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Luke Cage – The Creator (Review)

Luke Cage has always been engaged with The Godfather.

This was obvious even during the first season. Outside of dialogue accepting The Godfather, Part II as “the sequel better than the original” in Step in the Arena, the portrayal of the Stokes family in flashback owed a lot to Francis Ford Coppola’s generation crime saga. Indeed the sequences of the Stokes family gathered around the family table, unaware of the chaos that would rain down upon them, evokes the closing flashback of The Godfather, Part II. It is an image rich with irony, bringing the tragedy something of a full circle.

This point of comparison makes a great deal of sense. The Godfather is a story about a minority community in America, trying to exist both inside and outside the law. It is an archetypal American fairy tale, one of the great cynical meditations on the American Dream. (After all, the opening line of The Godfather is “I believe in America.”) This fits neatly with what Luke Cage is, an exploration of a particularly distinct subculture within contemporary America that explores the sometimes tumultuous relationship that this community has with the law and with political structures.

The second season of Luke Cage commits to this idea even further, its narrative borrowing liberally from The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II in crafting a generational superhero crime epic.

The second season of Luke Cage wears its Godfather influences on its sleeve. This is reflected in a number of different ways, both subtle and explicit. The climax of If It Ain’t Rough, It Ain’t Right features Reverend James Lucas performing a baptism that quickly turns into a botched mob hit, evoking one of the most iconic sequences from The Godfather. The closing scene of They Reminisce Over You is explicitly written and shot so as to evoke the closing scenes of the original Godfather, with Luke cast as Michael Carleone and Misty filling the role of Kay Adams.

However, the influences are perhaps most overt in The Creator, the second season’s big flashback episode and the obvious companion piece to Manifest from the middle of the first season. The Creator features two narrative plot threads, one unfolding in real time and the other exploring an earlier generation of the two families at war across the season narrative. This is a common enough structural conceit, although its use in a crime story will always evoke the basic structure of The Godfather, Part II.

Several plot elements reinforce this comparison. The most obvious is the decision to set the flashbacks in Jamaica, focusing on the origin story of Jon McIver and the roots of his blood feud with the Stokes family. In some respects, these flashbacks are largely redundant and unnecessary; most of the details were already articulated by Bushmaster at the climax of On and On, before he burnt down Mariah Dillard’s brownstone. Mustafa Shakir delivered that monologue with enough intensity that actually depicting the events on-screen seems almost indulgent.

Then again, the flashbacks serve two key purposes. The most obvious is to provide the audience with some texture of Jamaica itself, the beauty of the island that cannot quite be conveyed through dialogue. The Creator actually filmed in Jamaica itself, taking advantage of the opportunity to include breathtaking shots of the region and to include the sort of local flavour (Trench Town and the hills of St Andrew) that would be impossible to replicate on a standing set or by using New York locations as Iron Fist tried to do with its depictions of China in episodes like The Blessing of Many Fractures or Lead Horse Back to Stable.

More than that, it seems to exist as something of a Godfather reference of itself. A significant stretch of The Godfather, Part II finds Michael travelling to pre-revolutionary Cuba to take part in a conference of organised criminals planning to divide up the island. While there, he uncovers a dark familial betrayal that leads to more murder and carnage, placing more blood on his hands and darkening his soul even further. The Creator does something similar, with the conference between the Stokes and the McIvers in the Caribbean to divide up the rum business and the property holdings, leading to a shocking betrayal.

The Creator reinforces these similarities to The Godfather, Part II by devoting a lot of attention to “the West Indian Day Parade.” Misty mentions it to Luke over the phone, while directing his search through Brooklyn. Mariah sighs when she realises how this might hamper her aggressive pursuit of Ingrid, “That goddamn parade is today.” When Luke does connect with Ingrid, he suggests that their best change of evading Mariah’s goons is to escape into the crowd. “We can lose them in the parade.”

What is particularly interesting about this plot point is how much attention is paid to it, despite the minimal impact that it has on the plot itself. After all, it seems strange that the parade would continue as normal in the wake of what is dubbed “the Rum Punch Massacre” at the heart of the Jamaican community in Brooklyn. The Creator includes stock footage of the parade to provide a sense of flavour in establishing shots, but the only point at which the characters meaningfully interact with the parade is a quick shot of a few dancers wandering into shot before Shades grabs Ingrid.

