Marvel and Netflix’s noirish detective drama is the most grown-up superhero show you’ve ever seen. Here our our thoughts…
While there is a lot of talk about the oversaturation of comic book films and TV around at the moment, I don’t see this as a problem as long as the film/showmakers keep finding new ways to explore the genre. For instance, two of my favourite comic book adaptations of the year are the aforementioned Agent Carter, which gave us a period spy caper set in a superhero world, and now Jessica Jones which finally delivers the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female superhero but is as far from the typical superhero story as you can get.
In premise, the series is a noirish psychological drama and in subtext, it deals with such difficult issues as PTSD and sexual abuse. As such, it is often very dark and quite uncomfortable to watch. Yet you can’t stop yourself from clicking that next episode because the drama builds at such an impressive and mostly even stead, which is a hard task across 13 episodes. This is my first time watching a Netflix Original series and, while I will miss weekly television if this is the way of the future, it suits this series which feels more like a long-form film or, more fittingly, a graphic novel collection of comics than a TV series.
The driving heart of the show is the game of cat and mouse between Jessica and her nemesis, Kilgrave – who I’m going to go out on a limb and say is my favourite villain in the Marvel world (sorry, Loki fans). Kilgrave is a terrifying villain because his power – mind control – is played in a very grounded and therefore unsettling way. Plus, David Tennant is perfect casting. You imagine he was cast deliberately because of his role as the Doctor as he brings all of Ten’s flippancy and charisma to Kilgrave – he’s just completely psychopathic and self-interested. For Doctor Who fans, this is Tennant as the Master. There is even a great metafictional line at one point where Jessica tells him ‘you aren’t ten anymore.’ No, he certainly is not…
But the series completely belongs to Krysten Ritter. Jessica Jones is a proper old-fashioned hard-boiled private eye; she’s cynical, has a drink problem and her work leaves her detached from others – except she also happens to have superpowers. Such a character could come across as either gimmicky or hard to like but Ritter imbues her with a believability and vulnerability as well as a raw toughness. Despite the terror of falling back under Kilgrave’s spell, Jessica proves herself every bit as much a hero as those who wear colourful costumes.
On the whole, Jessica Jones is a very grown-up, very well-written series, which employs superhero tropes to explore sensitive topics but without ever becoming issues-led thanks to the work put into making its characters as well-realised as possible. At times it suffered from what I call Torchwooditus (a spin-off trying to be extra adult to distance itself from its family-friendly parent franchise) but this was largely held in check. With a dark tone, a complex hero and an unsettling villain, Jessica Jones might not be anything like The Avengers but it is still a true marvel.