I’ll start this review with the disclaimer that I am not a huge Marvel expert. I enjoy the X-Men films and dip in to the others, but am not well versed on the Marvel Comics Universe and its sprawling branches in to film and television in recent years (I’m more of a DC girl). However, I am, as regular readers of this blog will have grasped, a David Tennant fan. Therefore Marvel’s new television series was on my radar from an early stage and I’ve been anticipating its arrival ever since.
The second collaboration between Marvel and Netflix following the recent run of Daredevil, Jessica Jones is perhaps unique in the opportunity it has to appeal to a wider non-Marvel audience. The main reason for this – as a television series, it’s not your typical superhero show. Say Marvel / comic series to the wider television audience and they think costumes, fantastical plots and out of this world characters. This is not hugely fair – as a fan of Arrow / The Flash, I can say that these shows still contain very real and engaging storylines and characters as well as the fantasy elements.
However, that aside, it’s fair to say Jessica Jones is very different. For the uninitiated, Jessica Jones has superhuman strength. You wouldn’t think it to look at her, but she could lift your car without much effort. However, she has left saving the world behind for The Avengers to do and instead is living as normal a life as she can, as a private investigator in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. She is not a stable woman – she drinks too much, has a very short fuse and does not take any crap.
She is also carrying around a huge amount of guilt and pain following a harrowing recent past, during which she was the emotional puppet of another “gifted” individual – Kilgrave, a man who can make anyone obey his every command simply by speaking to them. It’s clear Jessica is in a very dark place when we first meet her and that only gets worse once it becomes clear that Kilgrave is back. Over thirteen episodes we see Jessica Jones battle to prove the innocence of her new client, whose violent actions are a result of Kilgrave’s control and all to get Jessica’s attention. She will not stop until she gets justice for herself and all of his victims.
As the above trailer highlights, dark is certainly the appropriate description for this series. It’s definitely not one for young children wanting to see the Tenth Doctor on television again that’s for sure! Taking the superpowers aspect out of the equation, the show deals with very adult themes – murder, alcoholism, PTSD, rape, parental neglect and mental abuse. There is also a good dose of sex and violence thrown in to the mix. While watching Jessica Jones, you forget she is a “superhero” and instead see a woman fighting to survive each day after suffering some terrible experiences, not to mention some of the other characters too, who each have their own demons to deal with.
It’s a very strong first series for this new show for a number of reasons. The writing is very good, the characters are interesting and hold your attention, the themes are handled in a real and mature way and crucially, it has an excellent ensemble cast, led by Krysten Ritter. By the end of episode one I already liked her character and thought Ritter was excellent in the role. Through her performance you see the hard exterior, but also the vulnerable person within and both her need to isolate herself from those she cares about for their safety, while also needing them around her too shows her to be a very real and believable human being. The fact she can throw grown men through doors seems irrelevant.
Her achilles heel, Kilgrave, is a brilliant character and refreshingly is not a two-dimensional villain, seeking to rule the world / universe. He actually wants very little. He just wants Jessica Jones, mentally, physically and emotionally and his hold over her is chilling. The creators of the series also make a sensible decision in having him remain in the shadows for the first few episodes. He is always there through Jessica’s visions or conversations, but he is rarely seen. He is the dark shadow, lurking on the sidelines and for me this made him more disturbing, as instead you see his evil through the actions of those carrying out his twisted instructions. David Tennant is fantastic in this role. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him play his darker side (for the uninitiated, watch ITV’s drama Secret Smile from 2005). Tennant captures both the malevolence and playful psychotic evil of Kilgrave perfectly and you are always waiting to see what he’ll do next. His relationship with Jessica Jones is the lynchpin of the series and thankfully Tennant and Ritter have a great chemistry on screen.
The supporting cast also add to the quality of the series. Mike Colter is very strong as Luke (soon I understand to have his own Marvel series), whose character develops quite a lot over the episodes, as we learn about his past and his own abilities, while watching his relationship with Jessica deepen. I found them to be an interesting couple to watch. My other favourite was Rachael Taylor as Jessica’s best friend Trish Walker (a superhero in her own right in the comics). She has her own demons from childhood, which have bonded her to Jones and throughout she remains the person that helps keep Jessica’s darker side from totally consuming her. Caria-Anne Moss also excellently plays the hard, cold lawyer, who seems to play all sides to suit her own goals.
My biggest niggle about the series was that I felt the last few episodes lost some of the pace and edge of the earlier ones. This may be a result of watching the series in a short space of time, but I personally preferred Kilgrave as more of an enigma. The more we learn about his past, the more you start to have sympathy for him, which is frightening in itself, but for me it also took a slight edge off the threat of him too.
However, as grumbles go, it’s a pretty small one when offset against everything this series manages to achieve in just a few episodes. By the end of series one, Jessica Jones and her allies are well developed, established characters who you want to see more of. I certainly hope a second series will be landing on Netflix in a year’s time.
All 13 episodes of Jessica Jones are available on Netflix right now!