Marvel’s Jessica Jones was released on Netflix last Friday morning, and it’s an instant smash hit. In fact, in terms of story-telling, I dare say its Marvel’s best performance to date. Krysten Ritter plays the titular character Jessica Jones flawlessly. Ritter is able to convey the multi-layered former superhero turned private investigator with such poise and determination that by the end we forget that this is just one small, personal story part of a larger and much grander universe.
And this is where Marvel is sabotaging itself.
Marvel’s Lack of Interconnectivity
All the reviews for Jessica Jones, so far, have been overwhelmingly positive. Be that as it may, as I binge-watched the show, I couldn’t help but think there was something missing. This isn’t a knock against Jessica Jones, but rather an indictment of how Marvel is choosing to place Jessica Jones (from this point forward referred to as “JJ”) in the context of the larger Marvel universe, particularly in relationship to Marvel’s other Netflix TV property, Daredevil (DD).
Forbes’ Paul Tassi raised a point in his article about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and Marvel’s decision to intentionally downplay the interconnectivity of the MCU as it relates to JJ.
I say intentionally downplay well…intentionally. There are a few scattered references to the larger MCU, but they are done in such a way that’s awkward and, quite frankly, self-sabotaging. The Hulk is mentioned indirectly once or twice but always as “the big green guy” or some variation. Captain America is referenced a couple times as “the flag-waver” and through the presence of a random kid running in the middle of the road in a Captain America costume. It’s as if the Avengers became Voldemort, and people are too afraid to speak their names. The invasion of New York, which was the major, climactic battle in the first Avengers film, is only referred to as “the incident.” The incident? Seriously? Bumping into a television at an electronic store causing it to fall and break is an incident. This was an invasion of a major city where hundreds, if not thousands, of people died, millions of dollars of property were destroyed, and a freaking nuke was launched through a wormhole destroying an enemy fleet. At least DD used the attack as a backdrop to its storyline. JJ simply relegates it to one line. It seems to me that Marvel is trying very hard to get the audience to forget the rest of the MCU exists.
Speaking of Daredevil, where the hell was he? DD supposedly takes place before JJ, and he operates in the same damn neighborhood as JJ. However, we hear nothing about him. Not a passing reference in a newspaper, not on television in the background, not a line of dialogue, nothing to suggest that a vigilante in a mask was assaulting bad guys in the neighborhood. Between the dead bodies dropping all over Hell’s Kitchen, an explosion at a bar, reports from dozens of people claiming they were the victims of mind control, and some of those same people in jail who need a good lawyer, you’d think DD, his alter-ego, Matthew Murdock, or even Foggy Nelson would show up to investigate at least once. They don’t. We finally get a DD crossover when Rosario Dawson’s Night Nurse makes a cameo appearance in the final JJ episode, where she makes mention of a “friend,” but not the guy in the red suit, himself. I think there were more sightings of Santa Claus on this show than DD.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the only TV show, so far, with any significant crossover between the TV and film aspects of the MCU. Its freshman season was completely upended with the incorporation of the HYDRA conspiracy from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and, the events on S.H.I.E.L.D., the discovery of Baron Strucker and the location of Loki’s scepter, were what kick started the plot of Age of Ultron. Despite these connections, SHIELD still tries to downplay the world Marvel has built. For reasons I still don’t understand, Agent Coulson is still hiding his resurrection from the Avengers. Other than Nick Fury, Maria Hill, and Lady Sif there have been no major characters from the films on the show. Neither Matthew Murdock, Jessica Jones, nor Luke Cage appears on S.H.I.E.L.D’s Index, a list of people with superpowers or enhanced abilities.