The parade seems to be included specifically so that The Creator can evoke The Godfather, Part II. A flashback sequence in that film finds Vito Carleone committing his first murder during the San Gennaro festival. It is one of the most distinctive and memorable sequences in the film, one often homaged and evoked. It serves largely the same purpose as the “West Indian Day” parade in The Creator, emphasising the idea that these communities have their own distinct cultural identities.

(As a minor aside, it is worth noting that The Creator very wryly flips its homages to perhaps the two most memorable elements of The Godfather, Part II. In The Godfather, Part II, the business meeting and betrayal in the Caribbean take place within the (relative) present of the movie, while The Creator incorporates those beats into its own flashback sequences. In The Godfather, Part II, the parade sequence takes place in the flashback sequences focusing on Vito Carleone, while the parade in The Creator takes place during the series’ present tense.)

The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II are obviously cultural touchstones. Although critics might argue about which of the two films is better, they both frequently feature in lists ranking the best movies of all time. They are part of the cultural shorthand, having seeped into popular consciousness to the extent that many mob “traditions” can actually trace their roots back no further than the cinematic adaptations of the novel. It is no surprise to see a crime series referencing them. Still, Luke Cage seems especially committed. The first season of Daredevil was more likely to evoke The Wire as its prestige hit of choice.

Executive producer Cheo Hodari Coker acknowledges the influence of The Godfather on both his own writing in general and on Luke Cage in particular:

Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker isn’t at all shy when it comes to acknowledging his influences, grinning as he described a jar in his writers’ room that demands a dollar anytime someone makes a reference to The Wire or The Godfather.

“I come to the room with cash,” Coker laughed.

And that’s clear when you watch the final minutes of Luke Cage Season 2, when Luke (Mike Colter) accepts the mantle of leadership from Mariah (Alfre Woodard) over Harlem’s Paradise, and Misty finds herself shut out of the inner sanctum just like Kay Corleone.

“When we were filming that moment, where the door closes on Misty,” Coker said, “I literally had my iPad open to say, ‘okay I want to pause, so that we’re going to match the shot on Kay in reverse.’ We put it in there.”

Coker credited his uncle, Richard Wesley (a writer whose credits include Uptown Saturday Night and Native Son, with instilling his obsession with the classic Francis Ford Coppola gangster film. “He taught me how to write drama from watching The Godfather. I’ve seen The Godfather a hundred times at least. Not an exaggeration. I write to it, honestly.”

This makes a great deal of sense. Seventies cinema is (rightly) venerated, particularly within the industry. The Godfather is perhaps the most seventies of cinema.

There is something very universal about The Godfather. Peter Bradshaw has described The Godfather as having “an almost Shakespearean grandeur.” Jeff Labrecque described the film’s appeal in its ability reweave “timeless themes into something we’d never experienced before.” The Godfather is a story about family, about legacy, about history. It is the tale of a man who tries to escape the poisonous legacy of his family, but who finds himself drawn back in by outside forces and perhaps by fate itself. The Godfather offers a story with which many people can empathise; growing up involves wrestling with identity and family.

In fact, Luke Cage carries over a number of these core themes, particularly in its second season. The show deals with the issue of trying to escape the legacy of family; Mariah hoping to finally go legitimate in Soul Brother #1 mirrors Michael’s plans to take the family business fully legal in The Godfather, Part II. The series touches on the relationship between father and son, the latter’s need to assert his own identity; Luke wrestles with his father’s legacy, while Michael struggles to escape from his father’s shadow. Luke Cage even embraces the secondary themes explored in The Godfather; masculinity, community, integrity.

Cheo Coker even argues that Luke’s arc over the course of the second season of Luke Cage parallels the journey that Michael Carleone makes in The Godfather:

Because I’m hugely influenced by Francis Ford Coppola… [The Godfather trilogy] is a huge influence. Michael Corleone, Al Pacino’s character for those who aren’t Godfather-fluent, he starts off as somebody who, like Luke, is very earnest and is really a good guy that has in his entire life told himself that he is above the family business and was better than it and is not going to get involved in it. Then, when he does get involved, says, “Okay, fine. I’m going to be involved in the family business, but I’m going to be different than my father. I’m going to be better. I’m going to make it legitimate.” Five years, the casino, the Corleone family will be completely legitimate. Then, by Godfather II, you realize, well, no. It’s going to take a little more than that, and that it’s a lot more complicated.

