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Elements of film noir in Jessica Jones
I grew up developing more appreciation for DC Comics than Marvel. And, among the DC superheroes, I liked Batman best of all. And among the Marvel superheroes? My younger daughter, Alex, just reminded me that her first memories of Superman is still shrouded by a comment I made about how dumb he was that he wore his underwear on top of his clothes. When the first Fantastic Four movies came out, I had no idea who or what they were. That should sum up quite nicely how I felt about Marvel superheroes.
Then, Jessica Jones came along. Of course, I hadn't heard of her before either. Before I saw the trailer, someone could have told me that she was a character from a Woody Allen comedy and I would have probably believed it. The good thing is that Alex is all grown up and, between childhood and early adulthood, had developed a better grasp of the world of Marvel superheroes than I ever did and probably will.
It started with the trailer. Dark, sexy and violent. It won my attention, all two hundred percent of it. I love film noir whether or not it is a proper genre. I wouldn't even venture to define what it is but I know it when I see it. In fact, I loved film noir even before I heard the term. I remember watching Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer and Miami Vice in the eighties and loving them for unexplainable reasons. Even the lighthearted Remington Steele and Moonlighting had an enigmatic quality that I couldn't put into words. It wasn't until years later that I would learn about film noir. By the time I saw Chinatown (on VHS because I was too young when it came out on the big screen), I could discern — and articulate — the elements that put it under the film noir umbrella. So, when I saw the Jessica Jones trailer, I had the words to explain why I was riveted despite not having heard of the character before.
According to the backstory, Jessica Jones' father worked for Tony Stark who gave the family tickets to Disneyland. On the drive home, the family car figured in an accident with a military convoy carrying radioactive chemicals. Jessica was the only survivor. Her exposure to the radioactive chemicals left her with super strength and the ability to fly. She later became part of the New Avengers. It's quite a long backstory, I'm hardly an authority on Marvel superheroes, so, suffice to say that the TV series begins after Jessica Jones had left the New Avengers to try to live a "normal" life by opening Alias Investigations.
Season One of Jessica Jones is everything that the trailer promised — dark, sexy and violent. Set in modern-day New York City, Jessica is hired to find a missing college student, Hope Shlottman. The case leads her to an old nemesis (and lover), Kilgrave, who has the ability to control people to make them do as he says. Like Hope who was Kilgrave's unwilling lover until Jessica forcibly took her, Jessica was once under the power of Kilgrave.
Despite being a Marvel character, the series is by no means meant for a young audience. Although Jessica Jones is the protagonist and clearly the "good guy", there is no attempt to wrap her into a neat little package that is more in tune with the acceptable bounds of morality. Netflix's Jessica Jones is a hard-drinking eccentric woman perpetually in leather jacket, jeans and boots. She is not at peace with the world and its inhabitants.
But Jessica Jones Season One delivered more. Krysten Ritter as the reluctant superhero was more than adequate — she is compelling and captivating. She is attractive in an I-don't-give-a-shit kind of way and tough but emotionally vulnerable. Many of the actors in the supporting cast are familiar faces including Mike Colter (who played Lemond Bishop, the underworld kingpin, in The Good Wife) as Luke Cage, the man with unbreakable skin. Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity in The Matrix trilogy) is Jeri Hogarth, a lawyer who hires Jessica for some cases. Harry Potter fans will probably recognize Kilgrave as the actor who played Barty Crouch Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; his name is David Tennant.