An angel in Harlem: Luke Cage – Season 1 Review

After his star turn in “Jessica Jones”, I was looking forward to seeing Luke Cage’s solo adventures and Netflix’ latest MCU adventure doesn’t disappoint.

Luke Cage (Mike Colter), an escaped convict who was left with superhuman strength and impenetrable skin after being experimented on in prison, is keeping a low profile in Harlem. But when a local club owner and arms dealer, Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes (Mahershala Ali), makes moves to take over the neighbourhood, Cage finds himself caught up in a complex web of corruption and politics.

There’s a lot to like about “Luke Cage”, thanks in large part to Mike Colter’s magnetic lead performance. It also doesn’t hurt that the main cast is full of top notch talent, from the aforementioned soon-to-be-Oscar-winning Ali to Alfre Woodard and of course Netflix MCU mainstay Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple. Thanks to its immersive, slyly retro style and a socially conscious attitude, “Luke Cage” draws you into the shady world of gang warfare and real estate manipulation. There are hints of a larger agenda, tying into the wider Netflix MCU but they’re not as obvious or leaden as they were in “Daredevil” Season 2. It’s also much more of a straightforward ‘origin’ story as we see through flashbacks how Cage got his powers (including a delicious nod to the character’s seventies comic book outfit) only to see him have to struggle as his powers are neutralised by the introduction of a weaponry fueled by alien technology. The ties to the wider MCU are also stronger than other series, with the experimentation on Cage linked to yet another attempt to recreate the super soldier formula and the weaponry which causes him such trouble derives from Chitauri technology.

The action scenes are also well thought out, especially as – given Cage’s power set – it would have been all too easy to rely on cheesy “The Incredible Hulk” or “The A-Team” throwing of people. Instead, it’s a studied combat style, reflecting Cage’s reluctance to use his full strength lest he inadvertently kills his opponents.

The pacing, it has to be said, is a little sluggish in the middle of the series and it spends a little too much time as Cage and Temple struggle to find a cure for the bullet wound which has managed to penetrate his impregnable skin. It’s also a shame that the series disposes of one of its better villains quite early on but there are more than enough left to provide a thrilling finale spread across the last three episodes as Cage forms an uneasy alliance with the Police to defend the neighbourhood and thwart the ambitions of the crooked councilwoman.

As much an urban thriller as a superhero yarn, “Luke Cage” brings gravitas and grit to the MCU without needing to resort to the kind of violence seen in the second season of “Daredevil”. It may have the worst mid-season slump so far, but its highs far outweigh those lows.

8/10

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