Julien Neaves, Editor
Superheroes. They’re everywhere these days. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to launch Phase 4 of their movies and are basically printing money at this point. The DC Extended Universe is in a bit of a slump but the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League has kept DC in the spotlight (outside of some really great animated films). But there are other comic book companies outside of the big two and they have been making a splash on the small screen by exploring the more mature corner of the tights-and-flights genre. Amazon has been having success with live action series The Boys (Dynamite Entertainment) and animated series Invincible (Image Comics).
Well Netflix has been making some noise in the adult superhero market with the series Jupiter’s Legacy which is based on the comic of the same name (also from Image Comics) written by Mark Millar and part of a deal between Millar and Netflix to adapt properties from his Millarworld company. Jupiter’s Legacy centres on an aged superhero called the Utopian and his struggles with a dark conspiracy as well as his adult children (who also have super powers). With a planet-sized SPOILER ALERT here’s my review in three punches:
Punch 1: Super Characters
You know how I mentioned The Boys and Invincible? Well both those series had a Superman-esque character. And guess what? Jupiter Legacy’s Utopian is cut from the same blue and red cloth, though a much lighter version of the Man of Steel than those two. It makes one wonder how many Superman-inspired characters there are flying around the place. I would wager there are a lot. But it is always an intriguing concept to deconstruct the archetypal superhero, and to Jupiter Legacy’s credit they don’t go the “What if Superman was evil?” route. On the contrary, Utopian is a hero who lives by a Code and it is one all Union members must adhere to—”we don’t govern” and “we don’t kill”. The Code becomes the major plot thread that runs throughout the series. The show has a lot of characters (a bit too many if you ask me, and you’re reading this so I will assume you are) but the Utopian and his family are the core of the story, so let’s chat about them first.
Josh Duhamel plays Utopian aka Sheldon Sampson in both the modern day, aged-superhero version and the younger version in 1929. And the dichotomy of the two performances is indicative of the dichotomy in the quality (and my personal enjoyment) of the show. I’m not familiar with a lot of Duhamel’s work outside of his paint-by-numbers appearances in the Transformers franchise but I enjoyed him as the older Utopian. There was a world-weariness and a flawed humanity to him that I found compelling. But the younger version of Sampson? I found him flat, one-note, and kinda whiny. It was almost like two completely different people. It’s Shazam and Billy Batson in Shazam! all over again. Thankfully British actor Ben Daniels (The Crown) and Leslie Bibb (Popular, Iron Man) were splendid in both the young and old versions of Walter Sampson aka Brainwave and Grace Kennedy-Sampson aka Lady Liberty respectively. The two of them easily gave the best performances of the season.
Sadly I can’t speak too well about Andrew Horton as Brandon Sampson aka Paragon nor Elena Kampouris as Chloe Sampson aka Miss I Don’t Wanna Be No Stinking Superhero. Brandon seems like he has one-and-half-emotions over the eight episodes and Horton sapped the energy from every scene he was in. Kampouris does the best with her role but the issue with Chloe is the writing. The whole “rebellious teenager hooked on drugs” archetype has been done to death and while her wild, drug-fueled, superpowered antics made for moderately entertaining drama I could not bring myself to care about her. To make the character work and for the audience to sympathise with her the writing had to be brilliant and incisive. Instead she is a walking repository of clichés and an insufferable brat. The apple really fell far from the tree here.
We have a slew of other characters beyond the Sampson family, including a few that just pop up and then disappear. Of the heroes that got a reasonable amount of screen time my favourites were the thoughtful Fitz Small aka The Flare, the flambouyant George Hutchence, George’s criminal son Hutch with his super cool teleportation rod (more on him later), and stoic and super deadly assassin Raikou. But there are a few of them that felt sorely undeveloped including The Flare II, Ghost Beam, Tectonic, Flaming Fist, and Phase Out. I’m sure even if you watched the series you wouldn’t be able the name these guys at a glance. And other than The Flare II all of them were brutally killed (Ghost Beam by Baryon and the rest by faux-Blackstar in the first episode) but I did not shed a tear for any nor did I care. Even the villains barely got anything to do and I would have loved to have seen more of Tyler Mane’s sarcastic Blackstar (the real one this time) and the cool-looking Baryon. But nope. Just a flash in the pan. The first season felt overstuffed with characters and like it was trying to do too much. At least the costumes looked cool, overly-large codpieces notwithstanding.
