Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” combines and expands genres across Marvel's universe
One of the more interesting parts of the ever-expanding Marvel Universe is the distance between the characters. While Tony Stark sits atop an ivory tower of inherited wealth and prestige, claiming to have “successfully privatized world peace,” a blind lawyer dons a black mask to beats up thugs involved in organized crime.
While Thor rules the realms of Asgard with a mystical silver hammer, an unbreakable man tends bar in Hell’s Kitchen. And while elsewhere in the galaxy a man abducted by aliens enjoys wild adventures with a sentient, dancing tree, a woman who is more powerful than a locomotive, who is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, ekes out a shattered existence as a shifty private eye.
“Jessica Jones,” Marvel’s most recent Netflix series toying with reality-based super heroes, is an altogether different look at the superhero genre.
The series begins far from the Avengers compound, down on the dirty streets of Hell’s Kitchen. This is a world without star-spangled underwear, where people are still recovering from “the incident,” otherwise known as 2012’s “The Avengers.” Three years later, New York is still reeling.
As we saw in 2014’s “Daredevil” series, the world’s most powerful heroes have changed the world, leaving ruin and paranoia in its wake. Each film builds on the last, each one setting up what’s to come in the future. Shows like “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” aren’t meant to tell this story, however. They tell the stories of the underclasses, of those affected the most by these superheroics. It’s a refreshing look at the stories. Too often, the bystanders are brushed to the side and forgotten. Sometimes, people need heroes that aren’t gods. Jessica Jones is one such hero.
A common complaint about the superhero world is the lack of women characters. For reasons known only to studio executives, a story about talking raccoons is more relatable than a story about a woman with superpowers.
Even among the Avengers, Marvel’s Elite Team of Superheroes, Black Widow fails to get her own film. “Jessica Jones” doesn’t necessarily solve that problem. A Netflix show is not the same as a major motion picture, but it’s at least a step in the right direction. And Jones (Krystan Ritter) as an independent hero works well enough—the writing on the show is excellent and the story is compelling and well executed.
Still, when the first female superhero to get her series spends the majority of the season dealing with the after-effects of being controlled by a man, you have to wonder at what point will women not be portrayed as victims in Hollywood.
To be fair, Jones is less of a victim than many female characters. She frees herself from her captor and works to end his reign of terror, doing so as self-destructively as any hard-boiled male detective would. But the point remains: The subtext of “Jessica Jones” is an escape from a controlling, dangerous relationship.
The man in question, Kilgrave (David Tennant) is a powerfully manipulative psychopath, capable of compelling anyone, even entire restaurants full of people, to do exactly as he commands. His mind powers are so considerable that he can even force his victims to murder others or commit suicide. As a villain, Kilgrave is far more fearsome than his “Daredevil” counterpart Wilson Fisk.
Fisk is at his core a brutal monster, but he is still just a human, albeit one with wealth and an army of well-paid henchmen. Kilgrave’s powers make him altogether more dangerous, even to the most powerful Marvel heroes. Pitting him against Jessica Jones is a smart move, one that makes the series a strong entry into the darker, grittier side of the Marvel Universe.
What makes shows like “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” is the commitment to real world consequences. There are no lofty notions of world saving here. Jones can only save innocents she comes across, none of which are quite as innocent as she hopes. No one ever is, it seems.
Instead, Jessica Jones is shoveling sand back into an ocean of bad intentions, hoping to make a difference to a single grain. She leaves the world in the unsteady hands of Marvel’s chosen elite and tries to make the best of the havoc they wreak.