Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Girl Powered

Breaking Bad meets The Matrix, meets Doctor Who (casting-wise,
at least), in Daredevil’s neighbourhood - how could that ever
not be the best thing ever?

Well, it very nearly is.  Whereas this was the year where Marvel films really started to let their formula show - neither Ant Man or ‘Ages of Dull-tron’ will be on my top ten list for 2015 - the smaller screen was where the house of Spidey triumphed.  Even Agents of Shield appeared to settle down a little and try to weave it’s multitude of wildly thrashing plot threads into a coherent storyline (take note Avengers). 
But the real revelation was Daredevil; shaking off the spectre of a badly received early 2000’s film adaptation to deliver a powerhouse action-drama series which just happened to feature a superhero, who doesn’t even get his costume until the final episode.
So that was already enough to make me confident that Marvel owned the tube (I’m enjoying Supergirl but still haven’t bothered with Arrow or Flash - sorry DC), and then along came Jessica Jones

"Judge me by my size, would you?"
I had no idea who this character was, beyond the fact that she and two other third tier Marvel titles were eventually going to combine with Daredevil to form a (Quote): “Gritty street-level Avengers-style team”.
A quick look at Wikipedia didn’t do much to fill me with confidence, either - a post-traumatic stress-disordered former superheroine, shaken so badly by an encounter with a mind controlling villain that she’s hung up her costume and is essentially living the life of a victim, sounded frankly awful.

However, so much shared DNA with the sublime Daredevil series couldn’t be all bad, and the fact that there was such a strong behind the camera representation of women producing, writing and directing assured me that this wasn’t going to be a story sensationalising female vulnerability.
Any lingering doubts were blown away as soon as lead Krysten Ritter appears on screen.  Previously seen in Breaking Bad as another feisty character, she is a real piece of work here. Exuding attitude (and screen presence) at toxic levels, Jessica Jones is self-admittedly rude to everyone, hard-drinking, hard-talking (the F-bomb in a Marvel series!), and when the situation calls for it, hard-fighting too. Ritter’s uncompromising performance makes her largely unexplained powers the least-interesting part of her characterisation - she’s quite formidable enough without them.

Luke Cage: No 'fro under that helmet, sadly.
With New York being what it is in the Marvel universe she soon becomes involved with another ‘special’ person, although neither suspect the other’s abilities initially.  I was aware of ‘Luke Cage: Power Man’ when I  read the occasional Marvel comic in the mid 70s.  Back then he sported a wicked ‘fro, which has since been updated to the standard issue shaven head, (and a certain Nicolas Coppola borrowed the character’s surname when he became an actor).  He’s a man of few words, and unfortunately he and Jones have a tangled and tragic past history which will severely test their relationship.
Luke Cage is destined for his own series next, and Mike Colter’s charismatic performance certainly justifies it.  But this is Jessica Jones’ show, and for now he is something of an anomaly, because almost every other character is  a powerfully-portrayed woman.

Hey, Carrie-Anne. The first, and latest, modern breed of
science fiction superheroine combine forces.  Sort of...
Carrie-Anne Moss, who spearheaded the new kick-ass breed of female genre characters at the end of the 90s in the Matrix, is equally impressive as attorney Jeri Hogarth. Her wife, girlfriend, client and Jessica’s adopted sister Trish all round out the roster of formidable women, with a late tie-in appearance from Daredevil’s Rosario Dawson providing the icing on the cake.

Our villain, Kilgrave, is David Tennant getting his teeth into the role of a lifetime.  Like Fisk in Daredevil, this is a character so bereft of any moral code that he emerges through our usual expectations of a villain to become someone we find ourselves alternately hating and then sympathising with. His own potent super-ability makes him supremely dangerous and the purposes he puts it towards with his female victims (Jones included) leads the programme into very dark waters.

You may have faced down the daleks in the past,
but you really should consider running this time....
The fact that Jones initially leaves a trail of extremely bloody destruction in her wake, failing again and again to save those she’s promised to protect, compounds this.  Friends and even Jessica herself will lose faith in her ability to win through, but this is a rough ride worth hanging on for.

This isn’t a programme for your usual comic reader.  If you want a bloodless, asexual superheroine series watch CBS’s Supergirl (I’m a fan. none-the-less), but if you can take something with considerably more bite and emotional resonance, take a walk through the Netflix Hell’s Kitchen, instead. This story of a damaged and guilt-stricken character eventually finding redemption and her own potential for good makes the caustic Ms Jones possibly the most relatable and human superhero ever put on screen.
Highly recommended.

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