Punch 2: Super Action (Kinda)
I’m not going to spend too much time here on the action point because there’s not that much to talk about. For anyone who hasn’t seen the series (and if so, why are you reading a spoiler review? But you do you. I ain’t here to judge) and is going in expecting a superhero action-filled extravaganza then expect to be disappointed. There’s just not a lot of action here. The most epic battle is actually at the end of the first episode, and admittedly that was pretty cool. And we got to see Paragon smash faux-Blackstar’s head in, which was fun. But for the rest of the series we just get some quick skirmishes, with Lady Liberty versus Baryon being a highlight. Oh, and Raikou slashing up those guys was entertaining as well. And it is in the bloody violence that the show really earns its 16+ rating. The lack of action could have been a budget thing but when you spend so much time listening to people talking and talking and talking you just want some fisticuffs to liven things up.
But overall there is not a whole lot to sink your teeth into here in terms of action. And on the powers side there wasn’t much we haven’t seen before. Flight, super strength, telepathy, light powers, the usual stuff. The most interesting use of powers was actually by a non-superhero—Hutch with his teleportation rod. I just loved him teleporting all over the place and his chill attitude. And when he ditched his “no-kill rule” (Utopian and Batman would not be pleased) and sent the one guy to shark-infested waters and then sent the rod into the Big Man’s heart? Man, that was just 12 flavours of awesome sauce. Could we have a Hutch spin-off, because man I like that dude. And anybody else thinks Ian Quinlan as Hutch looks like the Weeknd? Just me? Okay.
Punch 3: (Not so) Super Story
I was talking about dichotomy earlier but nowhere is that more apparent than in the plot structure. I get that they wanted to tell the origin story of the Utopian and the first Union members but my goodness, switching back and forth from 1929 to modern times was just jarring, and not just because of the different time periods. The first half of the origin story felt like a weird, horror thriller drama and I kind of just slogged throughout. Things improved somewhat when they realised Sheldon actually wasn’t crazy and began their quest but even then the story just wasn’t that interesting. And I hoped beyond hope that the origin story would tie in to the modern-day happenings in a significant way but other than serving as extremely long (and oftentimes dull) exposition and establishing that Walter has been jealous of Sheldon the connection is tenuous at best. I think the origin story could and should have been pared down, especially with so much else going on in the modern-day setting.
And we’ll get to old Walt in a minute but let’s talk about all the things happening in the modern day period. You have the faux-Blackstar mystery. You have the Sheldon-Brandon stuff. You have the Sheldon-Chloe stuff. You have the Sheldon-Grace stuff. You have The Flare II and other young heroes doubting the Code. You have the Chloe meltdown stuff. You have Hutch and his crew. It’s enough to make one’s head spin. The season seemed to lack focus and tried to do too much too soon. I will admit I was shocked by the reveal of Walt as the villain but even that didn’t feel earned or effectively built up to. And they killed Raikou, one of my favourite characters, so I’m not happy about that.
Now I’ve never read the comic (Sommer and Wayne are the bigger comic book folks) so I don’t know how closely they followed the source material. But I do know that I came out of Jupiter’s Legacy with a strong feeling of ambivalence. There were things I loved and other things I found dull as dishwater. My hope is we have much more focused storytelling in the second season to really make this superhero series take flight.
Editor Jules’s Score: 5.5 out if 10
So what did you think of Jupiter’s Legacy? For more mature superhero content you can check out Guest Writer Wayne Rock’s review of Invincible Season 1 by clicking here. Or for a collab review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League you can click here.
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. I can also be found posting about TV and movie memes, news and trailers on Facebook at Movieville. And to stay on top of all Redmangoreviews articles you can like and follow us on Facebook here.