‘Jessica Jones’ Boss on Casting Krysten Ritter, Luke Cage Overlap and …

20 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

David Tennant’s villain voice speaks volumes for ‘Jessica Jones’.

They say good things come to those who wait… and while there’s still a few hours to go until Marvel’s Jessica Jones officially hits Netflix, fans can now watch the series’ opening titles. In comic books, there is a trope called “women in refrigerators.” Coined by writer Gail Simone, it refers to how superheroes are often spurred to action after the women in their lives are injured, raped or murdered (it specifically references a 1994 issue of Green Lantern in which the title hero finds the corpse of his girlfriend stuffed into a fridge).I realize HBO regularly cleans up during awards season, but the fact that none of the creators or cast of this deep, dark and consistently brilliant comedy has gotten an Emmy remains one of life’s great mysteries.David Tennant’s Kilgrave in Marvel’s Jessica Jones (debuting on Netflix Friday) is a supervillain who controls people through his words, so finding the right tone in his voice was of utmost importance for the Scottish actor. Released via Twitter with the tease, “A little something to get you through the next twelve hours,” the stylized opening showcases the show’s darker vibe while paying homage to its comic book counterpart.

It is an extreme example, but an apt one, of how comics once treated women: as second-class characters and plot devices, worthy of exploitation and degradation. Set in the geriatric extended-care wing of a low-rent hospital, the series fearlessly and hilariously explores the furthest borders of both the workplace comedy and our many, and often absurd, attitudes toward the elderly and chronically ill. His natural accent is liltingly Glaswegian, but Kilgrave sounds a little more British and closer to Tennant’s time-traveling sci-fi icon on Doctor Who. (The Doctor, though he has his issues, is at least a lot nicer than Kilgrave). “One of the problems with English accents is that every one of them has some kind of connotation of class, whether its lower, middle or upper. Krysten Ritter stars as the titular hero, along with Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth, Mike Colter as Luke Cage, Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker, and David Tennant as Kilgrave (a.k.a. Matters have improved considerably over the past two decades, yet the industry’s once-regressive attitude strangely latched itself to the current comics-movie boom, which kicked off with 2008’s Iron Man.

We have films starring brooding men in capes fighting evildoers who harmed their lady loves, yet there has been exactly zero films starring a female superhero (although at least one starring a talking tree). Every major network has some sort of supercharged crusader: ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; NBC’s Heores Reborn; Fox’s Lucifer and Gotham; CW’s Arrow, The Flash and D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow; and the aforementioned female Kryptonian on CBS. To rectify the imbalance, Marvel is launching Jessica Jones, the studio’s first woman-led superhero project (albeit as a series on Netflix, rather than a full-scale film, which happens to be the same trick DC Comics is pulling off with its Supergirl series on CBS). The saving grace of Jones probably lies in not being on network television, which allows executive producers Melissa Rosenberg, Liz Friedman and Jeph Loeb to tell a grittier story filled with murder, sex, violence, drug addicts and emotional abuse.

Estranged from stepsister Trish (Rachael Taylor), a radio talk show host, Jessica is just trying to recover from a tragic incident in her past, instigated by the shadowy Kilgrave (David Tennant). The title character here is not waiting to be saved, but the one doing the saving, all the while fighting everyone from low-level Hell’s Kitchen thugs to one of Marvel’s most disturbing supervillains. “Joining the show meant being part of a much bigger conversation, because we’ve never seen this kind of badass in a female form before,” says Krysten Ritter, the former Breaking Bad regular who plays Jessica with a wry mix of sarcasm and scorn. “This is thrilling and exciting and genre-busting for Marvel, but it’s also something different, too – this isn’t the big, colourful explosions of the Avengers films.” Indeed, and here is where Jessica Jones unevenly tries to be both a groundbreaking piece of pop culture and a concession to the way things are.

Owing more to Tony Soprano, Jane Tennison and “Orphan Black” than Iron Man, Black Widow and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Jessica Jones” is Marvel’s first foray into prestige drama. As the series progresses, we do learn a little bit of his backstory and I wanted to keep that shrouded in mystery as long as I possibly could.” Kilgrave’s vocals are also important because you hear the character before you actually meet him. Unlike Marvel’s big-screen efforts, and even Jones’s sister Netflix series Daredevil, the new series is both a comic-book property and something else entirely. Tennant likes what Jessica Jones does in letting viewers experience Kilgrave’s effect on Krysten Ritter’s title PI: “At first, you’re not even sure if he’s around at all, whether he’s in Jessica’s imagination. But far more breathtaking is the show’s examination of recovery: How does a woman truly survive a sexually, emotionally and physically abusive relationship?

