Recurring Cast: Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, Mike Colter, Eka Darville, Wil Traval with Carrie-Anne Moss and David Tennant
Marvel, even when it is being edgy and outside the box, refuses to break their formula. Guardians of the Galaxy gave us unheard of characters, a refreshing soundtrack and still ended up with the same CGI blockbuster fest. The Winter Soldier turned the whole game on its head and still felt slightly trapped in the Marvel machine. It seemed that this was just the way Marvel was going to be from here on out. Then Netflix came along with their own superheroes to play with. As Jessica Jones hints at with references to Avengers Assemble, the character is still a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she feels like something different entirely. Jessica Jones is gritty, real and… more importantly, worlds away from any kind of formula.
This is mainly due to some of the best writing the superhero genre has had since… well the last time Netflix got their hands on a superhero… Jessica Jones never feels like an excuse to take a brand new hero out for a spin. Jessica Jones is a wiser approach to one of the most tired genres in cinema right now. It questions what makes a superhero, how do the public feel about their existence? How do you stop an unstoppable enemy? Jessica Jones finds herself up against an old enemy, Kilgrave, in the opening season of what looks like a very successful show. Kilgrave’s power is mind control, the power to control a person’s actions with a simple command. Most of the show is designed around exploring the horrors of that power. Suddenly one of the oldest powers in the book is given a terrifying new lease of life, as the writing team stop and think: “hang on one moment, that is bloody scary!” How do you live with your life knowing there is a man out there, who can maliciously use your body to their own will? How do you defend yourself from the police once you have been commanded to murder someone? Jessica Jones keeps its main villain under wraps for a large part of the opening season and simply focuses on the victims living in the aftermath of Kilgrave’s control. The word ‘rape’ is bandied about a lot and it is a strangely fitting comparison. As Kilgrave’s puppets come to terms with their willingness to follow, it can be quite hard-hitting. Some of the stories a Kilgrave support group come out with are pretty dark. The show could have simply been about people living with the effects of the superhero presence rather than taking it on. However, yes, Kilgrave needs to be stopped and how does one do that? Jessica Jones is constantly trapped in this cat and mouse game with an enemy, she cannot actually face for fear of becoming one of his weapons himself. It is a slower, more intelligent approach to the usual action-packed clash of the titans. There is nothing as cinematically powerfully as Daredevil’s fight sequences. No, Jessica Jones is much better…
Kilgrave is a great character in himself, but the casting of David Tennant is just incredible. It is easy to see what attracted the British actor to the States to take on the role. Squint and you can see the faint links between Kilgrave and another famous Tennant role… an arrogant god-like figure with almost limitless powers and a trademark of having unwitting companions following him around. Ignore the darkness of the subject matter and you can see the fun Tennant is having diving into such a wretched character. And Kilgrave is one of the more vile bad guys Marvel has created. Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk was a three-dimensional baddie, almost a good guy struggling to break away from his anger and love of power. Kilgrave is almost the other end of the spectrum. A spoilt brat of a super villain, so wrapped up in being untouchable that he has never had to learn humility, manners or kindness. His villany is not just brutal for its graphic imagery, but for the malicious laziness of it all. The tiniest bit of contempt is answered with a horrific display of his powers. Kilgrave commands a child to lock herself in a cupboard until she defecates herself. He orders people in his way to cut their own tongue out. It is down to the brilliance of the writers that Kilgrave’s evil never gets old. Every display of the nightmare of mind control is just as terrible as the first example. And Tennant conveys that amazingly well. Anyone else would have played the role simplistically, giving us a great villain for Jessica Jones to take on and little else. Tennant delivers an unforgettable performance, slicing into the psychology of a man who believes himself more powerful than anyone else on the planet. As we learn more and more about his character, we end up transfixed. Jessica Jones is a great show without him, but whenever he steps on-screen, it is tremendous.
As the show hurtles towards its blisteringly shocking endgame, it needs to break from the character study and focus on something more action-packed. The show never lets its action overtake its story, but it does feature some great set-pieces. Jessica Jones has her own roster of impressive powers, but she rarely uses them, aware of the publicity superheroes get after Avengers Assemble. It means that when she does throw someone through a wall, it thrills far more than it would when we see Captain America do the same stunt. There is also fine support from Mike Colter’s Luke Cage. A hulking mass of muscle Colter purposefully makes any fight scene look like the easiest thing in the world. His addition to Jessica Jones might be described as shameless marketing for his own series later in the year, but the season is better for it. There is also the surprising addition of Daredevil villain, Nuke, coming from an unexpected place, but accumulating into a brilliant showdown. It feels very Marvel in many aspects, with the crossovers silently being orchestrated, but Jessica Jones never feels like anything willing to compromise its story. Maybe, quite oddly, it seems like the only thing in this review I haven’t touched is the lead heroine herself, Jessica Jones. Maybe it is down to the reliability of the performance. While Tennant delivers the thrills and the guest stars surprise with their action, Krysten Ritter holds the focus. She grounds the show, keeping you invested in her tormented character’s plight. She is a fantastic arrowhead for the Netflix movement – less noble than Murdock, but heroic in her own right. She just doesn’t realise it yet. All of this suggest even more powerful character development in the seasons to come.
Final Verdict: The best Marvel has come from the most surprising space. The quietest Marvel hero yet turns out to be the most consistently gripping. Top marks!