I think a person must act with caution whenever he or she engages in direct comparisons of the merits of different media. Criticism is not an exact scientific task, akin to counting the number of protons in different elements. It requires nuance. Obviously The Godfather is, on countless levels, a better film than Good Burger. But comparing The Godfather to, say, Gladiator or even Spotlight (which you should all go see) is a whole other endeavor. This has been a well-wrought area of debate concerning film criticism—the extent to which different movies can and ought to be compared and judged as “better” or “worse” than each other. It’s fun of course—and people make a living doing it, bringing joy to countless movie-buffs or artists who love to debate these topics. But I bring this all up to say, as a preface, I am not an expert on media criticism; take the following with a grain of salt. And if you have a different opinion—that’s cool. I respect your right to your opinions, and let’s enjoy the process of debating each other, maybe learning in the process.
Now to dive in—I consider Jessica Jones to be the best television series yet produced in the MCU. Daredevil was enthralling and gritty, but Jessica Jones takes the cake. Relative to the entirety of the MCU, I do not consider Jessica Jones superior to some other properties. For example, I would rank (in no particular order) The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Iron Man ahead of it. That said, I do consider the character of Jessica Jones to be the most developed and captivating of the MCU. And if you disagree with that, I would say she is, at the very least, the most developed and captivating female character of the MCU. Let’s talk about why.
For the first part, she is simply the most relatable MCU character we’ve yet seen. This is, in large part, due to the television format. We simply have comparably more time (and a more focused dosage of time) to get to know Jessica Jones than we do Black Widow or Steve Rogers. But her relatability is also due in part to the humanization of the character over the course of numerous events and encounters. Much has been made of the show’s tackling of more adult themes, such as sexual assault, alcohol consumption, and suicide. This should not be overlooked or understated—I’m thrilled the MCU has gone in those directions. But attention as well should be paid to the smaller details that round out the portrait of an eminently entertaining and endearing character. We see Jessica drinking, yelling, engaging in dysfunctional relationships, making questionable decisions, and just generally trying to keep her life afloat. Yet despite all this and a tragic past, she clearly has a heart of gold. She is a human first, and a superhero second. At its heart, this is what makes Marvel characters some of the best around. They are not Gods Among Us, but flawed individuals from whom we can learn about ourselves.
With Jessica Jones, we also encounter fascinating and varied interactions with Kilgrave, one of the best villains ever introduced into the MCU. This juxtaposition further developed her character in a compelling way, showcasing her grit and heart. The arch of this relationship was varied over the course of the show as well, revealing the mysterious depth of their history as the show progressed. And whereas previous incarnations of Marvel villains have been heavily focused on punchy-powers (Scarlet Witch being an exception), this time around we experienced an unusual match-up. Instead of kinetic power 1 vs. kinetic power 2, we got Kilgrave’s mind control versus Jessica Jones varied (and demonstrably not overpowered) brawling style. I found this uniquely satisfying, in large part due to its unpredictability. In short, Kilgrave further augmented an already thrilling performance (and deserves kudos for a tremendous and truly menacing take on the character himself).
Now let me be clear with something on this previous point—Jessica Jones the character did not need other supporting characters to hold her own and enchant the audience over the course of her show. She was not reliant upon Kilgrave, nor was she reliant upon Luke or Patsy or Malcolm. One of my friends is convinced that big-name actor Chris Pine was cast for Wonder Woman because Warner Bros was concerned Gal Gadot and the Wonder Woman character couldn’t hold their own alone. I don’t know if this is true, but this is not a debate that could be had with Jessica Jones (and for what it’s worth, I have no doubt that the Wonder Woman character could hold her own). It is a breathe of fresh air to see a female comic character given the degree of depth and focus we see in Jessica Jones—depth and focus that is not reliant upon the actions of other characters.
To briefly criticize, like its flawed protagonist, the show Jessica Jones was not perfect. I do think the introduction of Nuke was a little abrupt. And I think the story would have been potentially better served had it gone the Agent Carter route, condensed into an 8 or maybe 10 episode run. There was, at times, too much “Let’s chase Kilgrave—Kilgrave escaped—let chase Kilgrave again” feel to it that dragged in parts.
But this is small nit-picking around the edges of a triumph of the MCU. I don’t know about you—but I can’t wait to see Jessica Jones return.