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Marvel’s Luke Cage: 5 things to know about the new Netflix show

The best thing about Netflix’s Luke Cage is Misty Knight.

Luke Cage.
Netflix/Marvel

Luke Cage is coming.

On Friday, September 30, Netflix will release the entire season of the show for subscribers to stream. It’s Netflix’s third series — after Daredevil and Jessica Jones — centering on heroes from Marvel Comics, and the first to focus on Luke Cage (Mike Colter), a man with indestructible skin and super strength who was introduced onscreen last year in Netflix’s Jessica Jones.

The new show tells the story of Cage after he decided to flee in Jessica Jones, picking up with him a few months later in Harlem. He’s taken a job at a barbershop, but the community is run by corrupt Congress member Mariah Stokes (Alfre Woodard) and her cousin Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes (Mahershala Ali), a nightclub owner and criminal kingpin, who end up drawing Cage into their world.

Netflix made the first seven episodes available to critics; here are five things to know about Luke Cage based on that initial impression. We’ll have a full review up on Sunday after watching the rest of the season’s 13 episodes.

There may be some mild spoilers from the first seven episodes of Luke Cage here.

1) Luke Cage is the best argument for a Misty Knight series

Misty Knight and Luke Cage
Marvel/Netflix

The surprise performance of the series belongs to Simone Missick as Misty Knight. Knight, who is well-known in Marvel’s comic books (where she also sports a bionic arm), makes her appearance here as one of the few good cops in a city full of rotten ones. She’s tasked with fighting corruption in Harlem, which brings her into Luke Cage’s orbit.

Missick brings the toughness of Misty to life. She doesn’t have the luxury of a superpower, like the super-strong and bulletproof Cage, so she goes about dispensing the law in a different way. She analyzes the details of every crime scene. She puzzles the pieces together (the show does a wonderful job of showing us how she thinks) and then breaks them apart, piece by piece.

Misty’s lack of superpowers also makes her more vulnerable than Cage, which gives the series some much-needed tension, a feeling that anything could happen to her. The latter would be a shame, since she’s the best thing about this series. (Knight has a role in the Iron Fist comic books, which should mean she’s probably safe until Netflix’s Iron Fist series debuts in 2017.)

2) Luke Cage is not as "fun" as it’s being sold

What caught me off guard with Luke Cage was its pacing relative to how the show has been presented thus far. The trailers suggest an abrupt, kinetic, fun spirit, with images of Luke Cage showing off his bulletproof skin set to a hip-hop soundtrack:

The first four episodes aren’t like that. Luke Cage is grim and serious. The beginning of the show feels like a slow windup, and even in its seventh episode (the last episode given to critics), I still don’t know if the punch completely landed.

This isn’t to say that every show needs to come out of the gate running, or that every episode needs a breakneck pace or a Shondaland twist that takes your breath away. Nor does it mean slow pacing is always bad.

But if Luke Cage was a show consumed week to week, rather than via the binge model Netflix invites, it wouldn’t surprise me if fans started dropping off after a few episodes.

3) Mike Colter is a star

Colter’s performance as Luke Cage is fantastic. As a character, Cage is a little more aloof and restrained than the heroes of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. His powers — indestructibility, basically — have made him acutely aware of the fragility around him, not just in the people’s he’s lost but also in the people he hurts.

Colter understands this, making clear the pain and burden this man carries. He creates a Luke Cage that feels human but is also someone you want to believe in.

4) The fight scenes aren’t where the magic is

What’s made Daredevil such a compelling hit for the past two seasons is the intricacy and stellar choreography of its fight scenes. I still think about that hallway fight scene, and when I do, I involuntarily start smiling.

Luke Cage has a little homage to that scene, which highlights the difference between the two shows’ approaches to fighting. Where Matt Murdock has a surgeon’s precision in dismantling henchmen, Luke has the subtlety of a freight train. There’s no grace or awe-inspiring acrobatics.

Luke is just a wrecking ball.

The real magic of Luke Cage happens in its quieter moments, when Luke is allowed to be more human: his tension-filled interactions with Misty, his comedic banter with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), the barbershop conversation Luke has with his friends. Those pockets of humanity are this show’s strength, the scenes that — like Daredevil’s hallway fight scene — set this show apart from its Marvel cousins and the television shows it’s competing with.

5) The twist in episode seven is compelling

At the end of episode seven, there’s a gigantic twist that feels extremely risky. It made me gasp, because it feels like the show has just blown everything up. I have no idea if Luke Cage pulls it off in future episodes, or if it walks it back (after all, this is Marvel, and anything can happen), but I admire the audacity.

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