that at times he comes across as cartoonish. The way he stalks about scenes enunciating his snarls comes across as silly at times and the late revelation that he’s Cage’s brother doesn’t add much to either character. They had a great final punch-up, but the show would have been better if they’d ended it with Cottonmouth, even if that meant less episodes.
Luke Cage is an ambitious series in taking on complex social issues. It succeeds in that regard, but is less successful in keeping up momentum for the full order of episodes.
Credits Scene: Nope.
Most Notable Easter Egg: If you keep an eye out you’ll spot a flyer for Colleen Wing’s martial arts lesson posted on a lamp post. This is a good wee bit of foreshadowing a future awesome character.
Coolest Moment: Marershala Ali monologuing is just an masterclass in performance.
THE MCU MASTER LIST
We’d really like to place this one higher, but the late season slump is like an anchor.
Click those titles to see the original entries!
2. THE AVENGERS
9. IRON MAN
15. LUKE CAGE (SEASON 1)
18. IRON MAN 3
22. IRON MAN 2