Now that we finally have a full trailer for Luke Cage, a mere seven weeks before the series hits Netflix, let’s take a deeper dive into what the trailer tells us about the latest Defender to hit the small screen.
The first recognizable face in the trailer is that of Netflix glue Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). Claire has been connecting the Defenders together through all three previous Netflix seasons and looks to have a major role again in Luke Cage. She shared a scene with Luke at the end of Jessica Jones and it appears that this is not just a one-off moment, but a starting point for the next series. Certainly, her presence will make Luke’s attempts to leave his experience with Jessica and Kilgrave behind him even more difficult.
With all the conversation about Luke, Misty Knight, the villains, and Claire, the character of Pop, played by Franke Faison, has mostly flown under the radar. According to IMDB, however, Pop will appear in all 13 episodes of the show. From this trailer and the SDCC trailer, it would appear that Pop is going to be the voice of wisdom in Luke’s life, sort of like a Pepper Potts to Tony Stark or a Hank Pym to Scott Lang.
Handling origin stories has become a challenge in the world of comic movies and TV shows. Audiences have tired of the structure of those stories. So, creators of new material must always balance telling enough of the story to make the character deep and the plot coherent, without boring viewers with more of the same. Daredevil provided about 2 minutes of Matt getting hit by a truck in the opening shots of Season 1, and Jessica Jones still has told viewers next to nothing about her origin. But for Marvel and Netflix’s third season, it looks like we will get more explanation about Luke’s experiment gone wrong. To the glee of many fans, the scene was shot in such a way that the traditional bracelets and tiara that Cage wore back in the 70’s get a clever allusion here. Personally, the scene’s aesthetic reminded me of the first time Eric Bana became the Hulk in the non-MCU film from 2003.
Throughout the pre-release media blitz, all parties involved in Luke Cage have raved about how both the city of Harlem and the show’s soundtrack serve as characters in their own right. The trailer bears witness to those emphases.
While MCU films are often guilty of under developing villains, the Netflix sub-universe has done an incredible job of giving viewers multifaceted villains from Kingpin to Kilgrave, to the Punisher. This history leaves Mahershala Ali with massive shoes to attempt to fill. Early signs seem to point to another great villain, though, as his character in a few seconds of the trailer moves from suave piano-playing to straight up butchery. His calculated and morally ambiguous character on House of Cards is an important wild card in the first few seasons of that show, and it appears Ali brings that in this series as well.
“Hit every business and hit ’em hard.” These chilling words give us a sense of the general plot to the series, at least early on. Cottonmouth and Shades are part of a protection racket, charging local business owners a tribute lest they suffer “random” acts of violence. The trailer shows two hits. The first is a barbershop where it appears someone Luke cares for suffers the ultimate sacrifice for the owners’ unwillingness to pay up. In the other, Luke protects an Asian-American couple from some goons. It would seem that Luke’s uncertainty about doing any more crime fighting is broken up by these events. What makes a man wanting to escape the spotlight of the superhero world become a vigilante in his own right? Apparently, by hurting someone close to him, in this case, that person appears to be Pops.
The action in the middle of the trailer gives some context to a gruesome scene from the Netflix “sizzle reel” at SDCC. Luke’s power set will bring an interesting challenge to the show. No one enjoys a hero who is free of danger. Luke’s ability to absorb guns shots and break the hand of anyone trying to punch him makes him largely above the fray in the street violence scenarios in the trailer. How will his enemies try to stop him? Is there a weakness someone will exploit? Jessica Jones already has figured out that a shotgun to the head slows Luke considerably. Balancing his powers with potential vulnerability will be interesting as the series progresses. Certainly, the fight scenes will be very different from those in Daredevil where the fatigue and the difficulty of victory are the hallmarks. What makes Cage cool is how effortless his fights appear.
This image sums up the show tonally well. A lot of the joy of the show will be the “swagger” that Luke demonstrates as he deals with villains. His confidence and power are core to what makes him interesting. It also calls back to the very first teaser in which he complains about his clothes being destroyed. Imagine surviving a gun fight and the first thing on your mind is your shrinking wardrobe.
There was a moment during the film side of the MCU, probably around the time when Thor was released, where the movies ceased to be about that particular film in and of itself and became a prequel to The Avengers. That tipping point has now arrived in Netflix MCU Land. Already the advertising for an individual series is starting to bridge to The Defenders. While this makes strategic sense for Marvel, there is some risk to making the connection obvious. No one enjoys watching a film or TV episode that feels like filler until the next film or TV episode. Signs for Luke Cage so far suggest that it will stand on its own as a series of quality, but The Defenders series is starting to loom large. No one wants to see the solo series become perfunctory prequels to the “real deal” in 2017.
Trailers are an exercise in giving viewers something, but not everything. This particular trailer gives us a lot of Claire Temple and Cottonmouth while holding back on Misty Knight, Shades, and Diamondback. This, of course, means fans of Heroes for Hire and Ms. Knight get very little information. The one line she gets in the trailer, however, is an important one: “You might be bulletproof, but Harlem ain’t.” That challenge for Luke (i.e. appreciating the danger of crossfire to others while he himself is safe) seems to be part of the tension of the series. Could his powers make him cavalier about the danger to others?
So far the MCU is largely devoid of secret identities. Luke has shown in Jessica Jones that he is interested in keeping his head down. Near the end of the trailer, it becomes obvious that his activities will not allow that to happen. Luke is an unusual character in that everyone knows who he is, and yet he has none of the trappings of wealth. Tony Stark can tell the world he is Iron Man because he can afford hundreds of millions of dollars worth of security. Captain America is generally living in an Avengers or military compound. But what would it be like if the guy living in an apartment down the hall was a known superhero? That’s another interesting flavor to this show. Luke also appears to be more engaged with the media than Matt Murdock, who tries to stay out of newspapers as much as possible.
That’s all the major things I caught and found interesting. Personally, I am most excited to see what Mahershala Ali is bringing to the table. Developing a character that is slimy and debonair in equal parts seems like it will be a fun ride. What in the trailer grabbed your attention? Does this trailer make you more excited for the release date in September?
Luke Cage starring Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Mahershala Ali, Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard, and Frank Whaley premieres exclusively on Netflix September 30th. Previous entries into the Netflix corner of the MCU, Daredevil and Jessica Jones (featuring the debut of Mr. Cage himself), are now available to stream.