Marvel’s Jessica Jones is now available on Netflix, check out our series review which takes in the first seven episodes.
Netflix and Marvel have followed up the success of Daredevil with a second show based on a comic book character, Jessica Jones. It’s a very different series and one which reveals just how effective a long form adaptation can be for a comic property.
Jones is a private investigator and also a super powered person, with immense physical strength which mostly manifests in some feisty fisticuffs and a lot of impressive jumping. But she’s also a woman with a past which weighs heavily on her, she previously tried to use her powers for good and ended up caught in a horrifying situation which has left her emotionally scarred.
It’s a great set up that not only gives us one of the more rounded and realistic superhero characters ever seen on screen but also plenty of places for the story to go – both in terms of Jones trying to heal and teasing out the events which led to her current state.
And that’s the structure of the series, at least in the first seven episodes. Jones takes on cases, interacts with the important people in her life and draws closer to confronting her past, and the everpresent spectre of Kilgrave (David Tennant). He’s another powered person who can control minds, and he’s easily one of the most terrifying villains I’ve ever seen in the Marvel universe.
The presence of an utterly bereft and broken main character and the mind violating powers of Kilgrave gives Jessica Jones a mature tone that’s totally unique in this world so far. Daredevil may have had its murky moments but here we’re forced to watch the characters go through more than just physical peril, with their conscious will taken away while they’re forced to do terrible things.
More impressively, these characters are forced to deal with the consequences of their actions. These dramatic scenes are among the most effective in the show, thanks to consistently strong writing and performances.
It’s not all bleak though, there’s plenty of humour as well – giving Jessica Jones a realistic feel which belies its comic book origins. These characters are human, even if they have unusual powers, and they’re flawed and funny with needs and wants and desires. The show’s approach to sex is also refreshing – frank and amusing as often as its vigorous and cathartic. Just don’t expect any actual nudity, it’s still a Marvel show after all.
I’m keeping away from specific plot points to avoid spoilers but the first half of the series has a few narrative threads which are teased out over time, including the relationship between Jones and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) as well as the pursuit of Kilgrave and a number of jobs for big time lawyer Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss).
It would have been easy for the show to fall into a case-of-the-week formula but for the most part the momentum of the various plotlines are strong, with drip feed of information which is more than enough to keep you watching one more episode.
In technical terms, it’s a great looking series. It feels a tad more grounded in its visuals than Daredevil but the splashes of colour give it a unique look and fleeting sense of comic book stylings. The action isn’t frequent but it’s impressively staged, again more about revealing the realities of superstrength than doing something for the sake of a cool shot. The title sequence is deliciously drenched in noir and Sean Callery’s score is effective and haunting when it needs to be.
In my episode one review, I said I wasn’t yet totally convinced by Ritter in the role but that feeling quickly dissipated. Jones is a complex character, consciously putting herself at a distance from others but also conflicted about wanted to be close and warm and cared for. And Ritter does a great job with these warring aspects of herself, relishing the chance to let loose on a physical partner who cannot be hurt.
Tennant makes for a great presence as Kilgrave, and the series wisely keeps him somewhat in the background for a few episodes – in much the same way as they did with Vincent D'Onofrio Fisk in Daredevil.
Colter is good too as Cage, and gets my favourite line of the series to date – “You can’t fix me, I’m unbreakable” – it speaks volumes about the character. Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker is desperately trying to survive in a dangerous world and even Carrie-Ann Moss’ character could have been one note but comes with her own engaging back story and complexities.
Jessica Jones feels like a complete world on the screen, even after just a handful of episodes. The pacing isn’t always perfect, the fourth entry in particular felt like filler and there’s a slackness to the middle of the series run, but the overall quality so far puts it streets ahead of the inconsistent but entertaining Daredevil.
It’s also a show that’s likely to appeal to audiences with no interest in comics or even the Marvel cinematic universe. At its heart it’s a drama about a smart and savvy single woman trying to navigate the complex modern world, and that’s not something we see everyday. Its availability on Netflix could pull in new viewers who might come for the concept and quickly get caught up in the impressive writing which makes this more than just a superhero show.
Jessica Jones is without question the best Marvel property to come to the small screen yet, and the theatrical movies have a lot to learn from the female-led focus of this show and the entertaining Agent Carter. The 13 episode run is an ideal way to replicate the serial form of a comic book, and the greater creative freedom of Netflix allows for the kind of mature content and interactions you’ll never see in a movie starring Captain America.
All 13 episodes of Marvel’s Jessica Jones are on Netflix now.