Jessica Jones is the second Netflix Original Series being made using Marvel properties, the first being this year’s Daredevil. In many ways this now show follows in the footsteps of Daredevil, it’s gritty tone, it’s New York setting, less fantastical protagonist and antagonists and generally it’s air of quiet detachment from the bombast and larger scale of the big screen entries to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In some of these ways Jessica Jones continues this parallel to the movies on the small screen but in others it blazes its own trail.
The main character here is Jessica Jones, one of Marvel’s breakout female characters and a relatively new creation in the comic continuity when compared to her Avengers brethren. Based on the Max series of comics originally titled Alias, some of the original facets of Jessica’s characters and origins remain intact here but are not presented in typical superhero origin fashion. Instead the specifics of Jessica’s past are peppered throughout the 13 episode run in an organic way that accentuates the story beats at play in a given episode. What’s more though is that compared to many of the other heroes we’ve seen brought to life from comic book pages in recent years Jessica is not defined by any one facet of her past. Sure her accident explains her strength, but other factors such as the relationship with her adoptive sister Trish as well as her complicated relationship with main antagonist Kilgrave lead to Jessica being a more nuanced character than we’ve ever seen of a Marvel lead, not to mention of a female hero. This is not the boy scout Captain America type hero we’ve seen before.
What bolsters the writing and characterisation of Jessica and the rest of the cast is her portrayal by Kristen Ritter. Perhaps not an obvious choice for the role, this casting decision has turned out to be a stroke of genius, playing simultaneously against and with type Ritter creates an at times acerbic character who never fall into unlikable territory. On the opposite end of the spectrum we have the absolute against type casting of villain Kilgrave played by David Tenant. In contrast to his time as the 9th Doctor, Tenant only at times channels his British charm, more often than not he plays the detestable, hard to gauge but oddly relatable mental counter to Jessica’s raw physical power. Kilgrave is undoubtedly the best villain ever seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to this point, this isn’t too tough a competition though.
This is to say nothing of the well realised portrayal of the relationship between Jessica and sister Trish or the romantic trist between Jessica and Luke Cage, another powered individual who finds an equal in Jessica in more ways than one. At times boundary breaking in the dark tones being drawn upon the series never falls into a territory of bleakness, with consistent moments of levity that land more often than miss. The entire series balances a tightrope of poignancy and entertainment and rarely falters. It’s not without fault though, for how well it’s story and characters are handled these are the absolute worst choreographed and visualised fight and action scenes in any Marvel property to date. While we shouldn’t expect ground breaking visual effects on the small screen Agents of SHIELD never fails to look convincingly science fictiony and Daredevil never looked like the half choreographed kerfuffle of a stage play that Jessica Jones occasionally shows us. With that said Kilgrave is a cerebral villain who couldn’t go toe to toe with Jessica in a fight so I understand this wasn’t a priority, with that said the numerous Jessica vs. random thug encounters really shouldn’t always end with the thugs being thrown against a wall again and again as it did.
Jessica Jones ultimately amounts to more than just the groundwork for the eventual Defenders group series that Daredevil started and is set to conclude with Luke Cage and Iron Fist’s solo series. An enormous step forward for the portrayal of females in Marvel properties, a reminder that serious topics like sexual assault are viable options for the foundation of superhero fiction and a shot across the bow of DC in the lead up to their portrayal of Wonder Woman in next year’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Jessica Jones is an enormous success and a testament to the variety and potential of comic book narratives.