- Entertainment and Media»
- Television & TV Shows
Let's Take a Look: Marvel's Jessica Jones Review
On November 20th, 2015, Netflix released the latest entry in the growing Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU), the Netflix exclusive series Marvel’s Jessica Jones. This series debuted with much hype previously built upon by well-shot and choreographed trailers as well as the overwhelming success of Marvel’s and Netflix’s previously released series, Marvel’s Daredevil. However, despite the Daredevil’s success, as well as the continuing success of the MCU as a whole, does Jessica Jones stand up as a worthy entry in the franchise? Or does the show even hold on its own merits as a show? Well, let’s take a look shall we? Follow me as we explore my initial impressions, from first hearing about the series to finally watching the series from start to finish.
A Little Background
When I first heard about Marvel producing a Jessica Jones series, I was intrigued and very curious. This was a character I was not that familiar with or her place in Marvel comics as a whole. So, I started to a do a little research, ala Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube; and here is what I found:
The character of Jessica Jones had her debut in Alias, Marvel Comics’ MAX line of comics and was the initial title for the line as well. The MAX line was intended as an attempt for Marvel to branch into more adult audiences and permit more mature content, including harder adult language, violence, and sexuality. And the Alias comic takes full advantage of this creative freedom.
Before the events of the first issue of Alias, Jessica Jones is a super-powered individual who decides to don a costume and fight crime; y’know after discovering the potential good her abilities can bring. Unfortunately, early on in her career as Jewel (her super alternate identity) she comes across the villainous Purple Man, a super-villain with the power to control people’s wills through a pheromone he secretes. She becomes his hostage and unwitting accomplish for eight months before finally becoming free of him. As the Purple Man’s victim, Jessica Jones was forced to commit crimes and was subject to horrific psychological and sexual abuse. As a result, she hung up her costume, swore off the super-heroine antics and become a private investigator. However, the traumatic events leading up to her retirement still haunt her; she becomes an alcoholic to drown out the pain.
As part of the design for the background of Jessica Jones, Marvel wove her story into the fabric of the established Marvel universe; her story touches upon the various stories of other Marvel heroes. For example, she first had a crush on Peter Parker, before he became Spider-Man; her father worked at Stark Industries; her best friend in Alias is Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel; and her lover is Luke Cage, the Power Man. This gives a unique place within the world as her stories just skirt around the main Marvel stories and occasionally intersects with those of other Marvel characters as well. This also plays a part in her resentment towards super-heroism and why she has not readily gone back to fighting crime as a costumed heroine.
Having read the announcement for the character and doing the research on them, I was definitely intrigued to see how the character would translate on the small screen. Then the trailers hit; and holy crap did I get excited! I mean, just watch!
The cinematography of those teaser-sequences and coupled to that music really helped to sell me on the execution of the series. Each vignette showcases what Jessica is capable of and displays her personality in very convincing and subtle ways. In addition, the time stamp at the beginning of each segment gives you the sense of what a night in the life of Jessica Jones is like; not to mention what kind of stories we will be watching.
My initial impressions of each episode can be expressed thusly, “Oh GOD!” and then much wincing ensues. Let’s back that up a moment: the series is extremely well-written and the actors bring top-notch performances to the screen. However, a lot of credit has to go to actor David Tenant and the writing for his character, Kilgrave (the Purple Man from the Alias comics). He plays the sociopathic Kilgrave with utter charm and brilliant malevolence. Each scene with him is filled with tension not just because you are not quite sure who he has already ensnared but because you are not certain of what next cruel thing he will have them do next.
Despite Kilgrave’s cruelty, this is not the only thing to take away from Marvel’s Jessica Jones. Krysten Ritter’s portrayal as the titular sleuth is at times deeply inspired, heart-achingly real (and sympathetic), and badass to the core. Her fight scenes are brutal affairs befitting a bar-brawler like Jessica; nothing classy or well-choreographed, just god-awful beat-downs with even the victors standing bloody. Jessica’s strength as a heroine comes not just from her actions or her fighting prowess, but from her heart. She experiences genuine pain from seeing others broken and devastated by Kilgrave’s manipulations. Not only because of the sorrow he causes, but because it reminds her of her own trauma and violation by him. Indeed, early on we get to see Jessica as a shell of herself; completely unwilling to submit herself to the pain and afraid of what may happen. By the end, we see her grow and overcome her trauma in a realistic fashion.
Much like Marvel’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones takes on a much darker and grittier tone than that of the movies in the MCU; although you may not see that from the show’s opening title sequence.
As with nearly every Marvel film/production, Jessica Jones attempts to provide a Marvel-spin on an established genre; in this case the film-noir genre of detective thrillers. This is evident from Jessica’s profession as a private investigator, the gritty setting, the dark storylines, as well as the Jessica’s personality as a troubled individual seeking refuge in the bottom of a bottle.
Also par for the course as a Marvel property, the characters in Jessica Jones are written with the intent to make them much more relatable and human. Super heroic characters can readily fall into the trap of being not relatable to audiences; after all, nobody (publically) can fly, punch through a wall, or has unbreakable skin. So Marvel humanizes their characters by allowing them to make mistakes (sometimes very costly or even traumatic ones) and giving them personality flaws that get in the way. Jessica, for example, is embittered by her experiences and openly distrustful of others; intentionally coming across as crass and vulgar in an effort to keep others at arm’s length if not further. She may be doing this out of possibly noble intentions, but her methodology is certainly less than desirable.
I love this series. It is difficult to resist the temptation to re-watch to see all of the awesome moments and to witness the climax of the series again and again. However, restraint is the key thing here; if one were to watch it too much then the series will lose some of its luster and cease to be as appealing. In a similar note, I am really glad the show creators decided NOT to use the song “Thousand Eyes” by Of Monsters and Men as part of the series opening sequence; and limited it to just the trailers. It is an amazing song, but hearing it over and over again would quickly out-play it; and make it that much less of an enjoyable experience.
Connections to the MCU
As with all of the Marvel cinematic properties, there are connections and allusions to the larger MCU. This, as usual of Marvel, is executed wonderfully and makes for a very rewarding experience; especially to see the references, understand the deeper connections and behold the grander story being told. Ultimately though, there comes the question: am I required to watch anything else in order to enjoy this? Thankfully, the answer is no; you will not be lost if you haven’t watched any of the other Marvel movies/shows. At the bare minimum, I would recommend watching Marvel’s Avengers in order to understand some of the background of the setting, but even then that is optional. On the flipside, if you have watched the other films, then you will get the references and even some of the clues as well.