With big eyes, full mouth and the deadpan delivery of a 1940s movie star, star Krysten Ritter slides into the role of the hard-boiled private detective (crappy office, smart mouth, penchant for hard liquor) as easily as Jessica slides into her black leather jacket and jeans. MY SAY “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” succeeds in all sorts of ways, especially the one that counts most: Ritter just might be the shrewdest casting move of the season, maybe several seasons, because she so fully inhabits the multidimensional Jones. She ends up saving people, sometimes reluctantly, but anyone expecting the female equivalent of Iron Man’s pyrotechnics should adjust their expectations. She’s the quintessential tough girl with the heart of gold, prowling the mean streets of New York with an eye on a quick buck, but also the fallen sparrow. We hear from multiple characters that Jones tried her hand at the tights and cape racket only to wash out and end up using her skills to do the dirty work of a private investigator.

As Ritter says, the show is more an “intimate, grounded psychological thriller” than a flashy Avengers-style romp, and it’s not as if the world is short on the latter. In addition to its lack of spandex and superheroics (would you abide a Superman series in which Kal-El refused to wear a cape or leap tall buildings in a single bound?), the series spends a healthy amount of time building the narrative of Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Jessica’s sometimes love who also possesses a unique set of super-skills. The reason is that Jessica Jones is another classic Stan Lee Marvel superhuman who tends to be more “human” than “super.” She’s lonely, embittered, cynical, fearful, guilty and angry. This can all be justified in a corporate sense – as Luke, Jessica, Daredevil and Iron Fist eventually team up to form The Defenders, which will be a standalone Netflix series in the near future – but to shoehorn a male hero’s journey into Jessica’s is its own kind of dastardly villainy.

There could not be a better time for Amazon to debut Frank Spotnitz’s serialized vision of “The Man in the High Castle.” As anger and fear sparked by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris cause many to weigh the value of democracy against the need for safety, here is a carefully crafted, admirably objective and chillingly prescient vision of American fascism. It almost goes without saying that she’s a commitment-phobe, but there’s yearning in Ritter’s portrayal alongside a fundamental human need for love — and to love. Seeing the deep hurt, which is portrayed better through Ritter’s eyes than the sometimes heavy handed dialogue, audience members don’t know whether to cheer for her to succeed or snap out of it. That’s mostly shrouded behind the tough talk and tougher moves, making Jones a mystery woman who’s unwilling — or unable — to yield her secrets.

A self imposed isolation from her friends and neighbors makes Jones unsympathetic to start, but discovering the impetus for that unnerving loneliness imbues the character with a pathos Kara Zor-El Danvers won’t ever be able to achieve. Or rather, after Germany and Japan have won World War II — Italy does not appear to have a presence in the former United States of America, now divided into the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States, which are separated by a “Neutral Zone” that runs through Western states including Colorado and Wyoming. She’s a direct descendant of those classic private eyes from the ’40s — a female Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade — who’s good at investigating others, not so good at investigating themselves. With just the occasional stumble (ahem, the first half of Season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), they’ve done a fantastic job of world building on multiple platforms. The campy, world-destroying romps that invade theaters every other summer feel like the antidote to the bitter pill of the Marvel TV canon filled with tragic origin stories and newly minted heroes dealing with the aftermath of all that carnage.

The mournfully sinister rendition of “Edelweiss” that accompanies the opening credits, the sight of the swastika emblazoned on the buildings in Times Square, the Japanese flag above San Francisco storefronts, the unavoidable military presence in both cities are all breathtaking in both the artistic and horrifying sense. The story revolves around a disparate group of characters brought together by a set of banned film reels that depict (in actual historic footage) images of the Allies winning the war.

Jones still retains Marvel’s wry, comic touch without sacrificing the seriousness of what it must be like to live in a world where heroes are saviors or the enemy depending on which block you live on when the buildings start to tumble. Ritter does her best with material, which can go comic-booky from time to time, but her chemistry crackles with co-stars Tennant and Mike Colter, diverging from story to offer plenty of TV-MA scenes.

Jones’ arc somewhat mirrors Spider-Man because, as Uncle Ben pointed out, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The two diverge on implementation of the credo because Jones has seen how much damage someone can do with intention of doing good. This is a psychological thriller, and the story’s driven by the same tropes that drive so much of that genre, going back to Hitchcock: Obsession, paranoia, grief, mind-control and guilt. Showrunners take their sweet time building up to answering the philosophical questions because they want you fully on board for whatever our leading lady chooses.

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