You didn’t read the headline wrong. I’ve really never seen a Marvel movie, but Jessica Jones is changing my mind about superheroes.
There is one amendment to my statement about Marvel movies. Back when it first came out on DVD, I watched the first twenty minutes of Iron Man. Maybe that wasn’t the best Marvel movie for me to start with, because all I could think after watching it was “meh.” I didn’t find anything about it interesting.
That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed my share of superhero content. Like everyone else, I loved Wonder Woman when I saw it this summer. I enjoy the DC shows like Supergirl and The Flash on the CW. I’ve just never found my way back to a Marvel movie since my experience with Iron Man.
Marvel TV shows, though? Apparently that’s my superhero sweet spot. And now that you all know my secret fandom shame, let’s focus on the important part of this story. Jessica Jones is amazing.
Here are three things I loved about Jessica Jones despite never having seen a Marvel movie.
If there is anything Jessica Jones has done different than the Marvel movies so far, it’s putting a woman in charge. Where other Marvel properties have often fallen short, Jessica Jones delivers a strong female character as the lead in her own show.
Look, I’m just going to come out and say it: watching a bunch of men save the world isn’t my idea of a great time. It’s the reason I never got into superhero movies in the first place. We see men in positions of power all the time in movies. Putting it on a grand scale with world-shattering stakes doesn’t add any appeal for me.
There is nothing wrong with male superheroes, but as a woman I don’t find them empowering or inspiring. I find them kind of boring. That’s why seeing a woman like Jessica Jones lead a series feels so important to me. I can identify with Jessica in ways I can’t identify with other superheroes. A woman in power isn’t something I get to see as often as I’d like.
To its credit, Jessica Jones sure brings the girl power. Jessica is strong (thanks only in part to superpowers), smart, and beautiful. She makes a living using her smarts as a private investigator. Eventually, she uses her skills for bigger cases like taking down Kilgrave. I loved watching every minute of it.
An Imperfect Hero
There is something to be said for heroes who stand as pillars of goodness, like many traditional superheroes do. That kind of hero can be someone to look up to and draw inspiration from. Jessica Jones isn’t exactly that kind of hero. As powerful as she is, she is far from perfect.
In fact, Jessica is imperfect and messy. The show makes a point to showcase these characteristics when Jessica is introduced in the first episode. She runs out of toilet paper in her apartment while on the toilet. Her apartment door is broken, unleveled and patched up with a piece of cardboard. She lies and spies on people to get her job done.
As a self-descriptor Jessica says she “excels at finding the worst in people.” The darkness she carries inside allows her to recognize it in others and use it to take them down. As a private investigator, her main client is reluctant to give her more work because she sees Jessica as “erratic” and “volatile.” These attributes allow Jessica to make the tough decisions and perform the difficult actions that make her a hero in the end.
That picture of a hero is just as necessary and valid as any other. Imperfect heroes show us that we don’t have to be perfect to do good. They make goodness feel more attainable. Jessica Jones makes me feel like I can stand up against injustices I see, even if I can’t fix the world.
Though Netflix has blurred the lines of what exactly constitutes a television show these days, TV has always been my preferred medium because of its episodic storytelling. There are a lot of advantages that gives TV shows, but there are a few reasons it serves Jessica Jones especially well.
First, the long-form storytelling of an entire series allows for greater emotional investment. The total run time for the first season of Jessica Jones is over 11 hours long. That’s much longer than any Marvel movie! Investing that much time in one story allows viewers to invest more of their feelings into Jessica’s story. That kind of investment is powerful with an imperfect hero like Jessica.
The fact that audiences watch TV in their homes, in their bedrooms even, makes the medium more intimate, too. It makes a villain like Kilgrave — who uses psychological violence against their victims — even more terrifying because it brings him into intimate and vulnerable places in people’s lives.
Releasing a story episodically also allows for devices like slow reveals and ambiguity that are not always allowed in movies. We’re dropped suddenly into Jessica’s world, but we get to orient ourselves to it slowly.
We don’t necessarily identify the villain or the allies right away. A character like Hope Schlottman is a victim in one episode, an opposition in another, and ambiguous in all the episodes in between. For me, these kind of nuances allowed by TV make a superhero story more compelling.
I know some of the reasons I loved Jessica Jones are unique to her story. That’s part of what makes the show special. The show has also opened my eyes to what I may be missing in the MCU. I think I might be ready to give Marvel movies another chance, and it’s all thanks to Jessica Jones.