In a previous post, I had discussed the Marvel comic book series Jessica Jones: Alias. In addition to being a well-written series that introduced Jessica Jones to the Marvel Universe, it was also the first title released under their MAX imprint (an imprint of Marvel Comics devoted to stories concerning more adult subject matter). How fitting, then, that this series should serve as the basis for one of the first few shows of the Netflix MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) programming. It seems that Marvel Studios is using Netflix as an outlet for exploring darker, more mature subject matter that they might not have otherwise done on film. This was evident with Daredevil, a series that not only captured the vigilante activity of Matt Murdock and the clash between such work and his day job as a defense attorney, it also showcased a surprising brutality in its violence and a look at subjects that had not really been seen in the movies or on the Marvel content featured on ABC. Well, this trend of mature subjects is continued in another stellar series, this time with Jessica Jones and its story of overcoming trauma.
Ever since a horrible incident from her past, Jessica Jones has been spending her days as a private detective in New York City and drinking her pain away. She also possesses super strength, a power that she uses on occasion as part of her work or whenever her temper gets the better of her. One day, she is hired by a pair of desperate parents to find their daughter, a girl who has seemingly thrown her whole life away. Though the case starts as a familiar one, clues begin to appear that lead to a horrifying conclusion: Kilgrave, a man whose voice can make others do whatever he wants and the man responsible for Jessica’s suffering, has returned. Now, as he closes in and uses his powers to torment and target the people in Jessica’s life, she has to move fast to finally put an end to his path of destruction.
This is another strong entry for Marvel in their Netflix content. Using Jessica Jones: Alias as its basis, it captures the same strong sense of character and feel. It captures the same noir feel as its source material, featuring some narration from Jessica Jones while making use of stylistic shots and a score that’s jazzy at points to more strongly recall the influence of the genre. In adapting the story, instead of exploring the impact of her superhero past (which wouldn’t really make sense within the current point and time of the MCU), it instead brings to full force the source material’s tale of a woman seeking to regain control of her life from the abuser who took it away. Before Kilgrave even shows up in full form in the series, his presence is felt through the shame and guilt that burdens Jessica and the horror when she realizes that he is back. In fact, his presence is even felt through the color purple (Kilgrave’s signature color), which pervades into shots whenever he is around or whenever Jessica is remembering him. Even with the help of friends like foster sister Trish Walker or lover Luke Cage, Jessica’s pain feels specific to her and her situation. It’s even worse when she encounters others who have suffered at the hands of Kilgrave, making it clear just how thoroughly he uses people no matter the pain inflicted. The performances help to deliver and showcase these raw emotions.
When it comes to Jessica Jones herself, Krysten Ritter delivers a strong performance. She captures the rough demeanor and cutting snark from the original comic, but she is able to capture the strong emotional depth as well. She shows the shame and guilt that burdens her, from all the horrific memories of the things that Kilgrave made her do when he had her under his control. She shows the rage, whether lashing out at the world around her or pinpointed at Kilgrave. Most of all, she shows the hope in Jessica, the hope of a woman who seeks to finally conquer the pain left by her abuser and gain some sense of normal. As a counterpoint, David Tennant delivers a chilling performance as Kilgrave. He plays him as a charismatic man who has never had to hear the word “no”, a sociopath who sincerely does not see others as anything but to serve him. His worldview is ultimately one centered around himself, using others to indulge in whatever whims or desires he may have in the moment. It’s horrifying just how easily he can command a person to hurt themselves as a petty revenge for any slight he feels. In fact, he does not even feel any responsibility for his actions. Whenever accusations are thrown at him of the pain he has caused, he always turns it back onto his victims, blaming them for their misfortunes. His power to control others with his voice may be extraordinary, but Kilgrave is an evil that is all too real.
Thanks to the excellent performances, strong writing, and overall presentation, Jessica Jones is another strong entry into the MCU and another great addition to Marvel’s Netflix content. It’s a gripping story of overcoming trauma and pain, one grounded in a familiar reality even if there are people with superpowers. Hopefully Netflix can continue to keep up the strong trend that has started with Daredevil and Jessica Jones, of Marvel shows that explore more mature subject mature with skill and impact.