News & Commentary, Screen, TV

Jessica Jones TV review: Netflix taps into zeitgeist with female-led superhero smackdown

| |

As Hollywood studios continue to serve up hefty portions of superhero spectacles, a quieter, longer form version of the genre continues on the small screen. Following the premiere earlier this year of Daredevil, a slow-burner that saved both the reveal of the costume and utterance of the hero’s name for the last of its 13 episodes, Netflix will launch Jessica Jones on November 20. It will be the second of four live action adaptations of Marvel comic books.
Jessica Jones is one of the most popular new Marvel characters of the last decade, a front runner in a recent gender-balancing shift in comic book culture. Female superheroes aren’t novelties in comics anymore though the same cannot be said of cinema and television.
The zeitgeist indicates movement towards, and enthusiasm for, female-driven superhero narratives. Furiosa in Mad Fury: Fury Road was a bad arse case in point, the bald-headed bionic-armed spiritual leader of the movement, perhaps. The writing on the wall is everywhere — from a major female role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens to the recent launch of TV’s Supergirl and an upcoming all-women Ghostbusters rehash.
So now is a particularly accommodating time for Jessica: a tough, shady, sexually empowered human hurricane powered by a meanly charismatic, sucked-on-a-lemon, smile-averse performance from Krysten Ritter.
Jones, who suffers post traumatic shock disorder and works as a private investigator, belongs to a pantheon of over-the-hill superheroes whose careers as caped crusaders didn’t work out (including in films The Return of Captain Invincible, Hancock, The Incredibles and Watchmen). Precisely what her powers are and how they were previously used is information gradually teased out.
“I stand in dark alleys and wait to take pictures of people boning” is how Jessica describes (via voice over) her occupation, introducing a slightly noir-ish New York as the city that never sleeps but sure sleeps around.
The first time we see her she’s just hurled a man through a glass door. Jessica has a slightly misanthropic quality and weary demeanour of somebody quietly seething about a fall from, if not grace, certainly from more morally respectable pastures. A nasty force from her previous life returns, spearheading the story.
In his excellent book The Power of Film, academic Howard Suber argued there is no such thing as an anti-hero — there are only people who aren’t heroes yet. Jessica Jones is exactly the kind of character he would use as a case study. Created by Melissa Anne Rosenberg (who adapted the Twilight movies) the show finds a good amount of intrigue by meshing the character’s mentality with time frames: an obscured tumultuous past, a threat to the future that incites her to action and a morally dubious present.
The first five episodes are spunky and fun, with a moreish pace and a reasonable amount of edginess. In one scene we witness the rare sight of superhero-on-superhero sex, or something very close to it. Like Daredevil, Jessica Jones is clearly playing the long game; pertinent character information is revealed slowly and reluctantly.
There is some frustration with this given the writing is anything but economic and, while competent atmospherically, mood and visual aplomb aren’t striking enough to compensate the flat spot. Still, it’s off to a good start: not must-watch TV by any stretch but enthusiasts of the genre will get a kick out of it.
It’s also refreshing to see Netflix continue a strong line-up of diversely cast programs, following on from Sense8, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Orange is the New Black. In Jessica Jones the protagonist’s flame (Mike Colter) is African American and her contractor (Carrie-Anne Moss) is a lesbian. Development of the latter character demonstrates some nous in the creator’s ability to read the zeitgeist: her gender was switched from male to female for the TV series.

2 responses to “Jessica Jones TV review: Netflix taps into zeitgeist with female-led superhero smackdown

  1. @Luke It’s one of those shows that is a slow boil, it doesn’t open with a massive open sequence and then try and keep you on the edge of your seat the whole way through.
    If I had to describe Daredevil it would be as a crime thriller, whereas Jessica Jones is an psychological thriller, worth hanging in there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *