Review by C.J. Bunce
Jupiter’s Legacy leads comic book creator Mark Millar’s “Millarworld” projects for Netflix. The eight-episode first season of the series introduces TV audiences to the latest new superhero world that–unfortunately–primarily serves to remind us why the DC and Marvel characters stand out as timeless after 80 years–and how those kinds of beloved characters don’t come by easily. The first season of Jupiter’s Legacy is streaming now on Netflix. Among other things, the series pushes aside the supervillain (who we only get to see a copy of) to focus on what’s right and what’s wrong among the superior ability set, and the result is that it’s spectacular only in its ability to lack action and intrigue.
Let’s talk about what’s good first.
The lead actors actual pull off an admirable level of authenticity–they really sell us because they seem to believe the script, and that translates to something almost compelling–their characters’ belief in their superhero origin, and comic bookish serious “superhero code” dialogue. That’s Josh Duhamel (Transformers, Veronica Mars) as Sheldon aka The Utopian, Leslie Bibb (Iron Man, The Babysitter) as his wife Grace aka Lady Liberty, and Ben Daniels (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Law & Order: UK) as his brother Walter aka Brainwave. They pull off what feels like dual roles (helped with makeup and hair changes), telling their backstory in the 1930s for half of each episode, and struggling with the future of their Union and their superhero code in the present day scenes. Millar’s Old Man Logan version of Wolverine has echoes in Shel’s older hero persona. For the most part he’s a well-conceived modern superhero with a code, making reasonable decisions, and it’s the rest of the world that is lagging behind his vision. Bibb is strong both in her driven 1930s woman role and as the kick-ass superheroine of the future. And Daniels is consistently strong, perhaps with the most layering as his character is set up for an even bigger role in the second season. Unlike a lot of actors in superhero roles, these three also know how to pull off walking about in a supersuit. Lizz Wolf (Pacific Rim: Uprising, The Expendables) designed some cool costume looks for this first season–The Utopian and Lady Liberty may be the best looking super-duo since Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston in Sky High.
The backstory is better than the present-day story, yet the plodding, slow delivery lacks the kind of action and excitement you might expect from the words “superhero series.” It’s also another of Netflix’s many series structured to make viewers wait the entire season to learn what it’s “really” all about, and the template is getting stale. Viewers really need to go back for a second viewing to understand the why and what. But the bigger problem is there’s little fun here. No humor. The story has entertainment value only for superhero completists. The good news is it’s better than efforts like Inhumans and Krypton (a low bar), and has more to say than the abysmal shows The Boys and Doom Patrol. And it’s also a step ahead of other comic book adaptations like The Umbrella Academy. It has much better production value than the powered-human show October Faction, yet that series has that fun element that makes it somehow more enjoyable.
If you liked the soap opera nature of Smallville, this may be your thing. As compared to the big hitter superhero universes of DC and Marvel, Jupiter’s Legacy is on par with television DC’s Arrowverse, but far less engaging than the stellar direct-to-Netflix Marvel series (remember those?). It’s closest in concept and execution to the current Superman and Lois–same stilted storytelling, same over-used, soap opera, family-centric plot, but Millar’s trademark adult language leaves kid viewers out of the picture. As to comparisons to Mark Millar’s other adaptations, it doesn’t touch either his Kick-Ass or Kingsman movies.
If there is a worse superhero–or TV–trope than angsty children whose parents didn’t give them enough attention, I don’t know what it is. It’s worse in the superhero context, because the kids never accept that superdad saving a billion people might be more important than attending your school potluck. The daughter’s story of poor druggie supermodel and the superboy son over-focused on taking over for his dad is excruciating and takes up far too much time for its value to the main narrative.
As to supporting characters, martial arts super-assassin (and niece of Sheldon) Raikou (played by Stitchers and Ant-Man’s Anna Akana) is a better-late-than-never surprise mixing up the expected, typical superhero fare in the season’s penultimate episode. Super-daughter’s boyfriend Hutch (Ian Quinlan) gets the most fun superhero prop: a stick he speaks to that will transport him wherever he says. Bibb offers up the most engaging episode in “Cover Her Face,” taking the lead as The Utopian leaves the planet to save someone elsewhere. Genre fans will appreciate Kurtwood Smith in a smaller role in three episodes.
A mixed bag, Jupiter’s Legacy is streaming now on Netflix.