Thursday, December 10, 2015

A.K.A. The Review

Jessica Jones  is the second "Defenders" series on Netflix in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I maintain my stance against binge watching, and believe it to be highly justified in this case. There were many events and decisions in this series worth ruminating about in my noggin for a day between episodes.  I’m all done now, so here’s the information for the few poor souls out there who actually follow my recommendations on super hero viewing.  I think I’m avoiding spoilers, but it’s hard to be sure since I consider much of these universes common knowledge due to my bucket like head.  No major spoilers anyway.

Here’s an analogy that’s sure to be on the N.A.T. (Nerd Aptitude Test)

Jessica Jones is to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Torchwood is to Doctor Who.

The same rules apply, there are references to the more mainstream characters, they definitely share a world, but the stories are darker, there’s more sex, violence and profanity and nearly a full on assault on hope. (Ahem)

Amazingly, it also pulls off pointing out how ridiculous superheroes and their costumes are in a universe that has Captain America, Daredevil and soon to be Spider-Man in it.

The writing, acting and cinematography are excellent, making it compelling to view.  Krysten Ritter’s performance in the lead is a large part of that.  She balances the obnoxious but likable scale to the side that drives continued fandom, but never at the expense of lessening how damaged the character is.

However, the slant toward the less altruistic side of humanity can decrease the fun of repeat viewing that exists in the mainstream universe.

It’s partially because of this that I prefer the Daredevil series. There’s a lightness to Matt in contrast to the bleak world he tends to live in.  The fact that I’ve been a fan of Mr. Murdock since about age six may be clouding my judgment on this as well as I think the overall execution of Jessica Jones may be the better of the two.

Performing a “realistic take” on superheroes is normally a losing battle because of the nebulous definition of how impossible abilities should work.  The makers of the Flash figured this out quickly and have leaped, face first, into all of the loopiest elements of the DC Universe. (Time Travel, Multiple Earths, colorful costumes, Rogues with honor, Immortals, Hawkman’s continuity, etc.)

Jessica Jones leaves the powers at the fantastic levels, making the realism come from how they are utilized and reacted to.

The density of superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still far below that of the comics, and they are viewed as dangerous freaks by the inhabitants of New York.

Note:  Like Daredevil, setting the series in New York adds infinitely to its Marvel Universeness.

This is a completely logical stand for the masses to take.  The series has some excellently choreographed and shot “beyond normal human strength” fight scenes, including ( in the twelfth episode) what may well be the best one I’ve ever seen.  Watch the menace and destruction in that battle…then realize that Luke Cage is supposed to be at the same strength level as your friendly neighborhood (and about mid-range on the Marvel power scale) Spider-Man.  No wonder regular New Yorkers treat them as living WMDs.

The “gifted” themselves aren’t looking to embrace the path Tony Stark did by proclaiming; “I am Iron Man.”  Their amazing abilities are put to mundane uses.

Jessica uses her super strength and leaping to function as a better Private Investigator for messy divorce cases.  While she believes and follows some heroic ideals, she actively scoffs at the superhero ideal.

Luke Cage similarly uses his invulnerability to protect his bar and it’s denizens, nothing greater.
Aside:  Sweet Christmas!  I don’t think they could find another actor with more Luke Cageyness than Mike Colter.  Mega looking forward to his series!

Then we come to the villain of the piece.  This is where the reality takes a dark and disturbing turn.

In general, comic book villains have grand and lofty goals such as world domination or planetary destruction.  Even the non-powered criminal Wilson Fisk had, and achieved, the goal of commanding an empire of crime that covers the eastern seaboard at a minimum.

Kilgrave is played amazingly by David “gee he makes it hard to say I don’t have a favorite Doctor” Tennant.  His goals are nowhere near lofty and far reaching as the typical super villain.  He wants personal gratification, a low profile, and doesn’t care about how many innocents are maimed or killed in the process.  His desire to control others is about minimizing and belittling those around him, not any grand scheme.

Sadly, this is how real world “bad guys” work.

Tennant, as per usual, shows spectacular acting abilities.  Sure it’s easy to start feeling sympathetic when he employs his very Doctory sounding phony airs of sophistication…right up until he does something horrendous.  Some of his temper tantrums sound a bit more “Timelord Victorious” than Barty Crouch Jr. as well.  But always there is an undercurrent of malevolence beneath the surface.  On the few occasions his veneers and facades are completely stripped away, this normally exceedingly friendly looking man becomes deeply disturbing and terrifying.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well, in both the darker world this series shows, and the overall Marvel universe it’s a part of.

Bonus points to you Marvel/Netflix people.  I was so busy watching “Trish” Walker for signs of behaving in a Hellcat like manner…

Which she should definitely follow up on, as (A) Rachael Taylor could pull it off amazingly and (B) since they’re building the Defenders anyway, it would be nice to have a character with legit, long term, comics’ cred for the classic version of that team.

Sorry, comic geek tangent snuck up on me there.

I was so busy watching “Trish” Walker for signs of behaving in a Hellcat like manner, I completely missed the other Marvel Comics character hidden in plain sight that is a part of this corner of the Marvel Universe, and was handled both shockingly and flawlessly.

It is a much less optimistic side of the superhero sandbox, but because of that some accurate and meaningful reflections on humanity showed up.

Some people are annoying pain in the wazoos.  Sometimes, terrible twists of fate will befall these annoying pain in the wazoos that they do not deserve.  It is normal, healthy and proper to feel empathy and offer support to them, even when we accept that they will continue to be annoying pains in the wazoo, and the level of annoyance and pain in our wazoos will in no way diminish because of the terrible events.

Some people are inherently kind and default to helping others.  Many times life and the world in general will poop on them in all manner of unpleasant ways.  This may make them question their kindness, but it will not break it, and they will continue to help others.  These are not super powered heroes, but everyday folks who only desire that the world poops less on others, and will be there to offer them aid in cleaning up when it does.

And that is a pretty hopeful message after all.

Maybe I will watch this again…after rewatching the Daredevil to get ready for Season Two with the Punisher WOO!

Ooh, and Iron Fist is coming too!  Bring some more mysticism via K’un-L’un into this world.  Gotta pave the way for Doctor Strange to exist!

Can I go on the record here and state I’m one of the gang independently coming to the conclusion that “IGH” will be the source of Matt’s, Jessica’s, Luke’s and others’ powers to tie everything together.  And IGH stands for Inhuman Growth Hormone, the MCU version of Mutant Growth Hormone in the comics. 

Sorry about that. It’s hard to stop a nerdsplosion once it reaches critical mass.

Anyway, excellent series, fantastic cast.  Dark and adult (in many senses of the word) but still worthy of residence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Chris said...

Thank you. Thank you. I will definitely check it out.

Jeff McGinley said...

You're quite welcome. Happy to provide a service...if that is indeed the correct word.