The Movie Waffler First Look Review - Marvel's JESSICA JONES | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - Marvel's JESSICA JONES

We got an early look at the first seven episodes of Netflix's upcoming original series.

Review by Rúairí Conneely (@rmconneely)

"Jessica Jones is not groundbreaking TV but it is a step in the right direction for Marvel, effectively capturing some of the spirit of its source material and communicating that to a wider audience."

Keeping the flame burning under their captive audience, Marvel Studios bring their new miniseries Jessica Jones to Netflix this November. The second series in their proposed build up towards The Defenders team show, Jessica Jones follows on – indirectly- from this year’s Daredevil, which was something of a smash for both Netflix and Marvel, the latter having struggled to fully replicate its booming movie franchise success on the small screen. Their Agent Carter is probably their biggest critical and commercial success to date for a home audience.
Daredevil was a brash attempt to establish probably Marvel’s most operatic character, Matt Murdock, the Daredevil of Hell’s Kitchen. Daredevil’s weird blend of pulp noir, martial arts action and soap opera pathology failed to gel in a 2003 movie adaptation under Fox Studios, but fared better as revised for Netflix. 40-some years of accumulated world-building had more room to breathe in serial form.
Like its big brother antecedent, Jessica Jones aims to list on the seamier side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, marketing hype aside, succeeds in being the most comfortably profane Marvel franchise yet. There is much on-camera sex and flagrant swearing, and an altogether naked subtext centring around abusive relationships, that’s not so much unpackaged and explored as stripped and lingered over. It works tonally: the fact that the characters get laid, avoid each other to stay at home drinking, or lie about seeing their exes does more to ground the fantastical elements in the blend than any amount of noirish voiceover ever could.
The eponymous Jessica, played by Krysten Ritter, is a Private Investigator, living in her office in downtown New York. She is rude and defensive; she drinks raw bourbon alone, and evidently suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So far, so Philip Marlowe’s great granddaughter, but Jessica also has a suite of mysterious superpowers, the most notable being great physical strength, not a hint of which is indicated by the casting of the slender Ritter. For the first episode, I felt unconvinced by Ritter in the lead, but over ensuing chapters she shoulders the burden more ably, projecting a sense of resentful confusion and stubborn determination.
The drama of the show is a blend of soap opera and detective procedural, framing a tale of Jessica’s troubled past resurfacing, in the form of the elusive Kilgrave. As played by fan favourite thespian David Tennant, Kilgrave haunts the early episodes of the show as a post-traumatic echo, and is gradually revealed as a sharply dressed and malevolent trickster figure endlessly pressing his agenda forward with a totally unfair advantage. Fans of the comic book ALIAS, on which Jessica Jones is based, will either enjoy this riff on a figure who was left in the shadows for so much of the original series run, or else they be irritated at Tennant’s vigorous claim on the character. And yeah, spoilers you fans, his skin isn’t purple either! I learned to live with it. He makes the character walk, and makes it seem that the old truism still flies: villains are just more fun to play. That said, his first big scene with Jessica was a disappointment to me, removing a lot of his threat and normalising someone who should live outside the human condition. Call me old fashioned but I’d rather be scared of a villain or hate them than always ‘understand’ them.
The supporting cast is wide and amusingly diverse: unlike Daredevil, there is no sense that the producer’s fear too much attention is being drawn away from the lead, so we are given plenty of screen time with austere defense attorney Jeri Hogarth (Carrie Ann Moss), podcast chat show host Trish “Patsy” Walker (yes, Her, Marvel fans) played by Rachel Taylor, and with Luke Cage, Marvel’s kinda sorta John Shaft blaxploitation hero, as played by Mike Colter. Cage gets his own series next year.
The show is plausibly multi-ethnic and LGBT friendly, by which I mean you get the sense that this is actually a version of downtown New York rather than a backlot around the corner from Central Casting. This is refreshing and an indicator of how releasing series direct to streaming services offers studios the power somewhat to broaden out their audience appeal.
As I watched and began to enjoy Jessica Jones it occurred to me that I felt the same way about Daredevil until it went off the rails in its third act. There are indicators the same could happen. Clichés were starting to abound and it’s not a serious treatment of its themes at heart, any more than Agent Carter was a studied and in-depth portrayal of post-War sexism.
Jessica Jones is not groundbreaking TV but it is a step in the right direction for Marvel, effectively capturing some of the spirit of its source material and communicating that to a wider audience. It seems more concise and focussed than Daredevil, which tripped itself up in that final act and failed to complete the bridge it was building between its urban crime story setting and superheroic elements. Both series are enjoyable but Jessica Jones is clearer in its intent and has fewer stylistic problems to solve.

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