Jessica Jones hit Netflix on November 20th, the second of a planned deal with Marvel Studios to bring their street level heroes to life. But do not be mistaken – this series is not simply a rehash of Daredevil from earlier this year. Jessica Jones has a story and themes all its own, and while you can definitely see it happening in the same neighborhood as Hell’s Kitchen, that is where the similarities end.
Jessica Jones is a hardboiled detective story more than it is a superhero story. The titular character, played by Krysten Ritter, spends her time tracking down missing persons and following around cheating spouses. She likes to drink hard whiskey, has a short temper, and is largely uninterested in getting to know anyone or have any real relationships. She’s a different type of protagonist than what we are used to and the show is excellent for it.
To address the elephant in the room, yes Jessica Jones is our first leading female superhero from within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (I love Peggy Carter but she wasn’t so much a superhero as a spy). It is here that I think Marvel realized something that has eluded so many creators before them. So many times we have failed with female leads because the temptation for writers was to have the gender of the character constantly addressed or to have them become little more than walking sex objects.
Jessica is neither objectified nor defined by her gender. In fact no one in the series is defined by their race or gender, so much as they are by their characteristics. The show does not club us over the head with constant belittling of Jessica or disbelief in her capability by every man around her. That isn’t to say it doesn’t exist, as the military man Will Simpson (Wil Travel) seems to underestimate her quite a bit at first, and some of the extras even make assumptions about her, but it is not something that has to be brought up often for us to be aware that it exists at all. Jessica is a private investigator who happens to be a woman, not the other way around.
The show boasts an impressive cast. David Tennant is thoroughly creepy and at times pitiable as Kilgrave. The character is evil – there is no attempt to get around that fact – but he is not without motivation. As a child he developed abilities of a mind control from horrible experimentation, and he even states that he has gone through life having to constantly be careful of his wording and unsure if people are doing what he wants them to do or what they actually want to do. The line has become so blurred that he doesn’t care anymore and simply takes what he wants.
Milk Colter is perfectly cast as Luke Cage. Luke is a widower, who just wants to be left alone for the most part. He protects himself and what’s his and Mike Colter certainly brings to life the intimidating but also a kind and street smart side. We also get a sense of the man who is fighting a monster in himself and not necessarily seeking redemption, but more trying not to lose control, an aspect we will hopefully see explored more in his series next year.
However it is Krysten Ritter who suffers through a few missteps (and admittedly they can be overlooked easily). While for the most part she does an excellent job of showing Jessica to be largely detached from the world around her, and her feelings of terror radiate across the screen, scenes of anger can come off rather wooden and forced.
The show does an excellent job of dealing with the traumatic aspects of its story. The PTSD resulting from the casts’manipulations by Kilgrave breaks your heart at the right moments and makes you angry when you see Kilgrave’s smug look on screen. Not only does it make you feel for the characters but it makes it a point for each character to respond differently to the trauma of being victimized. Jessica’s first instinct is to run away from her assaulter before deciding to try and fight back. Will Simpson attempts to reconcile his guilt by going on the offensive and eventually snaps from his obsession. Malcom Ducasse (Eka Darville) decides to try and help others and form a support group in hopes that they can help each other move past what happened. Patricia Walker (Rachael Taylor) however has to be my personal favorite, as her response to having once been victimized is to learn to protect herself and take control of her own defense. The diversity of their responses is something we see in many victims and something that those who have been spared this kind of trauma have trouble understanding.
For all the well written aspects of the characters, the story can at times feel repetitive as the point of finding Kilgrave, then losing Kilgrave, then finding Kilgrave again seems to be revisited a little more than it should have. Also certain points feel out of place, such as an episode where Jessica helps a woman try to find out if her husband is cheating on her, only for it to turn out that the whole thing is a setup by two people hunting super powered people. While more episodes dealing with Jessica on an investigation aside from Kilgrave would have been interesting, the fact that we only got one makes the episode feel somewhat out of place.
Overall Jessica Jones is a solid homage to the classic film noir genre and a welcome addition to the MCU mythology. While a few missteps in acting and pacing, they are nowhere near enough to keep it from being enjoyable. I would encourage anyone who has ever been victimized or felt powerless to watch, if for no other reason than the value of the message of hope and healing that the story provides.
+Worthy of the title film noir
-Some acting feels off at times
-Can be a little repetitive
-Slight trigger warnings
Nicholas Ramirez is The Geekiverse’s Marvel-Netflix connoisseur. Watch him battle Sweet Lou in a Captain America vs. Iron Man debate.