TV Series Review
"Everyone has a gun, no one has a father," Luke Cage says.
The streets of Harlem are indeed dangerous in Netflix's Luke Cage. There's a lot of bad here and precious few role models to make things better. More hoodlums pack heat than carry wallets. Neighborhood racketeers swap weapons for money, and sometimes the deals turn bloody. Bullets can be an all-too-common danger on some of this New York neighborhood's roughest streets: Take a wrong turn, run into the wrong guy, work for the wrong man, and you might just wind up with a terminal case of lead poisoning.
Unless, of course, you're immune to bullets.
Enter Luke Cage, former convict, current drifter and a quietly superhuman guy—with an emphasis on the human, not the super. He doesn't turn green when he's angry or fling a fancy shield. And it's not like he can afford a Quinjet: He can barely afford his rent. He's just a mostly regular guy, really, doing off-the-books jobs around the neighborhood, trying to make ends meet.
But he does serve as the neighborhood's de facto savior now and then. Y'know, when the slugs start to fly.
A Moral Maze
The fact that Luke's skin is pert near impenetrable (and the muscles underneath work pretty well, too) comes in handy—especially since he finds himself in the middle of an unsavory turf war where the bad guys are as slippery as his landlord's lo mein noodles.
Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes rules several square blocks like a king. And his upscale nightclub, Harlem's Paradise, is his castle. He's semi-legit with connections in high places. But that doesn't keep him from dealing in a few high-powered weapons when the mood strikes—or killing the occasional underling with his bare fists, either.
But all is not well in Cottonmouth's kingdom. A gun deal gone wrong has put him on the south side of another powerful gang. And when another ruthless arms dealer nicknamed Diamondback comes to his rescue, Cottonmouth wonders if this snake can be trusted.
It'd be one thing if these guys stormed into New York City like Loki in The Avengers, riding herd on an army of interstellar evildoers (a moment referenced here and other Netflix shows as "the Incident"). But here, everyone knows somebody's mother, every thug is somebody's son. Otherwise good kids get caught on the wrong side of the law. Sometimes the worst of thugs might do a decent thing. You need more than a magic hammer or jet-powered suit to navigate this moral maze.
Getting Under the Skin
While Marvel's flashy, glamor-boy superheroes dominate the big screen in PG-13 popcorn romps, Netflix has spent the last couple of years bringing some of Marvel's grittier characters to life on the small one.
Matt Murdock (Daredevil), Jessica Jones and Luke Cage have special powers, sure. But they still work semi-regular jobs. They struggle with their calling. They drink. They fight. They sometimes run away. Their gifts may be super, but that doesn't make them heroes. They have to choose that path. And while they may choose it one day, they might fall down on the job (and in Jessica Jones's case, fall down drunk) the next.
Luke Cage is more prototypically heroic than his sometime lover Jessica. He's thoughtful. He wants to help the people around him. He holds himself to a stricter moral code than some—even down to his language. "I don't curse," he insists (even though he kinda does). He doesn't get sidetracked by booze or alcohol like Jessica, and he doesn't have the anger issues of Daredevil.
But while Luke may be in some respects the most admirable of Netflix's superheroes, his show may be the most problematic.
Netflix has always been free about shedding, spurting and splaying blood in its super-violent superhero stories. There's plenty of that here. Luke may hold himself relatively in check in that arena, that his restraint does not extend to his sexual habits. He'll take a roll in the hay without much provocation (we saw that same tendency in Jessica Jones, too), and the bedroom action here doesn't stop at mere suggestion. We see breast nudity, thong-clad bottoms and a whole lot of panting gyrations. And while Luke doesn't swear (much), many other characters do. The s-word and n-word are both used frequently (as are other less jarring profanities). Alcohol is part of this superhero stew, as well.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Mike Colter as Luke Cage; Simone Missick as Misty Knight; Theo Rossi as Hernan 'Shades' Alvarez; Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard; Jaiden Kaine as Zip; Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple; Ron Cephas Jones as Bobby Fish; Erik LaRay Harvey as Willis 'Diamondback' Stryker; Karen Pittman as Inspector Priscilla Ridley; Mahershala Ali as Cornell 'Cottonmouth' Stokes