Netflix's Jessica Jones review: 'a dark, dank drag'
Some of us can recall a time when comic book superheroes couldn’t catch a break on television. The Superman and Batman movies did roaring box-office business in the 1970s and 80s respectively, but the fondness for guys in masks, tights and capes wasn’t translating so smoothly to the smaller screen.
A cheap-as-chips series called The Amazing Spider-Man, featuring a bloke in a ratty-looking body suit jumping around fake rooftops, was woeful. Even Marvel Comics supremo Stan Lee, who co-created the character and was listed as an executive producer, subsequently admitted he detested it.
Though Wonder Woman, starring statuesque former Miss America Lynda Carter, ran for four years, it was as corny and cheesy as a cob of corn dunked in melted Dairylea.
The only comic book adaptation from the 70s that was an unqualified global sensation was The Incredible Hulk, and this was probably due to the decision to ditch every science fiction/fantasy element of the original comic books except the title character.
Aimed more at mainstream viewers than readers of comics, which were still considered a juvenile pursuit, The Incredible Hulk saw the late Bill Bixby’s hapless scientist wandering from one town to another, picking up odd jobs and usually unleashing his inner grouch twice in every episode. It was effectively a remake of The Fugitive doused in pea-green body paint.
Apart from the one-season flurry that was 90s offering The Flash, which was actually pretty good but reportedly cost a fortune to make, and intermittent cult hits like Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (as much romantic drama as superhero adventure) and the Superman-before-he-became-Superman saga Smallville, comic book superheroes have really only come into their own on TV in recent years.
Once, you’d be lucky to find a single masked hero in an American television landscape overrun with straight-arrow cops, laconic private eyes, compassionate doctors and crusading lawyers. Now you can’t help tripping over them — and they’re multiplying faster than rabbits that have been fed Viagra-laced carrots.
DC, which owns Superman and Batman (who are due to team up with Wonder Woman on the big screen in the new year), has Arrow, a new iteration of The Flash, the Batman prequel Gotham, featuring a rogue’s gallery of evolving supervillains, and recent addition Supergirl.
Its fierce rival publisher/producer Marvel, which is responsible for the Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Avengers movies, has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and the tie-in series Agent Carter.
In any other TV genre, this would be regarded as overkill. But comic book fans are an insatiable breed, so it’s hardly surprising that Netflix struck a deal with Marvel to make no less than four new series featuring their lesser-known heroes, who will eventually team up in a fifth series called The Defenders.
The first fruit of this partnership was the rather splendid Daredevil, which mixed a comic book origin story with crunchy violence and a gritty Hell’s Kitchen backdrop sufficiently well to erase memories of the indifferent 2003 film version with Ben Affleck.
That impressive streak out of the gate might be about to come to an abrupt end, however, with the second Netflix/Marvel collaboration, Jessica Jones, the whole first season of which has just dropped.
If you think Jessica Jones is a rather bland name for a superhero, you’re not the only one. I have to confess I’d never heard of her before, but intensive research (or rather 10 minutes on Wikipedia) reveals she has super-strength, can run very fast, jump very high and even fly.
She could probably call herself Supergirl, except that would be breaching copyright.
At one point in the first episode we see Jessica, played by Kyrsten Ritter, stop a bad guy from escaping by lifting the back of his car off the ground, but she doesn’t really use her powers much any more.
She’s given up the life of a costumed crimefighter to become a private eye who specialises in seedy cases of marital infidelity, which necessitates that she skulk around New York’s dark alleyways and squeaky fire escapes.
In keeping with the best tradition of down-at-heel gumshoes, Jessica drinks like a fish and specialises in spouting the kind of sub-Raymond Chandler wisecracks that would make a 1950s pulp hack blush.
“New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it sure does sleep around,” she drawls in voiceover while taking incriminating photos of a couple in a compromising position. It’s all faintly ridiculous.
Somebody has worked really hard here at laying on the murk and gloom (it’s so dark at times it makes Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies look like the campy 60s series), so by the time we learn, roughly 40 minutes into the first episode, that Jessica’s damaged state is a result of an entanglement with a mind-controlling supervillain called Kilgrave (a hammy David Tennant), your interest may have waned.
Mine had. And it would take a super-strong will to bring it back.