Marvel tackles neo-Blaxploitation with new Netflix show

Lars Torres, Staff Reporter

Netflix and Marvel Entertainment, on a roll with the partnership they started last year with hits such as “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil,” have come up with another unique take on the superhero/superhuman gene. The new show “Luke Cage”, like other Marvel properties, is not just a superhero piece of entertainment, for it decides to take on another genre to set up its premise: Blaxploitation.

“Luke Cage” stars Mike Colter as the eponymous character, an ex-con who has been working odd jobs around Harlem, primarily at Pop’s Barber Shop headed by Henry “Pop” Hunter (Frankie Faison), who is considered Harlem’s father figure, and at Harlem’s Paradise headed by Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali). Cage has been living in seclusion following his experimentation in a special prison that led to his superhuman abilities and subsequent escape. His abilities are impenetrable skin and a numbing to pain, which result in immense strength together.  

Following a personal tragedy, Cage decides to take up matters by himself, enforcing vigilante justice against Stokes and his associates, including congresswoman and Stokes’ cousin Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), smooth-talking enforcer Hernan “Shades” Alvarez (Theo Rossi), and arms dealer Willis “Diamondback” Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey).  However, not everyone enjoys such justice and New York City Police Department detectives Mercedes “Misty” Knight (Simone Missick) and Rafael Scarfe (Frank Whaley) are on Luke’s trail.

Every Marvel film and show has had their unique identity to be a bit more than just being your average superhero film or show.  “Ant-Man” is a heist film, “Daredevil” is a crime drama, “Jessica Jones” is a detective noir, and so on.  With “Luke Cage,” it is a unique take on Blaxploitation predominantly from the 60s and 70s.  Musical touches sound like fantastic riffs from movies of the past and action beats feel like action and fight sequences from those films as well.  

Performances in the film are top-notch, with Mike Colter delivering an intense and strong performance as Luke Cage, a sense of humor and incorruptibility being shaped with his performance.  Mahershala Ali is possibly the best performer in the show, showcasing a charismatic and imposing performance as Stokes, who is shown sympathetically throughout the storyline as a victim himself despite his cool demeanor. Alfre Woodard is terrific as Mariah Dillard, the other side to Stokes, who attempts her best to hide away her darker intentions. The plot is interesting and slowly unravels with gusto, although it slows down around the halfway point, padding on some unnecessary events. The villainous Diamondback is not as strong a villain as Cornell Stokes is, but he gets the job done.

However the fantastic music, well-written script, fun action sequences and overall great performances showcase another hit for the Netflix/Marvel partnership.

Series: “Luke Cage”

Created by: Cheo Hodari Coker

Release Date: Sept. 30

Rating: 4.5 out of 5