Jessica Jones, Supergirl and Female Superheroes

While Marvel seems to have taken over the blockbuster movie world, a common criticism is the lack of good female roles in the films (probably to do with many originating years ago in a time when most heroes were of course men!) However in 2015 a few are finally filtering through – to the TV world at least!

Netflix announced a deal for Marvel TV shows a while back and I know I was one of those who scoffed at the thought. However, Neflix’s track record for original drama has turned out to be pretty damn good. First out of the blocks was Daredevil starring Brit Charlie Cox. Showrunners Drew Goddard and Steve DeKnight were graduates of the Joss Whedon school and the show was noticeably darker and more brutal than the family friendly Marvel films. Chief villain Wilson Fisk played by Vincent D’Onofrio was terrifying but a fantastically complex and interesting character. Personally I enjoyed the show but have never found Matt Murdock a believable superhero – he can HEAR the punches?? huh?

Autumn 2015 saw the launch of Supergirl on CBS (although thanks to an internet leak, me and thousands of others saw the pilot over the summer.) Then Netflix would release Jessica Jones in November.

These shows finally put women in the lead role but would they be well received? Marvel’s Agent Carter, a spin off from the Captain America films starring the wonderful Hayley Attwell got good reviews but didn’t get huge ratings. However, CBS did get a great start for Supergirl with big ratings for its DC comic release.

From Greg Berlanti, who had success with Arrow and The Flash, Supergirl stars Melissa Benoist, who I never was that big a fan of when she was on Glee as Marley Rose. However, she is really very good as Supergirl/Kara Danvers. Like another Glee graduate Grant Gustin (nasty warber Sebastian on Glee, superhero Barry Allen aka The Flash), Melissa Benoist has the right mix of sunny optimistic nature but also proves to be a good enough actor for the moments of drama too.

Supergirl owes a lot to The Flash in its formula and it will be interesting to see if it can maintain the promising start. Kara’s day job with Cat Grant (Callist Flockhart having a lot of fun) at Catco Magazine has her working with Jimmy Olsen (the ridiculously charming and handsome Mehcad Brooks) and Jeremy Jordan (a survivor of the hilariously awful Smash and another fab singer!) as Winn, a geeky colleague who has a crush on Kara. Meanwhile, Kara also works with her adopted sister Alex and the DEO, a government organisation tasked with defeating alien threats. It is slight and frothy, but Benoist is a sweet and appealing lead.

Meanwhile over on Netflix, Jessica Jones was probably my favourite show of 2015. Much darker than Supergirl – but not quite as vicious as Daredevil – Jessica Jones is a lesser known Marvel comic book series from 2001. Here Krysten Ritter, best knows from Breaking Bad or daft comedies, stars as a superpowered girl who is recovering from a failed attempt to be a hero. The show introduced Jessica as already broken and surviving as a private investigator while mooching around. Her adoptive sister (I sense a theme here…) Trish Walker is a talk radio celeb and former child star and this odd couple are joined by a diverse cast of characters. I loved how the backstory was gradually revealled – but what really made this great drama was the fantastic David Tennant as Kilgrave, a mind controlling baddie who we find out is obsessed with Jessica and had her under his ‘spell’ for some months. When forced to kill for him, Jessica somehow managed to develop a resistance to his power but the show explored so many themes of what someone with that sort of ability can do. Tennant was so good, but the show actually kept him in the shadows for the first three episodes. One result of the Netflix bingeing model I guess. If this was a weekly show I doubt they would have kept their secret weapon sheathed for quite so long!

Jessica Jones was notable for the way it addressed issues of sex. Jessica’s hook-up with Luke Cage (Mike Colter who I loved in the Good Wife is super charismatic and is the NEXT Netflix show due out in 2016) and later Trish and rather annoying cop Will are far more explicit that we have seen in a Marvel film or tv show but also notable for them being very much about the women and their choices. Of course, the LACK of choice Jessica and another of Kilgrave’s victims, Hope, in being raped by him contrasts with these liaisons. It is not just a female lead that makes this difference, but a female showrunner, Melissa Rosenberg, who worked on the early seasons of Showtime’s Dexter. To actually see an action film or TV show when the viewers’ gaze or viewpoint is a female one is incredibly rare.

Another nice touch was a gender swap for Jessica’s boss Jerry, now Jeri Hogarth. A philandering man in the comic books, here Carrie-Anne Moss is similarly sly as high powered lesbian lawyer who is cheating on her wife (the always lovely Robin Weigert) with a new young secretary.

The moody, laconic Jessica is a refreshing superhero. She can’t fly, just jumps a lot. She is strong but isn’t Superman and lives in probably the shittiest apartment seen on tv!! Ritter is fantastic at showing her struggles to find her purpose after doing terrible things while under Kilgrave’s power. I especially like the relationship with Trish, which was never a nagging or cliched one. Trish is a strong, powerful women in her own right but is a staunch supporter of Jessica at all times.

David Tennant uses his Doctor Who English accent here and it is disconcerting to hear the odd very Doctor-ish moments. However, while The Doctor was ruthless at times, he was always a good man. Kilgrave fools himself into thinking he is being logical rather than evil, but we see him casually order children to stay in cupboards or people to hang or shoot themselves. He also gains control of Luke Cage and his impenetrable skin leading to an amazing Jessica/Luke fight. The Kilgrave-Jessica relationship is so tense and strained, but Tennant does a fabulous job of making this monster human but probably one of the most twisted villains on TV.

Of course, the show is not perfect. There is one character who almost ruins every episode she is in, Jessica’s upstairs neighbour Robyn who is shrill and annoying pretty much non-stop! Trish’s cop kind-of boyfriend Will is also rather dull. The 13 episodes could probably have been 10 but I enjoyed the witty writing, the relationships and seeing a great story. Jessica Jones will return for a second season and she will also be appearing in a Netflix series with Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist (who ever that is!)

 

Let’s hear it for the girls..!