By contrast, Warner Bros. and DC are pushing the interconnectivity of their TV universes to the next level. In addition to the frequent crossovers between Arrow and The Flash, the CW is about to launch the next spin-off, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which is touted as a crossover every week starring many of the characters from the two aforementioned shows. The villain of Legends, Vandal Savage, is making his debut on The Flash today as part of a two-part crossover event with Arrow before the show launches in January. CBS’ Supergirl has launched its premiere season to rave reviews, and, even though it currently operates as its own entity, Greg Berlanti, the brain behind DC’s budding TV universe, has stated he is open to the possibility of a crossover between Supergirl and The Flash and Arrow.
From the get-go, DC established their connected TV universe by having Barry Allen appear on season 2 of Arrow and having Oliver Queen as the Arrow helping Barry through his crisis of confidence in the pilot episode of The Flash. At the mid-way point last season, The Arrow and The Flash met on both of their respective shows for that season’s major two-part crossover event, where they battled each other in a believable way that would make any comic-book fan gleeful. There were even a few back-and-forth debates on the show about who would win in a fight that mirror the many debates on the internet and at comic-cons when two superheroes clash (think Batman versus Superman or Batman versus any super-powered hero). Hell! Warner Bros. even brought over a popular character from a canceled show on a different network in the form of John Constantine to make a cameo appearance on Arrow. An episode that received higher than average ratings and viewers in the key 18-49 year-old demographic, I might add. Although, we did get a nice tussle between JJ and Luke Cage, it was nothing compared to the fight between The Flash and The Arrow.
Since the launch of The Flash, there have been dozens of instances, major and minor, demonstrating each show is part of a much bigger universe. For example, at the end of Arrow’s season 4 premiere, Oliver Queen, disguised in his costume, makes an announcement on television declaring his arrival as the Green Arrow to Star City and his intention to save the city. That same speech was in the background of the next episode of The Flash, reminding viewers that there is a larger world out there, it is all connected, and other things are happening in this world at the same time.
That is the core of DC’s strength when it comes to its television properties. The synergy that develops between its various television shows by having frequent crossovers strengthens them as solo spectacles. It adds another dimension to them from a story-telling standpoint while putting their individual conflicts in perspective. Was Barry Allen’s hunt to find his mother’s killer hurt by making a trip to Starling City to help out his friend Oliver Queen? Of course not. In fact, by making that trip to Starling, Barry saw the toll being a hero took on Oliver when it came to his humanity. It contrasted perfectly with how Barry viewed himself as a hero versus Oliver. The two learned from each other by being each other’s support system. No one is arguing that these crossovers carried the weight for the individual shows and that the characters couldn’t stand alone. The Flash is the highest rated comic book show on television and seems to be getting better and better with every episode. It doesn’t need Arrow’s help. The Flash has also introduced the concept of the multiverse, meaning its possible all of DC’s properties, Gotham, Supergirl, the upcoming DC Expanded Universe starting with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, the Nolan Batman trilogy, the Burton/Schumacher Batman films, the original Superman films, and even those short-lived DC shows, such as Birds of Prey, could all be connected in DC’s multiverse. Will that happen? Probably not, but a fanboy can dream!
How Marvel Can Improve
I understand Marvel’s desire to want their characters to be able to tell their own stories and survive and thrive on their own merits; however, they shouldn’t be so quick to isolate their characters from each other. They don’t on the movie side (Ant-Man’s Falcon cameo anyone?). Marvel is intentionally hamstringing itself and limiting its potential by doing so. In fact, some of its MCU films, such as the Thor flicks, the Iron Man sequels, and Age of Ultron, have received only average ratings as individual films, but, as part of a larger story, they’ve still made hundreds of millions. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s freshman season was struggling until the crossover with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Jessica Jones is a thirteen episode season with around fifty minutes an episode. A five minute conversation between Jessica Jones and Daredevil, with the former telling the latter to stay out of the hunt for Kilgrave, wouldn’t have killed them. It would’ve been a great teaser for The Defenders as a demonstration of the potential chemistry between DD and JJ as future crime-fighting teammates. Marvel has spent nearly a decade and billions of dollars building a beautiful cinematic universe. It shouldn’t be afraid to utilize it.