As entertaining and fun as they may be, there’s been one thing that the majority of the entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe lack which if they had would make them a hell lot better: stakes.
No matter how big the evil motherfucking alien army that’s invading a city and no matter how dangerous the Illuminati-level faction some random superpowered enforcer is representing may look, the good guys wearing those funny spandex costumes always win with nigh a scratch on them because you have to admit, who the fuck else do you want to see square it off against Thanos in the upcoming AVENGERS: THE INFINITY GAUNTLET movies?
More expendable shitheads like Quicksilver? Yeah. Thought so.
This is mostly due to the fact that the so called Marvel Creative Committee which represents the Marvel Comics brand had quite the iron grip on every single MCU title up until CAPT. AMERICA: CIVIL WAR’s pre-production stages, where they demanded that every story with the Marvel brand on it be as generic and safe as possible, hence 2015’s lackluster Marvel Movie lineup which included the disappointing AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON and the forgettable ANT-MAN. That being said, it did make me wonder how the hell CAPT. AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER even made it past the board but then again, the cinematic equivalent of a “fuck you” called the Mandarin from IRON MAN 3 is still a thing. But thanks to the committee’s recent dissolution and a team-up with the online streaming giant Netflix, Marvel Studios has finally gained more creative control over their intellectual properties, allowing them the freedom to take more risks with their stories without the need to water everything down for the twelve year olds in the audience.
Enter JESSICA JONES, the second of Marvel’s Netflix backed projects and possibly the brand’s best offering to date. I say that with great confidence because if ANT-MAN represents Marvel at its laziest, most juvenile and pandering only second to IRON MAN 3, JESSICA JONES represents the brand at its most matured state and overall best.
As you may have read in the opening paragraphs, stakes and risks aren’t such a big deal in the Marvel movies unless the WINTER SOLDIER’s take on HYDRA is the point of the discussion and thankfully, there’s plenty of that in JESSICA JONES. Unlike the world-invasion and/or world-domination plots most every villain in every Marvel movie ever made has, JESSICA JONES locks its major conflicts to a minimal cast of people who just so happen to have powers and special quirky traits that would make them feel at home in the pages of a comic book. Keeping the conflicts down to a personal character driven scale does the show a lot of good, making the story’s players and the problems they face a lot more relatable. Case in point, when Jessica Jones fears that a dangerous serial killer from her past is back in town, the first thing she thinks of is nopeing the fuck out of New York all the way to Hong Kong. You know shit’s serious as fuck when the Superpowered Heroine’s way of getting out is drunk instead of facing her archenemy.
It’s a welcome change of pace in a mainstream comic book adaptation when there are scenes mostly made up of people (superpowered or otherwise) doing nothing but chill and shoot the shit instead of talking like one-liner obsessed caricatures and walking stereotypes. Rather than trying to out-snark each other like a script filled to the brim with Tony Starks would, the characters in JESSICA JONES talk about ordinary things like paying the bills, liquor and even sex in the most down-to-earth and ordinary ways imaginable, leading to lots of well paced character development that works well enough to make you give more than just a fuck about everyone, including the doped-up basehead that lives next door to Jessica. I’m not against anything as action-packed as any of the big screen Marvel movies but after roughly ten Superhero Adventures filled with enough green screen to make George Lucas cry tears of joy, seeing Jessica and Luke talk about their feelings instead of spending a good forty minutes punching gangbangers or CGI aliens was a fucking breather. Even if there were some moments when the Noir writing of the show went overboard and tried too hard to resemble the Private Eye stories of old with all the angst and alcoholism the titular heroine embodies, these instances were thankfully too few and far in between to actually hurt the main story as compared to both seasons of TRUE DETECTIVE where the overlong philosophical monologues ranged from laughable to boring as fuck. Other writing issues occurred in the form of padding and subplots whose only purpose was to tease future Netflix-Marvel collaborations but at least they never distracted the viewer from the actual plot the same way AGE OF ULTRON did and introduced twenty new plots that had no fucking connection to the bastard child of SkyNet and Robert Downey Jr.
