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.