Marvel’s Luke Cage looks to continue the “gritty and grounded” approach that Daredevil and Jessica Jones have perfected in previous Netflix outings. With its opening episode, Moment of Truth, the series successfully continues this tone, while also giving us some welcome new wrinkles.
Mike Colter’s Luke Cage finds himself in Harlem, working odd jobs for meager pay. Despite the encouragement of Pop (Frankie Faison), Cage prefers anonymity to being a hero. Cornell Stokes, also known as Cottonmouth (Mahersala Ali), is a business man who keeps control of the neighborhood by funding his cousin Mariah Stokes’ (Alfre Woodard) position as Councilwoman. Cottonmouth’s plans go awry when a weapons deal is robbed and he goes on a rampage to recover his money. This finally draws Cage out, along with an enemy from his past…
Luke Cage goes at a slow burn pace, setting up Harlem. The numerous stories and characters effortlessly come together in a believable and carefully woven way. The story is basically a crime story (much like the previous Marvel stories on Netflix) that happens to have a superhero in it. And when Cage finally becomes that hero, it is incredibly satisfying because of how well it’s set up.
There are many of the same themes here: Harlem, like Hell’s Kitchen, is a troubled place where good people need help. The violent tone is also intact. However, Luke Cage seems to be the most optimistic in the Marvel Netflix Universe. From its outstanding opening theme to it’s hero, there is more an air of hope in the proceedings. The streets are not as dark, people walk around in the daylight and night clubs are buzzing. Granted, this could be because the series is early in story, but its very interesting to see.
Visually, Luke Cage continues the Marvel tradition of high production values for a series. There are some very striking shots in this opening episode. The weapons deal hit is right out of a top notch crime drama. And Cottonmouth is shot perfectly centered in front of a portrait of Biggie Smalls, the crown from the portrait above his head as he claims power in a pivotal scene. Bathed in red foreboding light, Cottonmouth is truly scary in that moment.
The cast is outstanding, and Luke Cage himself leads the way. Mike Colter portrays him perfectly, giving us the most straightforward hero so far in the Marvel Netflix universe. Daredevil is the brooding martyr and Jessica Jones the sarcastic anti-hero. Cage is simply a good man trying to do what is right. He has his troubles and doubts, but not nearly at the level of the previous heroes. Thankfully, those doubts about whether or not to kick some bad guy butt are done away with quickly.
Cage is also the smoothest of the heroes, getting some choice lines that charm both the audience and Misty Knight (Simone Missick). “I ponder a woman.” Wow.
Mahershala Ali exudes a cool menace throughout as Cottonmouth. Some might say he is just another version of the King Pin, but while that character had an awkwardness to him, Cottonmouth is as smooth and collected as Cage. Every word and motion is confident and Ali has a smoldering violence just underneath the surface. Seeing Cage and Cottonmouth face off will be incredibly entertaining.
Misty Knight is effectively mysterious until her reveal and Frankie Faison is charming as always as Pop. Alfre Woodard plays the caring politician side of her crooked councilwoman so well that I actually wondered if she truly was a good person. Marion looks to be a truly interesting character to watch. Equally as interesting is who Shades (Theo Rossi) works for. Who is Diamondback? And how does Cage know Shades?
The Moment of Truth does a great job of hooking us into the world of Luke Cage. It whets the appetite for more in just the right way.
Score: 9 out of 10