All episodes now available on Netflix
Marvel and Netflix’s second superhero series (Stan would be proud of alliteration like that) Jesscia Jones has been unleashed on Netflix and millions world wide are binge-watching their way through the weekend (they’ve got The Man In The High Castle to get through as well). We were among those millions, and in the wee hours of last night we watched Jessica and The Purple Man – Kilgrave – face off for a final time. Well, a final time this season anyway. We’re not letting on whether either could be back for a rematch in further Netflix series.
So the big question is: does it live up to the hugely-praised Daredevil series that Netflix launched earlier in the year.
Simple answer: yes. Although don’t simply expect more of the same. This is The Flash to Daredevil’s Arrow, though in each case you have to shift several gears up through “darker, grittier, more realistic” scale. Jessica Jones simply embraces its comic books roots more than Daredevil, with multiple superpowered individuals crossing paths, with more outlandish powers than Daredevil’s. The tone’s also slightly lightly (we’re talking in degrees here though) and the dialogue a bit more self-consciously witty.
But don’t worry. There’s still a lot on bonking and blood.
In case you’re not versed in Jessica Jones 101, here are the basics. She’s a former superhero with slightly heightened strength and speed, plus the ability not so much to fly, as jump and then make a just-about-guided descent. The superhero gig didn’t go well, and now she’s an alcoholic private detective in New York, mainly employed to entrap unfaithful husbands and wives. Krysten Ritter plays the world-weary Jessica with immense charm while not whitewashing her many failings. You can almost smell the stale whiskey breath and sweaty leather emanating from the screen.
Part of the reason the superhero life all went wrong was that Jessica fell under the spell of Kilgrave (David Tennant), a man who can compel anyone to do anything just by telling them to so. Sadly he’s not a particularly nice man, though this has little to do with the fact that people keep taking the piss of his name (“Murdertomb not available?”). The real reason, however, is something that you need to learn for yourself as it’s a crucial part of the plot.
Anyway, Kilgrave took a shine to Jessica and basically used her as his henchman and sex slave until being run over by a bus. This is not a spoiler – it’s all happened before and explained in the first episode. But now, it seems, Kilgrave is back, and Jessica is scared. Very scared.
And so will you be, because although Kilgrave doesn’t appear in full until a few episodes in (there are only shadowy hazy glimpses of him beforehand) his influence and presence is everywhere; the script does a magnificent job of putting you on edge before he turn up in person, helped by Ritter’s fragile performance as Jones. She may have super-strength but her inner strength needs some time down the gym.
Not that Kilgrave is a letdown when he does burst onto the scene. Tennant is in blistering form. As with Kingpin in Daredevil, he damned near steals the show but for very different reasons. This guy is a deranged psycho, nearer the Joker end of the scale though with more charm. His power has corrupted him to the point where his real superpower is self-delusion. “I’ve never killed anyone,” he says on more than one occasion, his self-righteousness based on a spurious technicality; on other occasions he uses semantics as a defence (“I only said take care of her…”). And he genuinely appears to believe that the women who he compels to have sex with him would want sex with him anyway.
Kilgrave is also smart, funny, charismatic and possessed of Hannibal Lecter’s skills in forward planning. He is one of the most nuanced and multilayered villains in a live action superhero film or how ever. And yet, crucially, he is also loathsome. This is not one of those too-common scenarios where the villains are more interesting than the heroes. Throughout the 13 episodes you are never in doubt you want Jessica to win. And that’s because the heroes are similarly flawed, multi-layered and interesting.
Jessica has a right motley bunch on her side, including Luke Cage (Mike Colter), the Marvel hero also known as Power Man, with his impervious skin. Here he’s a bar owner who shags Jessica within moments of meeting her, then gets pulled into the Kilgrave affair in unexpected ways. There’s Jessica’s adoptive sister Patricia “Trish” Walker (Rachel Taylor), former child star, now talk show host and budding kisk-ass hero herself (in the comics she becomes Hell Cat – could that happen in the Netflix-verse too?). There’s Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), queen soulless lawyer bitch, who’s happy to employ Jessica to find evidence and turn a blind eye to her more extreme methods. Plus a host of quirky minor characters, including a drug addict next door, a banana cake-making would-be suitor for Jessica, Trish’s overbearing mother and an overenthusiastic cop. Some are less loveable than others, but they’re all a delight to watch.
What’s not so great
It’s not perfect. It’s too long, for a start, and after a magnificent episodes seven and eight, it feels like it’s treading water until the climax. Some of the plotting in too dependent on handy coincidence, especially the way certain characters become linked to the main plot and each other. And the fight scenes are a retrograde step after the magnificently fresh-feeling punch-ups in Daredevil; they’re a return to the “edit the hell of an action scene” techniques of early noughties, when you suspect the fast cutting is designed to disguise uninspiring fight choreography.
Also, Jessica’s powers rarely come across as “super” and appear to be rationed out. This may be a conscious decision but after a while, when she’s struggling against a bunch of low-grade henchmen for sixth or seventh time, you start thinking, “Oh come on, just Hulk-out, will you?” If you could leap over small building, wouldn’t you be doing it all the time?
Mixing Things Up
Jessica Jones is also commendably mixed in terms of race, sex and sexuality. This isn’t a show full of “strong women” and “integrated ethnic minorities”: it’s a show full of characters who happen to be what they are. It’s a shame in this day and age that we still need to highlight this as a thing to celebrate; all shows should be like this. Like real life.
So feel free to binge on Jessica Jones. If not, we’ll send Kilgrave round to force you to, because we certainly want a second season.
• New Jessica Jones Poster & Teaser Promo
• New Jessica Jones Trailer
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