96% Rotten Tomatoes
Created by Cheo Hodari Coker
First episode date 30 September 2016
Country of origin United States
Based on Luke Cage by Archie Goodwin George Tuska Roy Thomas John Romita Sr.
Starring Mike Colter Mahershala Ali Simone Missick Theo Rossi Erik LaRay Harvey Rosario Dawson Alfre Woodard
Composer(s) Adrian Younge Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Writers Cheo Hodari Coker, Akela Cooper
Cast Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Mahershala Ali, Alfre Woodard, Theo Rossi
Marvel's Luke Cage, or simply Luke Cage, is an American web television series created for Netflix by Cheo Hodari Coker, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. It is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), sharing continuity with the films of the franchise and is the third in a series of shows that will lead up to The Defenders crossover miniseries. The series is produced by Marvel Television in association with ABC Studios, with Coker serving as showrunner.
- Cast and characters
- Visual effects
- Marvel Cinematic Universe tie ins
- Critical response
Mike Colter stars as Luke Cage, a former convict with superhuman strength and unbreakable skin who now fights crime. Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Rosario Dawson, and Alfre Woodard also star in season one. Development of the series began in late 2013. In December 2014, Colter was cast as Cage, to appear first in Marvel's Jessica Jones, with Coker hired as the showrunner in March 2015. The series is filmed in New York City, looking to replicate the unique culture and atmosphere of Harlem.
All episodes of the first season premiered on September 30, 2016. They were met with positive reviews. In December 2016, Netflix renewed Luke Cage for a second season.
When a sabotaged experiment gives him super strength and unbreakable skin, Luke Cage becomes a fugitive attempting to rebuild his life in Harlem and must soon confront his past and fight a battle for the heart of his city.
Cast and characters
In May 2013, Marvel Studios reacquired the rights to Luke Cage from Sony Pictures Entertainment / Columbia Pictures, after a feature film had been in development at Columbia since 2003, to no avail. By October 2013, Marvel Television was preparing four drama series and a miniseries, totaling 60 episodes, to present to video on demand services and cable providers, with Netflix, Amazon, and WGN America expressing interest. A few weeks later, Marvel and Disney announced that Marvel Television and ABC Studios would provide Netflix with live action series centered around Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist, leading up to a miniseries based on the Defenders.
Marvel began their search for a showrunner in 2014, and in late March 2015, Netflix and Marvel announced Cheo Hodari Coker in that role and revealed the title of the series to be Marvel's Luke Cage. Coker was inspired to become the series showrunner "when he realized the ramifications of a series about a black man with impenetrable skin and how that might empower him to take on both criminals and crooked authority figures"; he pitched the series to Netflix as an examination of Harlem, "like what The Wire did for Baltimore." Charles Murray, Alison Engel, Allie Goss, Kris Henigman, Cindy Holland, Alan Fine, Stan Lee, Joe Queseda, Dan Buckley, and Jim Chory also serve as executive producers. The series was originally intended to be the fourth of the announced series from Netflix, debuting after Marvel's Iron Fist, but it was fast-tracked to be the third series, after Cage was introduced in Marvel's Jessica Jones and became a breakout star, with Marvel wanting to "follow the momentum".
In December 2016, Netflix renewed the series for a second season.
Charles Murray, Kayla Cooper, and Nathan Jackson served as writers on the series. Coker noted that the majority of the series' writers are African-American, "a rarity on television". After signing on to the series, Coker was able to read the first two scripts of both Marvel's Daredevil and Jessica Jones, giving him an idea of the quality of writing for those series, and how important the development of their villains was. Actor Mike Colter described the series as having "soul" and "intensity", compared to the "dark action" of Daredevil and the "noir feel" of Jessica Jones. Coker described "a powerful fusion of dark drama, hip-hop, and classic superhero action" while being "The Wire of Marvel television, because we really deal with a lot of different issues." Jason Tanz of Wired likened the series to neo-blaxploitation, which Coker agreed with in that "blaxploitation is [just] black characters being able to assert themselves in a visual world", stating that he felt the series was more specifically a "hip-hop Western", comparing its characters and setting to Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy of films (with Cage the Man with No Name, for example).
When asked whether the series would feel as "adult" as Jessica Jones, Colter replied, "if you think Jessica is adult then we’re still keeping up with that pace ... we’ll continue along those lines of PG-16+". On whether Luke Cage would address current race issues, including Black Lives Matter, given the character's past (a wrongfully imprisoned black man), Colter said, "this is not necessarily the platform to hit it head on" but "the things that he's going through will ring true for a lot of people in law enforcement" and on the street. Loeb said on the issue, "Luke Cage, when he came on the scene in the early 70s was for all intents and purposes the first black superhero. Given what’s going on present day, it just resonates." Coker stated that Cage is "someone that the community can touch and go to", adding, "There’s never been a time in history where having a bulletproof black man" has been so important. Luke Cage was also the first MCU property to use the word "nigger" or "nigga", with Marvel having complete trust in Coker's use of it: the word is used casually in the series, though some characters, including Cage, prefer not to use it. Coker said the intent was never to use it "in a way where it's flippant. I used it from the standpoint of, if we were going to eavesdrop on a conversation with African American people, with nobody else around, when would this word be used and how would it get used." Coker also likened the use in the series to "the way music used to treat it," not having it be "every other word of every other chorus, because at that point, it just gets silly."
