The short version: I mostly enjoyed Marvel’s new Luke Cage series very much.

But chances are strong that you’ve already binge-watched Marvel’s latest Netflix series, the follow-up to Daredevil and Jessica Jones and you don’t want the short version. You may be looking for a deeper dive into spoiler territory, a place to pick apart what works about this show and what doesn’t. So let’s take a closer look.

Luke Cage featurette

Let’s Just Dwell on Mike Colter For a Moment

Every single Marvel project so far has lived or died on the strength of its lead. On the big screen, the Marvel Cinematic Universe can weather the occasional bad movie because just about everyone likes Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, even if his movies don’t always impress. On the small screen, Charlie Cox and Krysten Ritter go a long way toward helping smooth over the rough edges of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. And now, Mike Colter does a fine job of continuing that tradition.

As the title character in Luke Cage, Colter delivers just about everything you’d want from a superhero actor. He’s the kind of absurd physical specimen who looks like he stepped right out of a comic book panel – buff and handsome and seemingly gifted with the exact combination of genes that make him look right at home punching his way through a brick wall. But Colter isn’t just a superhero illustration come to life. He’s also the kind of guy who steps into frame and simply commands the screen with an innate charisma. From the moment you lay eyes on him, you’re on his side. It’s the kind of thing you can’t learn. Either you have it or you don’t and man-oh-man, does Mike Colter have it.

While Colter is right at home delivering exactly what Luke Cage asks of him, it is rather odd that he seems a few degrees removed from the same guy we saw in Jessica Jones last year. He’s more serious-minded and more prone to anger than the charming bartender whose surprising relationship with a super-powered private investigator made for one of the best MCU stories yet. This could be considered fallout from the events of that series, which saw Luke forced to flee Hell’s Kitchen (and take refuge, uh, 30 minutes away in Harlem?), but the show lets Colter down on this front. For a franchise where so much of the fun is derived from interconnectedness, Luke Cage only pays lip service to Jessica Jones and the rest of this world. We’ll dwell more on this in a moment.

But yeah, Mike Colter is a star.

Luke Cage

The Pros and Cons of a Bulletproof Man

Luke Cage is at its best when it’s treating its lead character like a working-class Superman. Hell, in many ways and for certain stretches, Luke Cage is a better Superman story than anything we’ve seen from the big screen in some time. As played by Colter, Luke is a smart, curious, and sweet soul housed in a body that can take down a wall with a single punch. Although he’s reluctant to take credit (or cash) for his heroic deeds, he’s the kind of man who simply cannot turn away from a crime. Despite a checkered past, that’s the most endearing thing about Mr. Cage – he’s a pure “white hat” hero, a guy who is simply out to do the right thing at all times and finds himself dragged through the mud for his troubles. Next to Daredevil and Jessica Jones, who both struggle with their roles as crime fighters on a second-to-second basis, the pure heroics of Luke are refreshing.

However, Cage also has the same speed bumps as a character like Superman. When bullets literally bounce off your hero, typical physical confrontations lose some of their bite. It’s a ton of fun to watch Luke walk into a building full of baddies, absorb tons of punishment without a single bruise, and leave a trail of battered henchmen in his wake. Eventually, though, you have to put him against an actual threat and this is where the series stumbles a bit.

One the show’s best decisions is to out Luke Cage early on, with our hero pulling a Tony Stark and saying his name on live television at the end of episode four. There’s no mask for Luke and no secret identities – for the bulk of the 13 episodes, he’s living and working in the public eye. This turn ultimately leads to my favorite episode of the season (more on that shortly), but it also drags us into a tedious “everyone sets out to frame Luke Cage” plot. From the outset, it’s a decision that makes sense. If you can’t damage the man, then the villains have to damage his reputation! Ruin him in the eyes of everyone around him! But this gets repetitive quickly and it asks us to start believing that characters who were firmly established as not being idiots would act like idiots. The show pulls out of this nosedive in its final stretch, but too much of Luke Cage is watching characters fail to communicate.

And then the show shoots Luke with two “Judas bullets,” which are powerful enough to pierce his skin. While it’s unsettling to watch this unstoppable guy struggle against his own personal kryptonite, the show takes him out of commission for far too long. Any Luke Cage episode that benches Mike Colter is a weaker episode of the series.

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