There’s a feeling among some people that anything with the Marvel brand on it must be amazing by default. I’m not one of those. There have been some Marvel movies I love (Guardians of the Galaxy, the first Iron Man) and some that have repulsed me (Avengers: Age of Ultron, the third Iron Man), and many that fall somewhere in-between.
Watching Netflix’s adaptation of Daredevil was never a necessity to me, but when I gave it a chance I didn’t regret it. It was gritty and well shot, Matt Murdock was a likeable hero, and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin oozed a remarkable balance of evil, awkwardness and suave. Its brilliant execution made the decision to watch Jessica Jones a no-brainer, but it’s still new so I’ll try to keep this relatively spoiler-free.
There’s no doubt that the show in set not just in the same universe but the same part of town as Daredevil, and the environmental continuity helps you feel like you’re already familiar with the show.
From the outset, one thing that stood out was the product placement – particularly for a wide range of scotch and bourbon. From Cutty Sark to Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey and more, it seems there was no shortage of labels willing to throw their names up as the brand of choice for an alcoholic misanthrope who drinks to drinks to forget. Easy advertising revenue, I guess.
Jessica is working as a private eye, who takes photos of cheating partners while trying to forget her tormented past at the hands of a villain who contributed to the state she’s currently in by drinking relentlessly – essentially an alcoholic voyeur for hire who also possesses superhuman strength. Still, at least he’s dead now. OR IS HE? No.
As opposed to Kingpin’s raw brutality, Killgrave’s evil power comes in the form of mind control, where people are compelled to do things simply because he tells them to, from something as simple as selling their house to him or killing themselves in extremely macabre ways. Jessica was someone he kept under his control for the sake of a twisted relationship, so she’s a victim of domestic psychological abuse and epitomises the fact that no matter how strong a woman is, they can still fall victim to evil.
Helping Jessica in her quest to track down and defeat Killgrave are a host of strange ‘friends’ including the step-half-sister-person Trish who hosts a high-rating radio show, a high-profile self-interested lesbian lawyer who Jessica subcontracts for and her own junkie neighbour, as well as a bartender with his own superhuman attributes and a cop with a propensity for violence and shady history as a super soldier.
The members of the supporting cast excel in their own rights, but the nature of sexual relationships in this show can be confusing. Whether it’s Jessica stalking and eventually having sex (repeatedly) with the husband of a woman she murdered (without telling him), or her adoptive sister having sex with a man who she met when he tried to murder her, there are moments that leave you scratching your head, perplexed about what the show is trying to say about it all. It’s trying to say something, I just don’t know what (maybe because I have a penis). I get that it’s trying to comment on patriarchy, but I don’t think it’s as convincing or revolutionary as many are claiming. Despite the fact he was being controlled, and no matter how nice and apologetic he tried to be, I find it hard to believe that Trish could have regular sex with Simpson so soon without having constant flashbacks of gasping for life while he had his hands wrapped tightly around her throat. We see her doing Krav Maga, but it ends up completely useless and she’s given a gun, so I’m not sure what the point of showing her doing it was.
The use of sex throughout the early parts of the show adds a confusing frustration to characters who are otherwise being portrayed as strong, and at times they seem completely unnecessary. The decline in the number of sex scenes seems to coincide with the show getting darker and better, but I’m not sure if they have anything to do with each other.
As well as Marvel, David Tennant is also one of those people who can turn anything into gold just by touching it. Even if his performance as Killgrave had been weak, which it isn’t, it would no doubt be salivated over by blind Whovians. It’s a good performance, but there’s an immature petulance to the character that people seem to overlook. The terror in Killgrave’s actions lays more in our own interpretations of his power and its capability than any overwhelming darkness he brings to the role. Tennant is charismatic as the role requires, but the evil comes from the actions he creates more than himself. The only time I recall seeing true malevolence instead of nonchalant megalomania is in one particularly brilliant scene involving much of the cast in one room.
The modes of death that he picks for his victim are often truly black, but once again it’s watching it happen and knowing that someone is helpless to stop it that sends the chills rather than Killgrave himself.
The darkness that grows as the show ramps towards its conclusion is spellbinding. The story builds well, and the benefits of having 13 episodes to give depth to a comic book character rather than a two hour movie are there for all to see. If anything the build is far more enjoyable than the payoff at the end, but there’s surely more to this tale, and I look forward to more characters tying together between this, Daredevil and the other Marvel shows that will come together through Netflix.
My biggest problem with Jessica Jones probably seems pedantic, but the fight scenes and Jessica’s ‘superpowers’ are unconvincing on screen. Her displays of strength and her massive ‘leaps’ are often poorly-cut and effected, looking more like something out of an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess than a 2015 Netflix show. In Daredevil there is one particularly memorable fight scene that was shot as one long take in a hallway. In Jessica Jones the fight scenes are poorly choreographed and at times this detracts from the brooding darkness. But if that’s my biggest problem, the show has still done well.
IN CONCLUSION: Netflix’s second journey into Hell’s Kitchen is almost as captivating as the first, and Ritter is a fantastic lead. The darker it gets, the better it gets, and it’s a great ride even if the destination is underwhelming.
THE GOOD: Strong performances, a good pace, development of brutal darkness as it edges towards the climax.
THE BAD: Extensive product placement, shoddy fight scenes, unconvincing statement on gender.