Marvel's Jessica Jones, first half review: 'David Tennant's Kilgrave could be the best on-screen comic book villain since Heath Ledger's Joker'

The upcoming Netflix show will air 20 November

Jack Shepherd
Thursday 12 November 2015 09:54
David Tennant plays the villainous Purple Man in Marvel's new Netflix series Jessica Jones
David Tennant plays the villainous Purple Man in Marvel's new Netflix series Jessica Jones

Thanks to the phenomenal success of Daredevil, anticipation for the next installment in the Defenders series is absolutely colossal. Luckily, the first half of Jessica Jones not only matches but exceeds expectations.

We meet our heroine (Krysten Ritter), an ex-superhero turned alcoholic private investigator, as she attempts to rebuild her life. Past experiences have left her with severe PTSD which she decides to tackle on her own, in the process ignoring her best friend, TV personality Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor).

To take her mind off the past, she focusses her attention on investigating cheating lovers for her attorney (Carrie-Anne Moss) while also spying on a local bartender (Mike Colter).

As you expect, things go wrong very quickly. A young Athlete’s (Erin Moriarty) parents come knocking on her door, telling of how their daughter has suddenly gone missing. Unfortunately, the suspicious case leads Jessica back to a familiar face: Kilgrave’s (David Tennant).

Whereas the above events may happen within the first 15 minutes of a superhero film, with the longer Netflix format the writers have been able to flesh out characters and maintain a more provocative story. While the show doesn’t rush - Kilgrave remains in the shadows for the first four episodes - it also doesn’t feel slow: exempting the first episode which stifles a little, the majority of scenes are beautifully paced.

Unlike Daredevil, which would take time out from following Wilson Fisk to concentrate on Stick and other characters, Jessica Jones is focused almost solely on Jessica and Kilgrave. As she becomes obsessed with the suavely dressed Brit (an accent Tennant perfected throughout his stint as Doctor Who), so do we. As she pursues her goal, other people get thrown to the wayside, and the show mimics this. Everything comes back to their dueling personalities.

Colby Minifie and Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones

Ritter gives an outstanding performance as the deeply troubled hero whose powers neither she nor the viewer fully understand. If it wasn't obvious already, she's absolutely no damsel in distress. Not only does she manage to nail the character’s full fronted, leather jacket wearing, do-what-I-want attitude, she also gets the waterworks going in the tender, lonely moments when Jessica attempts to comprehend the disaster that is her life.

However, as much as Ritter’s performance carries the show, it’s Tennant’s Kilgrave that really brings everything together. As demonstrated in the two trailers already released, his character is both entirely menacing and creepy, even with little-to-no screen time at first. While Marvel managed to waste a great deal of extraordinary talent by discarding villains within one film (Hugo Weaving, Christopher Eccleston, Robert Redford), by gradually introducing the Purple Man they have finally produced a real villain.

What makes Kilgrave so endearing is his goal. Unlike every other villain, he doesn't want to take over the world, he’s much more twisted. Kilgrave’s ability to control minds could take him anywhere, make him anything, but instead he’s in Hell’s Kitchen causing chaos. If they manage to maintain this level of writing for the remainder of the series, he could be the best on-screen comic book villain since Heath Ledger’s Joker.

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Tenant’s character also leads the shows down a much darker road, tackling topics of rape, assault, and PTSD that all stem from his abilities in one way or another. It’s a huge feat that the writer’s have managed to approach each topic with such sensitivity, stirring up debate about how we deal with these issues in the real world.

Tone-wise, this neo-noir drama doesn’t feel like a superhero flick. Both Jessica and Luke Cage’s powers don’t seem over the top, and there’s no huge CGI set-pieces. Fundamentally, this is a spy-thriller featuring some big brawls, but nothing compared to the ones in Daredevil. Hopefully, the pair will better come to terms with these superpowers, otherwise they may end up seeming no different to your regular strongman thug.

It will be interesting to see where Jessica Jones goes from episode seven's finale, a point at which the story takes a disastrous turn. Not only have these episodes been brilliant, but if the series continues on the same upward projection, this could be the best thing Marvel Studios has ever produced. Come November 20th, I will be binge watching this till the very end.

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