A review of Season 1 of “Jessica Jones” (2015)

Netflix’ “Jessica Jones” (2015) is easily one of the best things in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.  It’s smart, it’s funny and it’s extremely dark — I don’t want to spoil too much by revealing the modus operandi of Season 1’s villain, but his manner of destroying his victims is utterly disturbing.  (I’ve mentioned before how his powers seem like a plot device from a Stephen King novel.)  Although this series excellently retains a “comic book” feel (due in part to its episodic format), its story elements frequently feel like something out of a John Carpenter film.  And, although I know I’m repeating myself yet again, this Hell’s Kitchen niche of the MCU feels like its chosen stage for horror-thrillers.

The cast is excellent.  Krysten Ritter is perfect as the titular, hard-drinking, antihero private detective.  Mike Colter is nearly as good in the role of Luke Cage, another low-level hero in the Marvel universe.  Colter’s talent is evident by the fact that Cage could so easily come across as a one-dimensional character.  (And, Jesus, doesn’t the guy look the part?)

The story’s villain, Kilgrave, is played by fan-favorite David Tennant.  (Yes, the name “Kilgrave” is stupid and is lifted from the comic book source material.  Its silliness is lampshaded in the series several times by other characters making fun of it.)  Tennant is an actor I’ve abhorred in the past.  There was no logical reason for it — there used to be just something about his voice and his face that made me cringe.  It was a running joke for a while among me and my female sci-fi friends.  (Good Lord, how the ladies adore that man.)  My admittedly irrational dislike of the man even detracted from my enjoyment of the otherwise quite enjoyable 2011 “Fright Night” remake.

He’s phenomenal here.  He’s perfect for the part, as Ritter and Colter are for theirs, and he was alternately menacing and quite funny.  (He has perfect timing and line delivery, as Ritter often does.)  I really liked watching him.

“Jessica Jones” might succeed more than any other MCU property in terms of dialogue and character development — although the “Iron Man” and “Daredevil” series also do great work there.  (It’s a tough call.)  The show also seems to flesh out the MCU into a kind of “lived in” universe in a way that other Marvel properties usually haven’t — by creating detailed, three-dimensional protagonists out of characters that have no superpowers whatsoever.  They’re not “sidekicks” (a trope that the script that slyly winks at); they’re realistic characters that affect the plot.  When one or two actually appear to develop superpowers toward the end of the season, the consequences are unexpected and dire.  (There is a truly kickass Easter egg here that will please longtime readers of Marvel Comics.)  Furthermore, Jones, Cage and most of the other characters have power sets that pale in comparison to M.C.U. heavy hitters like Thor, the Hulk or the Vision. The result is that the MCU feels more … integrated and nuanced, with a blurrier line between superheroes and everyday people.  I liked that a hell of a lot.

The show is not entirely without its failings.  Despite what I said above about the show’s attention to ordinary characters, I still think it went a bit overboard here.  The character of Malcom (nicely portrayed by Eka Darville) began as a hugely interesting supporting character.  So, too, did other residents of the heroine’s apartment building.  It was a nice touch that expanded the show’s scope and depth … until the law of diminishing returns kicked in.  By the end of Season 1’s 13-episode arc, I felt that they’d received far too much screen time.  The support group that one character attends started out as an intelligent subplot, but then eventually grew tiresome.  (Again, I’m being necessarily vague here to avoid spoilers.)  Towards the finale, I actually felt that these minor characters were padding the plot and dragging down the narrative.

Which brings me to another criticism — the narrative’s length.  This is yet another show that I felt could be edited down a bit.  As much as I loved Tennant here and found Kilgrave to be an interesting villain, I’m not sure that Jones’s conflict with him warranted 12 52-minute episodes.  This could have been abridged to eight or ten, I think.

Another criticism I had of “Jessica Jones” was its fight choreography.  For a show that succeeds on so many levels, the action sequences were sometimes surprisingly poor.  Why do brawls between superpowered individuals include so much polite (and bloodless) grabbing and throwing?  Especially when a single punch or kick could easily kill or incapacitate an opponent?  The answer, of course, is that those kinds of melees are easy to film, with minimal training for the actors.  It’s especially noticeable here because this show’s sibling, “Daredevil,” has fight choreography that is some of the best I’ve ever seen.  (If you’re curious, then search for “Daredevil stairwell fight” on Youtube sometime.)