Thanks to its allegiance with Netflix which has built a solid reputation for doing things most major TV networks that aren’t HBO wouldn’t even dare think about, JESSICA JONES benefits a lot from this new found creative freedom, allowing itself to show content rarely seen beyond the covers of a Marvel MAX imprint. Mature content gets center stage in JESSICA JONES’ 13 episode run, featuring violence, sexual relationships, legit psychological drama and even discussing some of the riskiest themes in current fiction that no mainstream production even mentions. These themes include rape (in both mental and physical capacity) and PTSD and JESSICA JONES’s entire writing crew deserves a fuckton of praise for showing just how ugly these things can be but all shown in a fair and mainstream light. By seamlessly weaving such tragic and harsh real-world cases into a narrative that takes place in the same world where the Avengers and a talking tree alien-thing from a galaxy far, far away exist, JESSICA JONES brings light to issues that really need some attention in the same praiseworthy methods of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD without the need to be preachy and heavy handed about things. Instead of whipping out a soapbox out of its asshole to stand on while pointing fingers at people for being fucking stupid (fuck you, FANT4STIC, you pretentious fucking cunt), JESSICA JONES uses these ideas to make viewers feel for and at times fear the characters at the story’s center, making them seem all the more human even if one of them can control minds while another has indestructible skin.
Speaking of those Superpowered Beings, one thing that JESSICA JONES forgot once in a while was the fact that a good number of its central characters are “gifted.” For the first few episodes, it’s easy to forget that the story of the P.I. Jessica Jones takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because they barely acknowledge that such things exist with the exception of a few scenes and some throw away lines. It’s only by show’s second half when these powers come to play and while it’s understandable that Luke Cage would prefer to keep his invulnerability a secret than risk getting lynched by the Marvel’s version of the fear mongering GOP, a lot of the problems he and Jessica faced could’ve been solved in a jiffy if they used their powers for a second and if the writers weren’t too fucking busy pulling the audience’s legs with some contrived and predictable twists that turned tension into frustration. Then again, Jessica Jones makes a living being a stealthy drunkard so bending cars like paper on a daily basis would go against everything that’s subtle in her line of work.
The only Superpowered Being to have their powers at full force is Kilgrave, who is by far the only Marvel villain to be an actual threat despite him being the pettiest shithead on the villainous block who could make Ultron and his childish rambling resemble Adolf Hitler. “Blessed” with the ability to control minds by means of a dapper fucking British accent, Kilgrave uses these abilities in the most realistic ways a person in today’s day and age would: all for sex and money. Following the already refreshing toned-down feel of the show when compared to other Marvel titles out there, the overall villain has no plans whatsoever to rule the world and instead just uses his psychic skills to get laid, which actually makes him more threatening and disgusting since these are things we are all too familiar with. We as regular people can’t really fathom what it would be like to have the fate of the entire global population in our hands when it’s being threatened by a Neo-Nazi ran Illuminati unless we’re playing a video game but we all fear for our personal safety on the streets while commuting and Kilgrave’s perverted and base selfish desires are the very things that we can lose to some fucked up junkie with an ice pick on a dark night, making him someone to truly fear given his powers and already fucked-up inflated ego. This is a surprisingly effective combination of the Obligatory Philosophical Asshole and the Psychotic Manchild villain archetypes, two tropes I’ve grown sick of thanks to anime, that works perfectly and is a great example of good writing.
JESSICA JONES is a shining example of a brand that’s already given quite a lot but is still itching to give more and, fortunately for viewers, it’s also more than eager to improve its already fine tuned craft. After releasing itself from its constrictive corporate shackles, Marvel goes full force with the stories they always wanted to tell and all those risks paid off in one hell of an online TV series. Admittedly, there are some moments when major events could be seen coming from a mile away especially if you’ve seen enough mystery fiction and some tropes are overdone at this point but none of that is enough to tank the overwhelmingly positive viewing experience I got from JESSICA JONES. It’s rare that we get a superhero AND an anti-hero protagonist we can truly relate to and it’s a moment to be revered so do yourself a favor and watch it.
Right now, Jessica Jones is probably one of my favorite Superheroes second to the (Marvel MAX) Punisher but that most probably has something to do with my preference for the Anti-Heroes and Garth Ennis’ graphic novels. That and I have a bad tendency to hate the bastard I see in the mirror everyday the same way Jessica does but that’s an entirely different story for another day.
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