That’s kind of where we leave Luke, in that if you break it, you buy it. If you are going to control crime, does that make you a crime boss? That’s really, god willing, if we are lucky enough to get a third season… If [Netflix] does agree to bring us back, that gives us a lot of things to explore with Luke in the future.

Much like Michael Carleone assumes criminal power in order to protect his family, Luke accepts criminal power in order to serve his community.

It should be noted that The Godfather also has an appeal that extends beyond this archetypal template and into something more specific. There is perhaps a reason that The Godfather resonates more closely with Luke Cage than with Iron Fist or Daredevil. It is not merely the fact that Luke Cage deals with organised crime, as both Daredevil and Iron Fist dabble in street-level gang violence from time to time. Matt Murdock’s first real opponents are the Russian mob, after all. Wilson Fisk is the sort of crime boss who feels like he belongs in the world of The Godfather. Even the Hand disguise themselves as common criminals.

However, Luke Cage is much more embedded in a particular New York ethnic community than either Daredevil or Iron Fist. Matt Murdock’s Irish American Catholicism is arguably central to his character, but there is no real sense that this ethnic identity shapes how he interacts with the community as either lawyer or vigilante. In Daredevil, Hell’s Kitchen is presented as something of a melting pot, rather than as an area with distinct ethnic background. Similarly, Iron Fist doesn’t really anchor itself to a particular community, and Danny’s appropriation of Far Eastern culture would make any such efforts deeply problematic.

In contrast, Luke Cage is rooted in a version of Harlem that is firmly anchored in ideas of African American culture and ownership. It is a celebration of aspects of black culture that are unique and distinct, that exist outside the default framework provided by white America. It could be argued, as W. Bryan Rommel Ruiz does in American History Goes to the Movies, that The Godfather is about navigating similar boundaries between an ethnic and a generic American identity:

Throughout the three Godfather movies, Michael struggles with living in the hyphenated world inhabited by American immigrants and their children, negotiating his identity, loyalty, and aspirations as he comes to terms with his ethnic heritage while pursuing his ambitions. In this regard, the Godfather films reflect a few of the themes about the American immigrant experience that animates academic scholarship: the conflicted life immigrants and their children confront while living between cultures; and the ways choosing to become American also demonstrates how a person defines “history.” Whether the films are about European Americans or Mexican Americans, these movies collectively reveal how negotiating one’s ethnic or racial heritage corresponds with the ways they view the past, and whether they can escape it as they become “American.”

Of course, the African American experience is radically different from any immigrant experience, owing to the particular historical dynamics at play. However, there are obvious parallels; both the African American identity of the characters in Luke Cage and the Italian American identity of characters in The Godfather serve to position them outside the conventional frameworks of white and assimilated America.

Indeed, Luke Cage borrows several of its cues from The Godfather when it comes to exploring the relationship that exists within the community and between the focal community and other communities. The Stokes may be gangsters like the Carleones, but they seem to genuinely believe that they know what is best for their community. Vito Carleone is known as “Godfather” because he looks out for his people, even when the forces of law and order fail them. Mabel Stokes is known as “Mama Mable” for similar reasons.

The Stokes are presented as an “honourable” sort of criminal. They respect the sanctity of the barbershop, to the point that Cornell throws Tone off the roof for violating it in Code of the Streets. Mama Mable has a strict rule against dealing drugs in Harlem, and she murders Pistol Pete for his violation of that rule in Manifest. In The Creator, Shades literally tells Mariah, “There’s a code of the streets. Actual rules to this sh!t. Innocent people are dead, Mariah.” The implication is that the Stokes family do not kill needlessly. Mariah’s actions in The Main Ingredient cross a line.

Several businesses owe their existence to the Stokes. In All Souled Out, “Piranha” Jones reveals that Mariah was one of his earliest supporters. In If It Ain’t Rough, It Ain’t Right, Mariah explains that her grandmother put “Big Ben” Donovon through law school. In one of the series’ most overt connections to The Godfather, episodes like Who’s Gonna Take the Weight? and They Reminisce Over You suggest that the Stokes family has a particularly close relationship with Joel Spurlock, Harlem’s undertaker. (The opening lines of The Godfather are given to Amerigo Bonasera, an undertaker who finds himself indebted to the Carleones.)

