City Press reviews Marvel's Luke Cage

2016-11-20 06:00

Johannesburg - To understand how lush and sensual the photography of the Netflix original series Marvel’s Luke Cage is, imagine a mashup of Missy Elliot’s The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) music video with Janet Jackson’s Got Til It’s Gone.

The images on the show are just this side of oversaturated, bathed in undertones of green and muted orange. This gives locations a rich feel, like that moment at sunset when the earth is awash in an orangey glow that brings to mind the downtown Los Angeles of a Walter Mosley novel. Along with this sensuous photography, the show also carries with it the feel of a 90s East Coast hip-hop video wherein the blue-black skin tones of The Notorious B.I.G and Sean “Puffy” Combs are lit so well that they appear to glow with happiness. Borrowing from the signature style of Shonda Rhimes, the show is shot almost entirely in medium close-ups, allowing the voices and faces of the actors to take centre stage. When the director does take the cameras to wide shots, it’s to bring unexpected action or interesting focus pulls that move the viewers’ eyes to a different movement in the story. In episode one the morally corrupt councilwoman – played with understated menace by Alfre Woodard – visits a high school, handing out hugs and shaking hands. When she gets to the end of the line of students, her bodyguard hands her a tube of hand sanitiser. As she cleans her hands, her bottom lip moves into a quick, hard sneer and then back again into a fake politician’s smile. In one uninterrupted shot that moves from wide to close, we learn all we need to know about this character.

The soundtrack is both understated and bold – episode one features the musical stylings of R&B impresario Raphael Saadiq, while in episode two the once queen of hip-hop, Faith Evans, takes centre stage. These appearances are understated because they serve to give insight into the character of supervillain Cornell Stokes; they don’t feature merely because they are celebrity musicians.

Those expecting the big, dramatic action styles of the traditional Marvel iterations will be disappointed, because in this show Captain America and Tony Stark are not blowing up the planet. This series is character-driven, from the point of view of a reluctant superhero – a large and imposing-looking black man with a prison record, unable to get formal employment, who lives in the poorest part of Harlem, New York. But he has a secret… More like secret abilities, which Luke Cage got when he was the subject of undercover government experiments. The government regards these experiments as having failed, even though it left Cage with super strength and durability. But isn’t that the most interesting metaphor – how the immoral actions on incarcerated (read powerless) black bodies segues into those bodies finding unimaginable strengths? Kind of what happened to Mohammed Ali or even Nelson Mandela, not that Tata could stop a bullet with his hand, mind you, like Cage does when he is absolutely forced to protect the innocent and reveal himself. The main bad guy in the show is Stokes, a club owner/arms dealer played by Mahershala Ali, whom we last saw in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay as the head of the resistance army and the only actor who made those films watchable.

Now, don’t be concerned that Luke Cage is a disguised Black Lives Matter lecture like some critics have said. The main critique against the show has been its almost wholly black cast and use of black culture instruments such as music, literature and language as framing devices. You will not be bombarded with liberal politics. Instead, you will be drawn in by its entertainment elements, even if you are not woke.

But the show is unapologetic about its intention to provide an authentically present-day perspective of the people of Harlem and similar areas, which precludes showing the daily lives of white Americans.

If you have been unsure about subscribing to Netflix, this show makes it worth it.

Read more on:    netflix  |  tv  |  tv series

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