Luke Cage: A guide to Netflix’s latest Marvel original

Luke Cage lands on Netflix today, another original from the streaming service and another one that we’re really excited to binge watch this weekend. Here are some things you need to know about the show.

Marvel’s Luke Cage is the third of four epic live-action adventure series – following Daredevil, Jessica Jones and the upcoming Iron Fist. These all lead to the unprecedented teaming of the title characters in Marvel’s The Defenders.

The plot

After a sabotaged experiment leaves him with super strength and unbreakable skin, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) becomes a fugitive trying to rebuild his life in modern day Harlem, New York City. However, he is soon pulled out of the shadows and must fight a battle for the heart of his city – forcing him to confront the past he had tried to bury.

We’ve seen him before

Through this series, we get to see the evolution of Luke Cage, who was previously introduced in Marvel’s Jessica Jones after he has relocated to Harlem and in the process of picking up the pieces of the events in Jessica Jones.

Luke Cage: Facts about Netflix’s latest Marvel original TheFuss.co.uk

Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

Inspiration

Marvel’s Luke Cage is not based on any one specific comic book but is inspired by the 40+ years of Luke Cage stories in the Marvel Comics.

This is the first time Cage has been brought to the screen, and it’s a story of a fugitive first and a superhero story second. Marvel’s Head of Television Jeph Loeb reflects that: “Our stories work best when you are invested in the heroes themselves and in this show you’re invested in Luke long before you get invested in the fact that he’s bulletproof and happens to have super strength.”

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Mike Colter as Luke Cage

“You’re watching a true leading man play a hero like you’ve never seen before,” says Loeb. “He is driving the story, he is absolutely magnetic to watch.”

“The star of the show sets the tone,” observes Coker. “He’s the quarterback. What’s so great about Mike is that on one hand, he’s jovial and he’s funny, but he also takes his craft and his art seriously.”

Theo Rossi observes, “Mike’s got the whole deal. He’s the physicality and size, but he’s also got the emotional response that a character who doesn’t want to be in this position would be in. Plus, he’s also got the humour.”

Other characters

The other residents of Luke Cage’s Harlem include Misty Knight, a police detective who is determined to learn the truth about Luke Cage, played by Simone Missick. Multi-award-winning actress Alfre Woodard plays ruthless Harlem politician Mariah Dillard who is looking to bring a new era of change to the streets she grew up on.

Mahershala Ali plays Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes, Mariah Dillard’s cousin and the owner of Harlem’s Paradise, one of the hottest clubs in the neighbourhood. He becomes an unexpected foe in Luke’s life when his criminal activities threaten Luke’s world.

Luke Cage: Facts about Netflix’s latest Marvel original TheFuss.co.uk

Mahershala Ali as Cornell Stokes Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

Theo Rossi plays Shades, who is an opportunistic childhood friend of Cottonmouth’s and a hard-hearted criminal with ties to Cage’s mysterious past.

Veteran actor Frank Whaley plays Rafael Scarfe, a long-time NYPD detective who partners with Misty Knight in their investigations.

The cast is rounded out by Rosario Dawson who returns to the role of Claire Temple after appearing in Marvel’s Jessica Jones and both seasons of Marvel’s Daredevil and continues to be the sole actress who gets to play with all of the Marvel heroes on Netflix.

Clearly having a lot of fun with this role, Dawson says she enjoys “seeing Claire go on this journey throughout all these different shows and continue to rise to the occasion and be empowered by doing that and becoming bolder for doing it. As the shows go on, you realize that this is limitless.

“ I have no idea what’s going to happen next or what she’s going to do next because when you’re game, in the way that Claire Temple is game, and you’re fraternizing with a certain group of people like Daredevil and Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, things are definitely going to go in some really outrageous and interesting territories.”

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From Hell’s Kitchen to Harlem

After setting two seasons of Marvel’s Daredevil and one season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Marvel’s Luke Cage makes a move uptown to New York’s iconic Harlem community.

“The first two stories did primarily take place in Hell’s Kitchen,” says Loeb, “but more importantly they take place in New York. New York City is our character and we’ve always referred to New York as the fifth hero in the Marvel Netflix shows. It just made sense to us that after having such a public ending with Jessica Jones, Luke needed to get away and there were people that he knew uptown and that enabled him to have a place where he could go and disappear again.”