The rudimentary effects were usually even poor when depicting the title character’s “jumping” scenes.  (She has super strength, so she can virtually “fly” short distances by literally jumping.)  These shots looked like something out of a primetime 80’s action show.

All in all, though, this was indeed a great show.  Don’t shy away from it, as I initially did, because you’re unfamiliar with the title character.  It’s among the best that Marvel has to offer.

 

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Throwback Thursday: early 1990’s “Aliens” and “Predator” comics.

I was chatting here with a friend last week about the “Aliens,” “Predator” and “Aliens vs. Predator” comics produced by Dark Horse Comics in the 1990’s.  While Marvel, DC and Image Comics all specialized in their superhero universes, Dark Horse tended to corner the market on hot properties in science fiction and horror.  (The company actually did try to compete by launching its own superhero line, but its unsuccessful “Comics’ Greatest World” universe lasted a mere three years.)

Dark Horse acquired the rights to the biggest science fiction movie characters of the first half of the decade, including “Aliens,” “Predator,” “Terminator,” “Robocop,” and “The Thing.”  It also produced great books in other genres too, like Frank Miller’s legendary “Sin City” series, Matt Wagner’s brilliant “Grendel,” and “Indiana Jones” comics.   (I never actually saw “Indiana Jones” on the shelves; the two retailers in my smallish Virginia college town never carried it.)

Perhaps strangely, I don’t remember any regular ongoing series for “Aliens,” “Predator” or “Aliens vs. Predator.”  Instead, the company published limited series on an ongoing basis.

Dark Horse had been a young company back then — it had started only four years earlier, in 1986.  But I’ll be damned if the people running the company didn’t know their stuff.  Not only did they snatch up big-name properties, they did a great job in producing consistently high-quality “Alien” and “Predator” books.  (Maybe “Aliens: Genocide” wasn’t as good as the other series, but it was really more average than flat-out bad.)  I honestly don’t know how they managed to publish such uniformly excellent comics that drew from a variety of creative teams.  The “Big Two,” Marvel and DC, produced their share of mediocre comics — even for tentpole characters or major storylines.  (See the “Batman” chapters of DC’s “Knightfall,” for example, or Marvel’s “Maximum Carnage” storyline for Spider-Man.)

Was Dark Horse’s track record better because their target audience was adults?  Did they just have really good editorial oversight?  Or did they maybe share such oversight with 20th Century Fox, which had a vested interest in its characters being capably handled?  I’m only guessing here.

I’ve already blathered on at this blog about how I loved “Aliens: Hive,” so I won’t bend your ear yet again.  An example of another terrific limited series was “Predator: Race War,” which saw the title baddie hunting the inmates of a maximum security prison.  And yet another that I tried to collect was “Aliens vs. Predator: the Deadliest of the Species.”  The series had a slightly annoying title because of it was a lengthy tongue twister, but, God, was it fantastic.  I think I only managed to lay hands on four or five issues, but the art and writing were just incredibly good.

Take a gander at the covers below — all except the first are from “The Deadliest of the Species.”  I think they are some of the most gorgeous comic covers I’ve ever seen, due in no small part to their composition and their contrasting images.  And I’ve seen a lot of comic covers.  I think the very last cover you see here, for Issue 3, is my favorite.

I would have loved to collect all 12 issues … I still don’t know how the story ended.  (It was partly a mystery, too.)  But at age 19, I absolutely did not have the organizational skills to seek out any given limited series over the course of a full year.

In fact, this title may well have taken longer than that to be released … Dark Horse did have an Achilles’ heel as a company, and that was its unreliable production schedule.  Books were frequently delayed.  To make matters worse, these were a little harder to find in the back issues bins.  (I don’t know if retailers purchased them in fewer numbers or if fans were just buying them out more quickly.)

I suppose I could easily hunt down all 12 issues of “The Deadliest of the Species” with this newfangled Internet thingy.  But part of being an adult is not spending a lot of money on comic books.  Maybe I’ll give myself a congratulatory present if I ever manage to get a book of poetry published.  Yeah … I can totally rationalize it like that.

 

 

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