Review: Luke Cage (Season 1, Episode 1)

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60%
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Flawed

While this episode may be titled 'Moment of Truth', the real moment of truth will be Luke Cage’s second episode; did the series just stumble out the gate or will it continue to disappoint?

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Marvel’s Netflix series all show the grittier side of their cinematic universe. While the Avengers are battling aliens and robots, the Netflix heroes find themselves pitted against drug barons and gang members. Like Daredevil and Jessica Jones before it, Luke Cage promises to continue expanding the dark underbelly of the Marvel Universe. Therefore, it’s a shame that Luke’s first solo outing didn’t get off to a strong start.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to thrive on its ability to introduce characters before they get their own solo outing. Black Panther’s debut in Captain America: Civil War earlier this year certainly helped fuel fan excitement for his upcoming film. However, it seems the opposite can be said for Marvel’s Netflix series. After his fleeting appearance in 2015’s Jessica Jones, many fans were excited to see more from the man with unbreakable skin. However, the writers obviously believed our familiarity with character meant they could largely ignore him throughout this opening episode.

This is made clear when you compare Luke’s entrance to how the other series’ chose to introduce their lead. The opening scene of Jessica Jones shows the titular character literally throwing a man through a window. Cage’s opening episode has him sweeping the floors, washing plates and pouring drinks while other characters take part in scenes around him. Fans may already be aware of Cage’s superhuman strength from his brief scenes in other series, but this incredibly slow start is a massive disservice to the character.

However, I must stress that this does not mean Luke is unlikeable – merely underused. In some ways limiting Cage to menial tasks may work to the series’ advantage. This is assuming that it’s part of some larger story arc about him learning to use his powers for good, rather than simply hiding them away. After ignoring chances to use his gifts earlier in the episode, Luke finally steps up in the last scene of the episode to protect his previously nagging landlady. However, anyone who’s seen Jessica Jones knows that Mike Colter is superbly cast and should have been used more in this episode.

The plot instead focuses on establishing its main villain, Cornell Stokes. Referred to as Cottonmouth by his henchmen, Stokes believes himself to be the King of Harlem. While Mahershala Ali’s portrayal of the crime lord is certainly intriguing, he has yet to prove he can rival the presence that was David Tennant’s Kilgrave in Jessica Jones. A weak villain certainly hurt Daredevil in its second season, so if Stokes fails to impress in his next appearance this might be a recurring problem. However, the brutal beating he delivers to one of his henchmen in the final moments of the episode suggests otherwise.

Hopefully, this slow episode is merely laying the groundwork of a much more satisfying whole. The final scene certainly shows that Marvel hasn’t forgotten how to craft an excellent action scene. While this episode may be titled ‘Moment of Truth’, the real moment of truth will be Luke Cage’s second episode; did the series just stumble out the gate, or will it continue to disappoint? However, considering the heights reached by both Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Luke Cage is surely set to impress in its later episodes.

Season 1 of Luke Cage is available to stream in its entirety on Netflix.

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Culture Editor, Pokémon Master, Time Lord and occasional History student. Just don't ask me anything about music.

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