Mike Colter is a ridiculously handsome man who’s spent years playing heartthobs on screens big and small. Conversely, as the star of Netflix’s Luke Cage, he’s portraying one of the least sexy people in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s more to it than that, but let’s start there.
One of the oddest parts of watching Luke Cage is reconciling the fact that even though the show wants us to see Luke as something of an aspirational hero, he’s corny as hell—and not in a charming, old-man-out-of-time way like Steve Rogers. Corny as in, he pretends that there hasn’t been any good music on the radio since the ‘80s and will literally tell people to pull their pants up if they want to set foot in his neighborhood.
There’s a kind of old school swagger to the way that Colter embodies Cage that very specifically reads as the energy one might expect from a black person that’s around my father’s age. When Luke isn’t in Pop’s barbershop dabbling in questionable respectability politics or trying to figure out how to take Mariah Dillard down once and for all, he’s out there literally rolling up on women with pick-up lines like “I ponder a woman.”
Interestingly, Luke’s tendency toward general corniness does seem as if it could have something to do with the fact that Luke Cage’s take on the character seems to be caught somewhere between his original comics incarnation from the early ‘70s and the married father of one he is in the comics today. There are elements of Luke Cage’s blaxploitation origins woven all throughout Luke Cage that can be something of an acquired taste that clashes with the show’s otherwise very grounded approach to reality. While some characters strike that balance rather effectively, like Misty Knight and Cottonmouth, Luke himself often feels out of place in the MCU’s Harlem.
It’s in those moments—where Luke expresses his longing for a Harlem that he doesn’t quite seem to know all that well—that you can see glimpses of the current comic book hero who’s spent years galavanting across the world as an Avenger. In a way, there’s a clunkiness to Luke’s presence that feels like he’s just too big for that particular section of the MCU. Luke Cage’s Luke moves through the world very much like an A-List superhero, who can at times be out of touch with the world because he’s dealing with larger-than-life issues.
In the same way that Captain America’s detention PSA really encapsulated the inherent silliness of a man dressed up like a flag, Luke Cage’s dab effectively sums up 1) how much of an oldhead he is, and 2) that yeah, he’s definitely a superhero for the people—a symbol. The kind of symbol who, because he’s earnest and truly fighting for righteous reasons, he’s prone to embarrassing himself when he’s trying to be relatable to the youths.