If you seek a superhero story that is more human than superhuman, Brooke Heinz has the answer.
It’s not difficult to argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is successful. The Avengers grossed over $1 billion at the International Box Office, as did its direct sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron. However, with arrival of Thor: The Dark World, many, myself included, began to doubt their quality. It became apparent that Joss Whedon’s writing style, which is evident in most Marvel films, and the need to connect each movie made them feel homogenous, simplistic, and ultimately predictable. Thankfully, Marvel’s collaboration with Netflix offsets these feelings of cinema catered to pre-teens and toy manufacturers with their latest offering, Jessica Jones. Based on a little-known run of comics titled Alias, Jessica Jones, it focuses on character, not spectacle, to deliver a surprisingly personal story filled with commentary on abuse and control.
A former superhero-turned-private eye, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is contacted to solve the case of a missing girl, only to find it connects to her past abuser and literal mind-controller, Kilgrave (David Tennant). While trying to hunt down Kilgrave, Jessica must also deal with her drug addict neighbour (Eka Darville), ruthless lawyer/employer Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss, doing her best Claire Underwood impression), and occasional lover and fellow super-human, Luke Cage (Mike Colter).
It is practically impossible to ignore the shows central themes of control, responsibility, and consent. To do so would be to ignore the core of Jessica Jones. The series deals with delicate situations and topics, but unlike other ‘adult’ series such as Game of Thrones, these are not graphically shown or define the victims’ character. However, they are also not overlooked, with the show openly discussing and bravely taking a firm position on these contentious issues. That doesn’t mean that the writing in Jessica Jones is flawless. The show struggles at times to balance its witty humour and serious critique of abuse, encapsulated by a scene in which Kilgrave makes a humorous quip during a devastating speech by Jessica, regarding what constitutes consent.
Much like Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Jessica Jones continues to eschew the assumption that ‘tough’ female characters must surrender all femininity, emotion, and romantic attachments. This gives lead Ritter (Breaking Bad) plenty to work with, as does her character’s PTSD and alcoholism. Luckily, Ritter proves herself more than capable, switching effortlessly from dry humour to emotionally vulnerable, while maintaining a consistent sense of her character. Tennant (Doctor Who) also puts in a memorable, and slightly flamboyant, performance as the villain Kilgrave, with the viewer never quite sure of his sincerity. Australian Rachael Taylor also stands out as the determined and independent Trish Walker, Jessica’s closest friend. Unfortunately, Colter (The Good Wife) is given the least to work with, often relegated to the role of Jessica’s love interest. Hopefully Colter will be able to show more range when his own Netflix series debuts in 2016.
Despite claims by showrunner Melissa Rosenberg that David Fincher’s slick thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was one of their references for the “look” of the show, Jessica Jones’ cinematography feels at odds with Fincher’s characteristic restrained direction. Almost every establishing shot involves tilt-shift photography, while the frequent use of Dutch angles and slow motion in early episodes conjures unflattering comparisons to CSI. For fans of Netflix’s previous Marvel show Daredevil, praised extensively for its The Raid-inspired hallway fight scene, the action also leaves much to be desired. More of a brawler than a ninja, Jessica’s rough fighting style is reflected in quick cuts and constantly changing shots, making the action almost indiscernible. Fortunately, the show sticks close to its noir influences, and Jessica spends more time sorting through files and following suspects than fighting.
So, it comes to the question Netflix and Marvel fans are waiting for, “Is Jessica Jones better than this year’s Daredevil?” No, but that doesn’t mean Jessica Jones isn’t a major step forward for the genre, and female characterisation, as a whole. The show is honest and unafraid, but never exploitative. Its approach to sensitive personal issues is a refreshing change from Marvel’s usual world-threatening apocalyptic fare, where collateral and emotional damage is an afterthought. Despite some less-than-stellar cinematography and minor tone issues, Jessica Jones is still worth ‘binging’ if you seek a superhero story that is more human than superhuman.
Feature Image: Jessica Jones Season One