By November 2014, Lance Gross, Colter, and Cleo Anthony were in contention for the role of Luke Cage, which was envisioned as a recurring role on Jessica Jones before headlining Luke Cage. Colter was confirmed in the role the next month, as a series regular. He signed on for the two series without reading any scripts. In August 2015, Alfre Woodard, who portrays Miriam Sharpe in the MCU film Captain America: Civil War, was in talks to join the cast, and the following month she was confirmed as a series regular, portraying Mariah Dillard. Also announced as cast in September were Theo Rossi as Shades, Simone Missick as Misty Knight, and Mahershala Ali as Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes. In November, Rosario Dawson was confirmed to be reprising her role of Claire Temple from previous MCU Netflix series. In March 2016, set photos revealed Erik LaRay Harvey had been cast as Willis Stryker / Diamondback. Harvey's involvement was not officially announced by Marvel prior to the series' release, and he agreed not to do any publicity for it to not "ruin the twist" of Stryker being the series' main villain.
Stephanie Maslansky, the costume designer for Daredevil and Jessica Jones, serves as costume designer for Luke Cage as well. The series sees Cage have a wardrobe evolution from his initial look of T-shirts, jeans, leather jackets or an army jacket that was introduced in Jessica Jones. Maslansky took inspiration from the comics illustrations, as she did on the other Marvel Netflix series, but also looked to the "rich and colorful history" of Harlem, and Coker's own vision. In looking to pay homage to Cage's original costume with his updated clothing for the series, Maslansky and Coker considered "the idea of him wearing a gold hoodie, a gold T-shirt, but those just seemed too on the nose, and just too bright for a guy who is trying to keep his identity quiet." Instead, Maslansky lined the insides of all of Cage's hoodies with yellow, so the color could frame the character's face in close ups. The series' title sequence, which uses yellow overtones, blends a silhouette of Luke Cage with images of Harlem.
Filming for the series takes place in New York City, significantly in Harlem, where the series is set. Coker described the neighborhood as "the only place in the city where you see those wide boulevards. We really wanted to capture the color, the rhythm of the streets". For example, the production had the opportunity to film at a barbershop in Greenwich Village "that would’ve been a little easier for us to shoot in", but Coker said "the opportunity to film it in Harlem was irresistible. I didn’t want us to talk about Harlem and then not film in Harlem." Sound stage work also takes place in New York. Manuel Billeter serves as director of photography for the series, after doing the same for Jessica Jones.
Visual effects for the series were completed by FuseFX, with Greg Anderson serving as visual effects supervisor.
In April 2016, Coker revealed that Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad were composing the series' score, describing it as "a '90s hip-hop vibe" with "a lot of different musical appearances". Coker had contacted Younge and Muhammad separately, asking if they would like to work together on the series, not knowing that the pair were already working together on an album. Younge and Muhammad took inspiration from Wu-Tang Clan, Ennio Morricone, and Muhammad's group A Tribe Called Quest, with Younge saying, "we wanted to make something great. Not just for black people or minorities, just something great that just happens to be based on our culture." A soundtrack album for the first season was released on October 7, digitally and pressed on yellow vinyl by Mondo.
Marvel Cinematic Universe tie-ins
Luke Cage is the third of the ordered Netflix series after Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and will be followed by Iron Fist, before leading into the miniseries, The Defenders. In November 2013, Disney CEO Bob Iger stated that if the characters prove popular on Netflix, “It’s quite possible that they could become feature films," which was echoed by Sarandos in July 2015. In August 2014, Vincent D'Onofrio, Wilson Fisk in Daredevil, stated that after the "series stuff with Netflix", Marvel has "a bigger plan to branch out". In March 2015, Loeb spoke on the ability for the series to crossover with the MCU films and the ABC television series, saying, "It all exists in the same universe. As it is now, in the same way that our films started out as self-contained and then by the time we got to The Avengers, it became more practical for Captain America to do a little crossover into Thor 2 and for Bruce Banner to appear at the end of Iron Man 3. We have to earn that. The audience needs to understand who all of these characters are and what the world is before you then start co-mingling in terms of where it's going."
Luke Cage is available on the streaming service Netflix, in all territories where it is available, in Ultra HD 4K and high dynamic range. The first season was enhanced to be available in HDR after its initial release by post-production vendor Deluxe. The episodes of each season were released simultaneously, as opposed to a serialized format, to encourage binge-watching, a format which has been successful for other Netflix original series.
Disney Consumer Products created a small line of products to cater to a more adult audience, given the show’s edgier tone. Paul Gitter, senior VP of Marvel Licensing for Disney Consumer Products explained that the focus would be more on teens and adults than very young people, with products at outlets like Hot Topic. Additionally, a Marvel Knights merchandise program was created to support the series, which creates new opportunities for individual product lines and collector focused products. Licensing partners wanted to pair up with Marvel, despite this not being a film project, given its previous successes.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 96% approval rating with an average rating of 8.2/10 based on 52 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "An immersive, socially conscious narrative and a confident, charismatic lead performance make Marvel's Luke Cage a stellar sampling of the new Marvel/Netflix universe." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned a score of 79 out of 100 based on 30 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".