Coker observes, “He’s still mourning the loss, not only of his wife Reva but also, to a certain extent the loss of his relationship with Jessica. So we have a character who needs to heal and so the opportunity to leave the confines of Hell’s Kitchen and explore the rest of Manhattan was appealing.”

Dressing Luke Cage

Costume Designer Stephanie Maslansky has designed the first seasons of all of the Marvel Netflix shows. Her aim in design is to maintain a connection with what fans love about these characters visually and to keep the characters’ key traits at front of mind.

“To me, it’s very important to respect the fans and to respect the historical nature of the comics. These comics go back and they are very deep-rooted, and there have been fans who have been fans forever, as well as new fans.

When you think about the comic book characters, they all have a similar look. [From Marvel’s Daredevil], Foggy always wore a bowtie. Matt Murdock was always in a very square-shouldered suit, with a button down collar. We never saw Karen Page in a casual look. I wanted to maintain these looks for all of the shows.”

For Marvel’s Luke Cage, Maslansky started from a straightforward place of ease. “Luke’s wardrobe says ‘I am a simple man. I dress for the day. I dress to be comfortable. I dress to take care of business’. And one thing that Luke Cage has in common with Jessica Jones, is that their superhero costumes are actually real-life clothing. The clothing provides them with internal protection, as opposed to external protection like the Daredevil costume.”

Luke Cage: Facts about Netflix’s latest Marvel original TheFuss.co.uk

Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

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The Sound of Marvel’s Luke Cage

Music is not only an important aspect to telling a story about life in New York, but a critical one to the rhythm of a show set in Harlem. With the added opportunity of having a character who owns the hottest club in the neighbourhood, the show features special musical appearances on the Harlem’s Paradise stage (and beyond).

“New York has an energy to it,” comments Jeph Loeb. “It has a real vibe to it, aesthetically and musically. Music plays a huge part in Luke Cage and that has a lot to do with the fact that Cheo Coker has a musical background.”

The role of music in the show permeated every aspect of the production from the editing to the character’s movements and fight styles through to the score. Coker knew that the score for Marvel’s Luke Cage would be a unique and special. Producer and musician Ali Shaheed Muhammad, one of the founders of the visionary hip-hop trio A Tribe Called Quest, along with his collaborator Adrian Younge, were approached early. “Based on his pedigree, we knew he was trying to create something special,” recalls Younge.

The starting point given to the composers was to create a score with nineties era hip hop as its starting inspiration. “That era of hip-hop is really special to a lot of people, so Cheo wanted to retain the authenticity of that era and to make it really match the backdrop of everything related to Luke Cage,” says Muhammad.

Another one of the most rewarding aspects of their role was composing music for the character of Cottonmouth, played by Mahershala Ali, to perform in the show. Muhammad recalls: “Cottonmouth plays piano and so Cheo asked us to write certain music for him that they used in the actual shooting before anything else was done. That was an extra special part on top of our job as composers, because it gave us a real part of the script and Mahershala did such a great job.”

Fighting Power Man: The Art of Smack-Fu

One of the unique challenges was to continue to create exceptional stunts and fights. This became an even bigger feat with sequences that needed to be created for an ultra strong, bulletproof character who could very easily kill every opponent he hit.

“Audiences will absolutely get to see a different kind of action in Marvel’s Luke Cage,” says Jeph Loeb. “We are talking about someone who has extraordinary strength, but it’s also an awful lot of fun to watch someone that bullets can bounce off of and he has the ability to, dare I say it, bend steel with his bare hands. There’s a different kind of plot that you get when you have a hero like Luke. There isn’t a moment when you don’t believe that Mike Colter is Luke Cage and that he has those abilities. It is one of the extraordinary gifts that Mike brings to the show.”

Stunt Coordinator James Lew remembers, “I think we were all trying to figure it out because he’s so powerful and there had to be limitations. They didn’t want Luke Cage to kill people. He’s a good person. So to produce a fight we had to come to a point where he cannot actually strike somebody or punch somebody in the head because literally his opponent’s head would be gone. So we played around with ideas and we came up with what we called ‘Smack-Fu’. It was more open-handed pushing, where he would use that kind of power to get people away without lethal force and flipping people. We had to find a compromise of getting the action in there, but with the limitations of not really punching or kicking people. It was a challenge.”

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