Screen Digital: Jessica Jones – an admirable misstep for the Marvel/Netflix machine
The superhero genre has, until recently, struggled to make an impact on TV. Without the mind-boggling budgets or grand scope offered by cinema, original content was rare and often sub-par.
In recent times however, fans have enjoyed a new wave of darker, more mature small screen ventures. Last year’s Daredevil, a Netflix original, offered outstanding production values and gritty realism, brilliantly rebooting a much-loved franchise.
The streaming giant now returns with Jessica Jones, the second in a group of heroes soon to be known as The Defenders. Boasting a sensational cast and excellent pedigree, it is therefore regrettable that Jones fails to build upon its predecessor and provide engaging television.
No time is wasted in introducing Krysten Ritter’s Jones as a troubled, brooding P.I. with superhuman strength and a penchant for whiskey. While a fascinating character on paper, the exploration of her life as an investigator more or less ends there, as the plot refocuses entirely upon the show’s villain.
There is also negligible deviation from her grumpy, angst-ridden performance, portraying a character that is eminently unlikeable and entirely devoid of a backstory until midway through the season.
Her superpower more often than not underwhelms as a propensity to break locks, and an unintentionally hilarious ability to fly (“guided falling”, as Jones corrects).
The supporting cast is equally unpleasant – one character in particular being clearly designed as comic relief but portrayed with an uncomfortable and strange degree of solemnity. All act with the same needlessly hostile aggression, often creating weak drama with poorly-explained motives.
Some blame must go to the formulaic and clichéd script. The residents of Hell’s Kitchen, New York are guided through events clumsily, often experiencing unnatural reactions to life-changing events. None are afforded time to develop, time that is instead used to deliver uninspired wisecracks that often feel forced and emotionless.
This results in many of the show’s most disappointing moments, the side plots: a raft of ill-defined, predictable moments and truly painful romances that only serve in generating apathy.
Much is redeemed, however, by the truly magnificent David Tennant as antagonist Kilgrave. It is no surprise that the series’ best moments by a quite considerable margin are commanded by him and his unique powers. Unfortunately, his appearances are intermittent at best, greatly harming a show that fails to build suitable tension in his absence.
Jessica Jones will undoubtedly be seen by many as breaking new ground. There is a prevalence of uniquely dark moments, that while sometimes feeling tacked on to achieve a mature rating, nevertheless add an extra dimension to the plot.
But these are simply not enough to hide bland camerawork, repetitive character design, and a soundtrack that, though paying worthy homage to iconic detective shows, often feels completely out of place and mistimed.
The result is not terrible, but by no means great. It lies in the realm of disappointment, simply serving as a reminder of what could have been achieved with the excellent talent and ideas on display.