Marvel’s second Netflix show is a brilliant departure from all of its other adaptations so far.
Creator: Melissa Rosenberg
Starring: Krysten Ritter, David Tennant, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Wil Traval, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss
Over the past few months, I have been suffering from an illness that I’m sure has afflicted many of you recently: superhero fatigue.
Despite being a massive comic book fan, after a summer of just passable superhero films (and a really dull third season of Arrow), I have started to tire of seeing masked vigilantes punching people, so I was apprehensive about spending another 13 hours on a Marvel show.
What’s more, I was worried about whether Jessica Jones would be able to compete with Netflix’s previous comic book series, the superb Daredevil, which in my humble opinion ranks among the best screen ventures of the genre, and one that Jessica Jones was inevitably going to be compared against.
Thankfully, Jessica Jones is very different. As well as being Marvel’s smallest project to date, it’s also the most subversive. With its neo-noir aesthetic, it immediately feels distinct. This isn’t another superhero origin story; Jessica may have super strength and the ability to, well, jump really high, but her powers don’t define the show or her character.
Instead, Jessica Jones takes the form of a psychological crime thriller that follows Krysten Ritter’s heroine after she has hung up the spandex and begun a career as a private eye.
Throughout this first season, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg expands upon the more mature niche of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that Netflix started to carve with Daredevil. There’s sex, drug use, swearing and graphic violence, but there’s a purpose behind the more adult content.
Instead of aliens raining down from the sky and evil robots trying to destroy mankind, the threat posed by David Tennant’s Kilgrave is more personal, the show tackling some heavy subject matter – including rape, assault and PTSD – as a result of the villain’s actions. As a consequence, the show’s characters are more mature and authentic to reflect this darker tone.
None more so than Ritter’s Jessica, who is easily the most human superhero we’ve seen in the MCU. From the pilot, she distances herself from her Hollywood counterparts: she’s blunt, foul-mouthed and rarely seen without a bottle close to hand. But what’s most striking about Jessica is just how tragically flawed and damaged her character is.
Jessica’s anguish looms over her. The show is indebted to Ritter, whose superb performance carries its exploration of Jessica’s PTSD. Her portrayal of the character’s trauma is sensitive and nuanced; it’s the little quirks and facial expressions she makes that give Jessica Jones a lingering horror, even during the show’s many comedic moments.
And then there’s the man that haunts her.
For the first few episodes, Jessica Jones’ mind-controlling villain remains in the shadows. He’s initially heard rather than seen, but even then Tennant makes his presence known, delivering every line with a vicious bite. And when Kilgrave makes his true appearance, he’s monstrous, but also absolutely fascinating to watch.
Unlike the villains of Marvel’s big screen outings, who are all similarly focused on global domination or destruction, it’s Kilgrave’s lack of aim that makes him so horrifying. His actions range from the carefully masterminded to the impulsive and petty (the latter of which is often blackly funny).
Tennant brings an innate energy to the character, and in his hands Kilgrave is equal parts infantile and sadistic. Even when he’s throwing a smile, there is an unsettling quality to his performance, which coupled with the character’s abilities, makes him wildly unpredictable. We never know what Kilgrave is going to do next, and as a result, no-one is safe.
Unfortunately, it’s in Kilgrave’s victims – AKA the supporting cast – where Jessica Jones falls down somewhat. Rachael Taylor’s Trish ‘Patsy’ Walker and Eka Darville’s Malcolm are likeable and provide much of the show’s heart, but at times, especially towards the end of the season, their individual storylines begin to detract from the central plot.
As for the other characters that Jessica encounters, many of them are little more than an annoyance. Initially, characters such as Reuben and Robyn (Jessica’s eccentric neighbours) juxtapose well with Jessica’s hard-boiled persona, but as the season progresses, more and more time is wasted on these often quite cartoonish characters.
Jessica Jones also introduces another of Hell’s Kitchen’s most famous superhero residents, Luke Cage, who is set to appear in his own Netflix series next year. Played by the hulking Mike Colter, he certainly looks the part, but sadly lacks any major development. Hopefully, this can be chalked up to a deliberate muting of the character ahead of his own solo series.
In the run up to its release, Vincent D’Onofrio described Daredevil as a “13-hour film” and the same can be said of Jessica Jones. Rosenberg and her team tap into the binge-watching nature of Netflix users, taking the time to produce a generally very tightly plotted series that remains sharply focused on Jessica/Kilgrave’s central storyline.
One unfortunate downside of this unserialised format is that it feels like the Jessica Jones team have written themselves into a narrative corner ahead of a potential second season. It was designed as one of several standalone shows that would eventually cross over in The Defenders miniseries, and at the end of season one it’s clear that the creative team weren’t necessarily working with a second season in mind.
Episode 13, ‘AKA Smile’ neatly wraps up the majority of the show’s ongoing plotlines. It looks like Marvel’s superhero-noir will have to undergo a soft reboot should they be greenlit for season 2.
But if Netflix/Marvel’s track record so far is anything to go by, there’s probably nothing to worry about.
This article was originally published on badcantina.com
Images from Netflix