“Nothing humbles a man like gravity,” says the villainous Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) in Luke Cage, the third Marvel Universe show to debut on Netflix, following 2015’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Cottonmouth is referring to a (literally) fallen associate, but he could be talking about Luke Cage himself (Mike Colter), who, like Jones and Daredevil's Matt Murdock, is a superhero knocked out of the sky—a street-level brawler who’s only trying to clean up the mess around him. Saving the world is for the unbowed.
Cage comes at a time when the show’s fictionalized Harlem—and the real world—needs him: He’s a black man with super strength and bulletproof skin. “Everyone has a gun, no one has a father,” he says, echoing our daily news feeds. But comic book shows like Luke Cage have obligations, liabilities; they need villains (Cottonmouth and his politician cousin, a terrific Alfre Woodard), sidekicks (Simone Missick as cop Misty Knight) and lots of convoluted Marvel mythology, which sometimes robs the story of its momentum. Entire episodes are devoted to placesetting, and the viewer gets hungry waiting for that inevitable knuckle sandwich.
Still, Luke Cage is beautifully shot, has a dynamite soundtrack and an immensely likable star in Colter, who makes Cage into a hero you genuinely wish we had. No one else will lose a father for as long as he’s fighting back gravity.