There is a sense that the organised crime in Luke Cage is designed to consciously mirror organised crime in The Godfather. Outside of the senate hearings in The Godfather, Part II, the Carleone family actually have relatively little conflict with the apparatus of the state. Instead, the Carleone family seem to find themselves waging war against other criminals, most defined by their ethnic identities rather than as generic Americans; the various other Italian American “families”, the Jewish Hyman Roth, Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo. The most promenade police officer, the Irish American Captain Mark McCluskey, is corrupt.

This reflects the way that Luke Cage explores the power dynamics within Harlem. The series largely avoids dealing explicitly with themes of state violence and systemic oppression by political forces, which might account for criticisms that Luke Cage is fixated on “black on black crime” and which may explain why earnest attempts to tackle themes like police brutality in Take It Personal fell somewhat flat. Much like The Godfather, the series acknowledges prejudice that its characters face by dint of their status as an ethnic minority. Much like The Godfather, the series doesn’t engage with that racism directly.

Instead, the biggest threats that Harlem faces come outside groups with their own distinct identities intruding and trying to wage war, with a side order of corrupt cops like Nandi Tyler or Rafael Scarfe. In the second season of Luke Cage, the arrival of Bushmaster destabilises Harlem and throws the neighbourhood into chaos with his bold statements at the end of All Souled Out. Even after Bushmaster is defeated, Luke finds himself having to negotiate with the Italian American mob in They Reminisce Over You. (In keeping with The Godfather, the mob discuss Harlem with a hefty dose of racism.)

Steve Rose argues that The Godfather is fundamentally the story of trying to assert power and legitimacy in a world where “the American Dream is already a closed shop.”  The second season of Luke Cage hints repeatedly at this idea. In All Souled Out, Mariah argues that taking criminal organisations legitimate through cash is “the American way.” When Comanche asks Shades what his long-term plan is in The Basement, Shades replies with just a hint of irony, “to live the American dream.”

The Godfather offers a cynical and subversive take on the American Dream. After all, it is a tale anchored in American ideals. Coppola himself has described it as a tale about “capitalism in its purest form.” It is a story about authority and influence, purchased through money and violence. It is a story about a community locked out of the standard social contract, and which thus forms its own internal social contract. It is easy to see why that theme resonates more thoroughly with Luke Cage than it does with Daredevil or Iron Fist.

It should be noted that these references to The Godfather make sense on other levels as well. The crime epic is a major influence on rap and hip-hop culture: As Nick Hasted notes, the themes of masculine identity and performance resonated with a generation of young black musicians:

The Godfather, De Niro and Pacino – especially the latter’s garishly violent and self-destructive Tony Montana in Scarface – are constantly name-checked on record, and are used (along with blaxploitation’s pimps) as style guides for “ghetto fabulous” videos. This obsession with gangster cinema – an aspirational genre after the crack-zone realities some rappers come from – may explain why so many are eager for Hollywood. But it also suggests why they succeed when they arrive. Gangsta albums, with their gunfire-heavy, spoken-word “skits” between songs, already function as audio movies; while tracks like Scarface’s mournful “I Seen A Man Die”, expected by its audience to represent street life in authentic detail, have a movie’s narrative and emotional complexity. The role-playing of the likes of Ice Cube (and his alias The Predator), as they act out these dramas, also helps thin the line between gangster movies and rap.

Luke Cage exists in this context. Coker has described Luke Cage as “essentially the show of hip-hop music culture and politics.” Every first season episode of Luke Cage was named in reference to a Gang Starr song. Every second season episode was named in reference to a Pete Rock & CL Smooth song.

In some ways, the fusion of the superhero genre with a hip-hop sensibility in Luke Cage is a fortuitous and fruitful intersection between two genres that use similar methodologies to accomplish the same narrative ends. Both superhero storytelling and hip-hop music are built around the concept of sampling, of appropriating and recontextualising familiar elements, allowing them to interact with one another in fresh and exciting ways to produce something exciting and compelling that reflects the current cultural zeitgeist.

There are countless examples of hip-hop repurposing familiar beats and rhythms to create novel sounds. This occurs across the genre, not just at the fringe; Notorious BIG sampled Between the Sheets for Big Poppa, Coolio sampled Pastime Paradise for Gangster’s Paradise, Will Smith sampled Forget Me Nots for Men in Black. Even Vanilla Ice famously sampled Under Pressure for his breakout hit Ice, Ice, Baby, although the white rapper only accepted this after the fact – and after a lawsuit that he settled out of court.

