Jessica Jones Disempowers Its Male Characters And The Effect Is Refreshing
Jessica Jones is right up there as one of the greatest things Marvel has put out in its cinematic universe. Depending on who you are it may even be their best yet. The series gets so many things right from the acting to the visual style to the themes it tackles and the manner in which it does so.
I should stress that this is not a review, there are plenty of those floating about. These are just the musings of a little boy.
Let’s not dance around it, Jessica Jones is a series about strong women and also just so happens to be unwaveringly feminist in its presentation and execution. If you pay attention it is rather striking but also incredibly refreshing. The best part is that you don’t even need to identify as a feminist to appreciate it.
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Jessica Jones takes a traditional noir-style hard-boiled detective story skeleton; mind you it’s a solid assemblage of bones. Around this it wraps a troubled protagonist with a drinking problem, a dash of superpowers, a malevolent villain and memorable supporting roles.
With Jessica Jones featuring Krysten Ritter (who is brilliant in the role) as the title character you might imagine that she’s quite different from the classic PIs you see in old movies. Nope. She’s no different from the rest of them and this is part of what Jessica Jones gets right, it doesn’t see a need to do anything with its female characters just because they’re women.
Jessica is a thankless asshole with few friends and many enemies who also just casually treats Luke Cage as a sex toy for much of the time despite the fact that she shouldn’t be anywhere near him (for story reasons). Her lawyer friend Hogarth is a no-nonsense unscrupulous woman who will do anything to win and has an affair on the side. Then there’s Jess’ best friend Trish who is a strong and independent media personality.
The series has these strong female characters without going out of its way to make them strong. It just proves that these established archetypes can be played by women.
The male characters on the other hand are largely auxiliary and are either helpless, hopeless, hindering or hateful. My greatest criticism is that aside from one or two, Jessica Jones’ portrayal of men is limited to one-dimensional cutouts. Mostly the men just get in the way.
Where Jessica Jones really excels is in how smart its leads are and how the series deals with some rather heavy themes. Instead of getting weighed down with the baggage these women are carrying (and they’re carrying a lot) the series focuses on how they’re moving forward and working to not be victims anymore. It’s an empowering perspective from which to approach themes such as rape, abuse and the resulting PTSD.
Most importantly, at no point does the series ever make you feel sorry for these characters. They’ve been through some serious shit but instead you feel their anger and desire to fight back, to seize control of their lives. So much so that when a certain, very important character beat comes you can’t help but crack a smile.
Another major theme is that of choice versus control. Having been controlled by the series’ big bad, Killgrave, prior to the start of episode 1, Jessica is always in control of her actions. Everything she does is by choice, even if she insists on the contrary. The characters who mainly find themselves being controlled are men. This provides a neat subversion of how most series and movies tend to drag female characters along with whatever the chiseled male lead is doing.
Jessica Jones succeeds as a series because it is a really good series first and foremost. It just so happens to tackle some major issues and themes along the way. None of it seems forced or insincere, its all extremely relevant to the characters and ties strongly into the theme of choice versus control that Killgrave brings to the table. It works because it all feels cohesive. Right down to the way the finale unfolds.
In the same way that Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy achieved excellence in their respective genres so too does Jessica Jones and then some. Jessica Jones is not for everyone and is decidedly darker than anything else Marvel has put out but I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the best things Marvel has done yet.