Jupiter's Legacy

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Josh Duhamel in Jupiter's Legacy.
Josh Duhamel in Jupiter's Legacy.
Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix

SHOW:

Jupiter's Legacy

WHERE TO WATCH:

Netflix

OUR RATING:

2/5 Stars

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

After saving the world for ninety-plus years, the Superman-like Utopian and his fellow superheroes are challenged by the rise of much graver threats and a younger generation of superheroes who no longer want to follow their predecessors no-killing code. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

It's impossible to properly view Jupiter's Legacy without noticing the huge amount of baggage it brings with it – and that's not even including the fact that it has effectively already been cancelled with another show set in the same world, Supercrooks, scheduled to take its place at some point.

First, yes, this is yet another superhero TV show. And why not? The superhero genre is pretty versatile, with all sorts of stories being able to be told within its wide scope. It certainly has way more storytelling potential than the myriad medical and cop shows that still flood the airwaves. What it does mean, though, is that new superhero shows need to do a lot to stand out from the crowd – especially when that crowd includes the likes of Wandavision, Watchmen, The Boys and Invincible. Frankly, there's a reason why the CW network's line of DC superhero shows ("The Arrowverse") is bleeding viewers.

Jupiter's Legacy's biggest problem – among many – is that it does very little to set itself apart.

Deconstructed superhero stories are a dime a dozen at this point, even on screen, and there's a fundamental misunderstanding about why the best of those work. They, and most especially the MacDaddy of them all, Watchmen, only really work when most superhero stories are not like them. When you get right down to it, they are there to offer a new perspective on the old and tired superhero formula, but there's a reason why unabashed superhero stories have resonated for some eight-five years now.

Why Jupiter's Legacy, the comic, really works in a way that the show very much doesn't is that it's a series that very specifically combines superhero deconstruction with a sense of reconstruction that reminds readers that even though Mark Millar has been mining the whole "superheroes as real people" shtick for most of his career, he started off his career doing brilliant work writing traditional Superman stories in the print tie-in comic to Superman: The Animated Series. It's certainly why Jupiter's Legacy and its prequel Jupiter's Circle are probably my favourite creator-owned Mark Millar works to date.

The TV show, however, which was developed by TV veteran Steven S DeKnight (Angel, Daredevil, Spartacus) and showrun by Sang Kyu Kim (Altered Carbon, Designated Survivor) after DeKnight bailed, having just written the first and last episodes of the season, has none of that sense of purpose; none of that sense that this isn't just another "superheroes in the real world would suck" story.

It's no secret that the entire first (and now only) season of Jupiter's Legacy is only an adaptation of, roughly, the first two issues of the comic, and though it spends a lot of time expanding on those two issues, it somehow missed the main question at the heart of the series: if superheroes existed, would they serve humanity better as passive reactors (the usual superhero model) or as active world-changers? It's the sort of premise that is perhaps harder to turn into a convincing metaphor for real-world issues in a way than, say, a secret identity is – without that metaphorical aspect that is at the heart of superhero stories, it's basically just fanboyish speculation that doesn't actually mean anything – but it basically works in the comic book specifically by mixing Millar's tendencies towards cynicism and his love of superhero optimism.       

The TV show simply fails to convince either as a classic superhero story or as a more cynical superhero satire like The Boys and instead feels like a murky, bland hodgepodge of the two. In large part, this has to do with a distinct lack of focus as the series shifts from the present to the depression-era past to give us a drawn-out exploration of where this world's super-beings got their powers.

Presumably, this was done to provide audiences with a better understanding of these characters, their relationships and the world they inhabit, but it lands up failing to do over eight hour(ish)-long episodes what the comic book did in a few pages. It meanders all over the place delivering exposition-heavy stage-setting and boring soap opera for hours on end, but by the time the big twist at the end of the final episode comes along, it feels like it comes almost completely out of nowhere.   

And, unfortunately, this level of incompetence is prevalent in just about every aspect of the series. It's generally pretty badly written with humourless, clunky dialogue that brings to mind the Arrowverse shows at their worst but with none of the gee-whizz optimism that saves these shows even at their most naff.

Also, for a show that's specifically called Jupiter's Legacy, it really drops the ball with the legacy superheroes: the children of the first and second-generation superheroes that are supposed to be at the centre of the story. While the Utopian and his colleagues are given at least some dimension in their characterisation, the younger generation are never anything more than a stray cliché – the son who can't live up to his father's example, the famous daughter who rebels against her more famous parents, the concerned friend who knew the famous daughter from way back when, the child of a criminal with a major chip on his shoulder... they're all there, and none are given even a hint of development beyond their respective character types.

The acting seldom rises above "pretty good" and is often quite terrible, especially from those in smaller roles, and the effects, fight choreography, and hair and makeup are frequently well below par – sometimes laughably so. It all comes across as alarmingly cheap for something that cost something like $200 million (R2.8 billion).  

And that's the most befuddling part about it. The deal that Netflix made with Mark Millar to bring his "Millarworld" comics to the big screen was presumably the result of the commercial and critical success of past adaptations of his work, but none of the demented pop energy, irreverence, creativity, stylishness, and vitality of films like Kick-Ass, Kingsmen, even Wanted, is evident in a single frame of Jupiter's Legacy. These past adaptations may have spawned infinitely inferior sequels, but they were all better than their source material – even the hilariously daft Wanted was a huge improvement on Millar's genuinely hateful (but beautifully rendered) graphic novel – and, in the hands of someone like Matthew Vaughn, genuine cult classics.

It may not be the worst thing on Netflix, but Jupiter's Legacy is one of the most perplexing, misjudged and mishandled comic book adaptations since Zack Snyder decided that morose mopiness was the key to a big screen reboot of Superman. If Netflix and Millar really intend to go forward with more series set in this world – and that seems to be the plan – they really need to go back and start the whole thing again from scratch.  

Until then, at least we still have the comics.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:

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