This culture of sampling and remixing was an essential part of hip-hop’s identity, and was essential to the evolution of the artform from its earliest days. It is impossible to imagine how hip-hop and rap might have evolved without the use of earlier material as a building block or stepping stone for a younger generation with bold ideas and fresh concepts to layer on top. As Dorian Lynskey explains:

Hip-hop began in the early 1970s as a DJ-driven artform, with MCs initially employed as energetic hypemen. So when it eventually graduated from the club to the recording studio, the principle of rapping over other people’s records was a given, and the only obstacle was technological. The primitive nature of early samplers forced producers to use stiff programmed drums (think of any early Run-DMC or Beastie Boys single), rather than fluid breakbeats. But the release of samplers such as the E-mu SP-1200 and the Akai MPC60 in the late 80s revolutionised the form, enabling producers to ransack their record collections for ideas. Albums such as De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising and the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique worked dozens of samples into collages of psychedelic complexity. Public Enemy claimed that they had used so many sources in their 1989 hit Fight the Power that even they couldn’t identify them all afterwards.

This use of referencing and sampling is controversial, especially among more traditional rock-oriented music fans. However, disc jockeys and remix artists argue that this is form of preservation and even celebration. Mark Ronson concedes, “I kind of discovered Motown and soul music backwards, through hip-hop and the records that had borrowed from it.”

This is very similar to how superhero storytelling works. Superhero stories are often extremely dense and referential, drawing upon a wealth of other material and iconography to inform their narratives. On a surface level, these references might be described as “continuity” or “canon”, but the connections are more abstract than that. The genre is constantly in conversation with both itself and wider popular culture. After all, the origin of Superman is very much a twist on the story of Moses. The creation of Batman owes a great deal to the Shadow.

Superheroes exert their own narrative weight, with many characters existing in conversation with other characters. To pick an obvious example, Marvel has its own collection of Superman analogues who exist largely to riff upon the medium’s most iconic character: Sentry, Blue Marvel, Hyperion. Entire storylines exist primarily in conversation with earlier plots. These references are often framed in language that evokes hip-hop sensibilities. When he wrote Daredevil, Kevin Smith was described as “remixing years of stories from Frank Miller to Ann Nocenti.” This is how superhero comics are written.

It doesn’t even have to be that complicated; the permutations of Superman lifting a car from the cover of Action Comics #1, or the ubiquity of images riffing on the cover of Amazing Fantasy #15. As Molly Hatcher argues in The Dark Knight Under Revision, this referencing is a fundamental aspect of the genre:

Major superhero comic book publishing companies have a unique construction wherein the publishers have ownership over the characters, images, and stories rather than individual writers and artists. Thus superhero comics series represent closed systems in which creators can embrace the ecstasy of influence, resurrecting pre-existent characters, settings, images, and plot devices from that particular publishing company’s universe of stories without fear of copyright infringement. In fact, superhero comic books thrive on the remediation, or the renovation of older media using new narrative techniques, that is a defining element of this genre. The intellectual property structure of these companies creates an avenue for the development of multi-layered narratives and images that combine old and new in a way that rewards long-term readers for their deep understanding of the mythologies attached to iconic superheroes. It is important to note that companies like DC and Marvel are private entities that do not make their intellectual property available to the public for free use. But the world of open resources that exists within the boundaries of the company can be explored as a microcosm of the larger world in order to investigate the benefits of a more broadly defined public domain. As media consumers gain more autonomy and build larger “knowledge communities” due to the rise of digital technologies, there are greater demands for the sharing, sampling, remixing and collaboration of ideas.

Due the combination of this vast swathe of intellectual property and a medium built around established sets of iconography, this culture of sampling and remixing feels perfectly suited to superhero comics as a genre.

Some of this has interest in remixing and sampling has carried over to superhero stories in other media. The Dark Knight is essentially the plot of Michael Mann’s Heat, but with the Joker and Batman grafted in; a fact acknowledged through the sly casting of William Fitchner as a corrupt banker. More recently, Marvel Studios has demonstrated a willingness to (gently) experiment with genre in its own blockbusters; Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a political thriller co-starring Robert Redford, Ant Man is a heist movie, Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera.

Luke Cage leaning so heavily on The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II is arguably just an extension of this idea. It represents a nod towards the history of sampling and hybridisation common to both superhero storytelling and to hip-hop. The use of familiar story beats and elements from The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II in Luke Cage serves the same function as the use of a hook or a baseline in a hip-hop track, it provides a familiar template from which the production team might build.

