I realize that I'm a bit late coming at this one. I got hold of it the first day it was released, but I've been busy with work, and I haven't been able to watch it as quickly as I usually do.
Below are some thoughts...
1. The fight scenes are boring
The thing that made Daredevil so cool was the fight scenes. That fight down the corridor with the Russian mobsters, for example. Luke Cage, by comparison, just walks into a place, gets shot a few times, and that's it.
2. There's no sense of risk
Luke Cage, as far as anyone in the show knows, is invincible. He gets hit, he's ok. He gets shot, he's ok. He gets hit by a rocket launcher - and he's still ok. Without the threat of harm, most of the events which unfold in the series are completely uninteresting.
Which isn't to say that Luke Cage might not have some intriguing vulnerabilities which could be exploited by his adversaries. The people he loves, for example. Or perhaps, as one character suggests, he might be susceptible to drowning or poisoning. But for whatever reason, his enemies don't think it's worth their while to probe him for weaknesses, and we're left with a strange situation in which they attempt to fight him in the most conventional manner possible - even though they've seen such methods fail again and again.
This is also true of the "Judas bullet" they use in later episodes. Diamondback has a rifle with a scope, he's firing from a short distance away, and yet he proceeds to shoot Luke Cage in the stomach. Why not shoot him in the head - either from the beginning or later on, in the theater? And why only shoot him in the shoulder afterward, allowing Luke to escape?
The whole thing that made Daredevil so compelling was his vulnerability. He could either be hurt physically, or emotionally through people he cares about. This is another reason why his fight scenes were better - after they concluded you saw either Daredevil's injuries, or the reactions of his friends to these injuries.
And why is Luke Cage so terrified of going back to Seagate Prison? He has super powers. I really don't think it's the same ball game once you've got super powers. What are they going to do at Seagate? Put him in solitary? With only concrete walls to hold him in? The guy can punch through steel!
3. Mike Colter is a terrible actor.
I'm just going to go ahead and put this out there. When you think of all the other, more talented black actors they could have cast in the role, it's hard to figure why they settled on Mike Colter. Yes, he's handsome. Yes, he's big. But he lacks what other, better actors live and breathe by: presence.
I realize they're too old, but just imagine what someone like Denzel Washington, Laurence Fishburne, or Delroy Lindo might have done with a role like Luke Cage. No doubt they'd struggle with the awkward dialogue, but in those moments where they had to project their inner conflict, you'd really feel what they were going through - even if they said nothing at all.
4. Some of the people in this show are GREAT actors, but they struggle with bad dialogue.
Alfre Woodard being the prime example. She could have done so much more with a better script. The actor who plays Cottonmouth is also excellent, but he's often reduced to a stereotypical heavy. The actor who plays Diamondback, despite getting some of the best dialogue, spends most of the time chewing scenery, and responding to other characters' badly written lines with a gravity they don't deserve.
And why doesn't anyone in this show ever use the word "fuck?" It works overtime to throw in slang, even for the white characters, but at the most anyone ever says is "shit" or "bitch" or "nigger." Are you trying to tell me that people in Harlem don't use the word "fuck?" Really?
The people writing this show had a line to walk between slang and "normal" speech, and they failed spectacularly in this regard. It gets better in the later episodes, but not by much.
5. The music is cool.
This is one of the few good things I have to say about Luke Cage. The music is always good.
6. Misty Knight is a wasted character.
Honestly, what does she DO in this show? She almost always shows up too late to do anybody any good, and her inability to identify the perpetrators of any crime prompts one to question how she ever made detective in the first place.
7. What is Luke Cage trying to do?
"Clean up Harlem?" Why? How? He has to know that defeating Cottonmouth (or Diamondback) is only the tip of the iceberg, and that neighborhood-specific villains don't exist in reality. Harlem is just one part of a very big, very populous city, and eliminating the one bad guy who happens to live in his neighborhood just provides more breathing room (and territory) for other bad guys, outside of that neighborhood.
What I'm trying to get at here is that a lot of the problems that Luke Cage attempts to fix are more global that he'd like to admit. For all his busting up safe houses and bringing down local gangsters, he ought to realize that he's just pushing the criminal element outside of his neighborhood, NOT outside the city.
Yes, Daredevil's base of operations is Hell's Kitchen, but at no point in that show do they imply that he's set on cleaning up that part of New York in isolation. His battles with the Kingpin and The Hand range all over New York.
8. The writers didn't do their homework.
One of the things that made Daredevil so great was the attention to detail. You can tell that they bothered to research how the criminal justice system works in New York. Not only from the legal aspect, but right down to how land is zoned and how beat cops do their job.
In Luke Cage all of the prison officials, policemen, and reporters are little more than cardboard cutouts, appearing and disappearing whenever the story seems to require it. They are, in other words, not really people at all, and this is a shame because fleshing them out better would have given the show better legs to stand on.
The police procedural aspects of this show improve a bit by episode 8, after Misty assaults Rosario Dawson's character, but it's still a far cry from what has been done in countless other, police-related shows.
9. This show lacks balls.
This show is, to some extent, topical, but it needed to embrace that topicality, and not shy away from it so much. There are so many squandered opportunities - opportunities to talk about police brutality, about gun control, about the democratic process, and about the ways in which a community can address societal ills. In the end it's just good guys vs. bad guys all over again.
10. Many of the critics are either too blind or too scared to judge this show on its own merits.
No way does Luke Cage deserve the praise it's receiving. No way does this show deserve 4.5 stars out of 5. No way does it deserve a "B" rating. No way does it deserve descriptive phrases like "beautifully crafted" or "the best Netflix/Marvel series so far."
I'd give it 3 stars out of 5. Maybe 2.5. I'd give it a solid "C." And nothing about this show is "beautifully crafted," except maybe the music. The best Netflix/Marvel series so far? Not even close.
11. In conclusion...
Out of the Netflix shows thus far, I'd have to rank Luke Cage dead last. Daredevil's second season was probably my favorite, even with the weak conclusion. Behind Daredevil's second season I'd place the first, which meandered a bit, but featured some excellent plotting and characterization. Behind this I'd put Jessica Jones, which had a great villain, but a lead character's whose actions seemed inconsistent with her character. In many respects Luke Cage combines the weaknesses of all three shows, having a weak ending, a lack of focus, and a character that often does inexplicable things.
(I realize that in my previous review of Jessica Jones I put it above Daredevil's first season, but I have since changed my mind.)
Here's hoping Iron Fist is better. I know one thing: after watching Luke Cage sleepwalk through fight scenes, I'd love to get back to some kung fu fighting.