Review: Marvel's 'Jessica Jones' is the reluctant superhero we need

Jessica Jones tells a grittier tale in dirty jeans instead of a bright cape.
Published November 19 2015
Updated November 20 2015

Another day, another superhero screen adaptation.

That's not to say Marvel's Jessica Jones, which premieres Friday on Netflix, isn't worth the 13-hour investment. It's probably more worthwhile than its contemporary Supergirl on CBS and even its Netflix predecessor Marvel's Daredevil.

But it's hard not to be tired of people with supernatural abilities stomping all over major cities to defeat next level bad guys in saving humanity. Every major network has some sort of supercharged crusader: ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; NBC's Heroes Reborn; Fox's Lucifer and Gotham; CW's Arrow, The Flash and D.C.'s Legends of Tomorrow; and the aforementioned Kryptonian on CBS.

The saving grace of Jones probably lies in not being on network television, which allows executive producers Melissa Rosenberg, Liz Friedman and Jeph Loeb to tell a grittier story filled with murder, sex, violence, drug addicts and emotional abuse.

The titular Jones (Krysten Ritter) practically lives in a bottle, turning to generous gulps of basement shelf Wild Turkey to get to sleep. She isn't all dolled up in primary colors, and it would be hard to convince anyone that she showers or owns more than one pair of jeans. Still, she's our hero — albeit reluctantly.

Fans familiar with the comic know that Jessica Jones got her strength and flight-like abilities from an accident that killed her parents. She's not unlike the other heroes in New York, Peter Parker and Matt Murdock, who both had their super skills thrust upon them by chance.

We hear from multiple characters that Jones tried her hand at the tights and cape racket only to wash out and end up using her skills to do the dirty work of a private investigator. She gets work from a high powered lawyer (Carrie-Anne Moss) and referrals for jobs that other detectives can't accomplish. Lots of unwitting cheaters end up on the other side of her "particular set of skills."

It's not until midway through the premiere that we find out that Jones is lying as low as possible to avoid coming across a man named Kilgrave (David Tennant), who possesses the ability of auditory suggestion — basically mind control. From the looks of it, their last encounter was historically bad, so bad Jones' symptoms mirror that of an abused wife with PTSD.

It's an interesting setup to have the protagonist be a shell shocked pessimist trying desperately to go on unnoticed. Seeing the deep hurt, portrayed better through Ritter's eyes than the sometimes heavy handed dialogue, viewers won't know whether to cheer for her to succeed or snap out of it.

A self imposed isolation from her friends and neighbors makes Jones unsympathetic to start, but discovering the impetus for that unnerving loneliness imbues the character with a pathos Kara Zor-El Danvers won't ever be able to achieve.

And that's something the Marvel Universe builders should be commended on. With just the occasional stumble (ahem, the start of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), they've done a fantastic job of world building on multiple platforms. The campy, world-destroying romps that invade theaters every other summer feel like the antidote to the bitter pill of the Marvel TV canon filled with tragic origin stories and newly minted heroes dealing with the aftermath of all that carnage. The delicate balance highlights the failure of rival D.C. Comics to tie the success of its small screen fare to its box office blunders.

Jones still retains Marvel's wry, comic touch without sacrificing the seriousness of what it must be like to live in a world where heroes are saviors or the enemy depending on which block you live on when the buildings start to tumble. Ritter does her best with material, which can go comic-booky from time to time, but her chemistry crackles with co-stars Tennant and Mike Colter.

Jones' arc somewhat mirrors Spider-Man because, as Uncle Ben pointed out, "With great power comes great responsibility." The two diverge on implementation of the credo because Jones has seen how much damage someone can do with intention of doing good.

Showrunners take their sweet time building up to answering the philosophical questions because they want you fully on board for whatever our leading lady chooses. Though, knowing Jones, she'd probably rather go it alone.