Now we’ve seen not 1, but 2 of Marvel’s Netflix series' – how do they compare against one another?
THE CENTRAL CHARACTERS
Both #Daredevil and #JessicaJones are character studies, focused as much upon the villain as the hero. In the case of Daredevil, the series focused in upon Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock and Vincent D’Onofrio’s mercurial Kingpin, a frequently brutal struggle for power that involved some superb action scenes. In contrast, Jessica Jones showcases a much more psychological conflict between Krysten Ritter’s Jessica and David Tennant’s terrifying Kilgrave. Both featured villains far more developed than anything Marvel have previously produced, with the show's greatly enjoying the opportunity a series format gave them for character development.
In the case of the Kingpin, his amoral visionary character is fascinating, and until the final episode he doesn’t even realize his own evil.
“It means that I’m not the Samaritan. That I’m not the priest, or the Levite. That I am the ill intent who set upon the traveller on a road that he should not have been on.”
D’Onofrio portrays Wilson Fisk with tremendous style, showing a man with supreme confidence in his vision and authority – but critically weakened, both by his own anger and the frustrating presence of the vigilante in Hell’s Kitchen. There are moments of true gruesomeness, including a certain moment with a car door, and when the story comes to a head you’re ready for some serious action.
In contrast, Tennant’s Kilgrave is a wonderfully psychotic character, a man used to getting his own way now frustrated by the single woman who defies him. The story of Jessica Jones is like a great game of chess, with everyone just a pawn to Kilgrave’s control, and fittingly the conclusion – while it still does have a lot of action – really involves Kilgrave being outsmarted rather than anything else. There are moments that are seriously creepy, too; for me, the cliffhanger was his purchase of Jessica's childhood home.
The heroes are equally well-developed. Charlie Cox’s Daredevil is a brilliantly layered man who questions his own heroism, while Jessica Jones is a disturbed woman who tried that game but had life tear it out of her. Jessica Jones feels like an honest portrayal of one very screwed-up young woman who’s suffered a great deal, and is trying to pull the pieces of her life together in the face of a terrifying threat. For all their stories and characters are different, though, both seem to be on a similar journey:
“They say everyone’s born a hero. But if you let it, life will push you over the line until you’re the villain. Problem is, you don't always know that you’ve crossed that line. Maybe it’s enough that the world thinks I’m a hero.”
My winner? JESSICA JONES!
SUPPORTING CAST AND SUBPLOTS
Where the series differ, though, is in their treatment of the supporting cast and subplots. Here, Jessica Jones comes off the weaker, in spite of Mike Colter’s tremendous Luke Cage and Rachael Taylor’s brilliant Trish Walker. Unfortunately the plot around Erin Moriarty’s Hope Shlottman felt dragged out, while the divorce plot slips in and out of focus in a way that risks interrupting the series’s flow. In contrast, the supporting cast of Daredevil all stand strong, particularly the arc based on Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page. Daredevil keeps its subplots in focus at all times, with every subplot transitioning smoothly as the series goes on.
My winner? DAREDEVIL!
THE FUTURE DIRECTION OF THE SERIES
Another key issue is the future of both series. Daredevil sets up a premise where the show can move seamlessly forward, dropping hints of mysticism that seem to set up wider Marvel-Netflix plots. Jessica Jones, in contrast, sets up the forthcoming Luke Cage series perfectly, but then digresses in preparing a plot in which Jessica will explore her origin story and her ties to Wil Traval’s Simpson. Unfortunately, I can’t quite see how that plot could possibly retain the style and tone of the first series; it looks as though any Jessica Jones Season 2 could be a different beast entirely to the psychological thriller-ride we just experienced.
My winner? DAREDEVIL!
SUPER POWERS AND FIGHT SCENES
We’re now getting used to the way Marvel-Netflix will work; the superheroes we see here will typically be low-budget, with precious little special effects to them. You’re not going to see Thunder Gods and super-speedsters; you’re going to see super-strength and radar sense. Daredevil’s radar sense is tremendously effective, while Jessica Jones wisely veers away from mere physicality when it explores the implications of super-strength or unbreakable skin. That said, there’s one moment of super-leaping that felt vaguely cringeworthy to me.
Daredevil’s action and fight scenes are a joy to behold, totally gritty and with lots of marvelous choreography. In contrast, Jessica Jones’s fight scenes are sometimes quite clumsy, but they become more fluid and skillful as the series runs on, as though the whole team are becoming more comfortable with the way they’re wanting to pull them off.
MY WINNER? DAREDEVIL!
Ultimately, then, for me, Daredevil stands as the better season – but it’s actually a pretty close call, because the central cast of Jessica Jones is so effective.