There is an argument that this approach to art reflects the postmodern aesthetic of the twenty-first century, and can trace its roots back to the work of figures like Andy Warhol. In a world where almost everything is easily accessible, mass produced and readily available, perhaps the only form of creation lies in fusion and reinvention. As Tony Scherman reflected of the school of though connecting hip-hop to Warhol:

In 1961, Warhol, anxious to distinguish his work from Lichtenstein’s, began to increase his use of repetition, or seriality. It became one of his hallmarks. Gazing at a 6-by-8-foot painting of 200 Campbell’s soup cans, one’s eye roams restlessly, unable to find an organizing principle or focal point, which is just what Warhol intended. As far as he was concerned, any immanent, organic structure would be an artificial overlay; any sense of resolution, artificial. Seriality, moreover, gave his work the machine-made look he wanted; those 200 red-and-white Campbell’s cans could be fresh off the assembly line. So could the multiple Marilyns and Elvises: celebrities are products, too.

The same relentless seriality characterizes electronica and hip-hop, whose songs are strung together out of endlessly repeating one- and two-bar loops. The 32-, 16- and 12-bar choruses that have undergirded pop music since Stephen Foster no longer apply here. While electronica’s repetitiveness is obviously rooted in its dance music function, a number of its stars — the Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Fatboy Slim — long ago developed large armchair audiences. Electronica’s seriality has as much to do with post-modernist aesthetics as with dancing.

There is, of course, a whiff of moral panic about this. However, it reflects tensions simmering within pop culture about this tendency to combine influences to create novelty. Alex Garland has described Annihilation as “super original”, but there’s a lot of familiar elements blurring together in its narrative; Aliens, Stalker, 2001: A Space Odyssey. More than that, its entire plot is a celebration of hybridisation and reinvention as a creative art form of itself.

Even leaving aside the particulars of why the Godfather films work so well as a frame of reference for Luke Cage, the show’s commitment to the cornerstone of prestige cinema is a testament to its ambitions. The early seasons of the Marvel Netflix shows seemed to consciously aspire towards prestige storytelling, referencing and evoking high-quality entertainment in a manner that offset their pulpier sensibilities. In the early days of the Marvel Netflix series, there was a sense that the production teams had devoured the highest quality and film and television, and were willing to let that inform their work.

Daredevil consciously channelled The Wire, most notably in scenes like Ben Urich meeting his source on the waterfront in Rabbit in a Snowstorm, discussing gentrification and shifting power structures. Beyond that, the basic structure of the season was effectively an extension of the template that Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer had employed on Batman Begins, possibly the best superhero origin story ever crafted and superb piece of storytelling on its own terms. The first season of Daredevil shamelessly aped Batman Begins, but this provided a clear structure and framework.

However, subsequent seasons of the Marvel Netflix series scaled back that ambition and became less sophisticated in their frames of reference. The second season of Daredevil could lovingly evoke panels from Frank Miller’s iconic and influential run on the character, but it lacked any significant outside influences to properly contextualise this cartoonish spectacle. It seemed like the show was being produced by people who had only ever read Frank Miller comics, which was arguably the biggest problem with Mark Steven Johnson’s earlier cinematic adaptation of the character.

The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II are certainly very lofty pieces of popular culture for any showrunner to consciously and repeatedly invoke. It takes confidence to invite comparisons between a streaming superhero show about a bulletproof black man and two of the most beloved and influential films ever made. However, Luke Cage commits to the idea without any hesitation. It never feels like the series has any second thoughts, or like it ever pulls back. If anything, the series builds up momentum as it goes, closing the second season with the most overt reference imaginable.

This confidence is a large part of what elevates the second season of Luke Cage, a sense that the production team know exactly what they are doing and how they want to do it. The second season of Luke Cage has a great deal of faith in its own judgment, and never seems to hold back. The production team are never afraid of biting off more than they can chew, constructing a story with impressive scale and scope. Despite some of its pacing and plotting issues, the second season of Luke Cage is perhaps the most ambitious season of the Marvel Netflix nexus. The Godfather references are one small (but telling) facet of that.

It takes swagger to emulate two of the greatest films of all time in a comic book series about a character who uses the catchphrase “Sweet Christmas.” Luckily, swagger is something that the second season of Luke Cage has in abundance.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the second season of Luke Cage:

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