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Plot: After nearly a century of keeping mankind safe, the world’s first generation of superheroes must look to their children to continue the legacy. But tensions rise as the young superheroes, hungry to prove their worth, struggle to live up to their parents’ legendary public reputations — and exacting personal standards.
Review: Mark Millar has been a prolific voice in comic books for decades now. Even if you aren’t familiar with his name, you likely know Wanted, Kick-Ass, and Kingsman: The Secret Service amongst multiple DC and Marvel projects including the source material for Captain America: Civil War and Logan. After signing an exclusive deal with Netflix in 2017 to develop his Millarworld comics as multimedia properties, Jupiter’s Legacy is the first project to come to fruition. While it is certainly an entertaining take on Golden Age comic books, after the success of HBO’s Watchmen and Amazon Prime series The Boys and Invincible, Jupiter’s Legacy feels a bit like a retread of things the increasingly tiresome trope of powerful enhanced beings behaving badly.
Told in two time periods that shift multiple times each episode, Jupiter’s Legacy looks at the members of The Union, the first superhero team, led by Sheldon Sampson (Josh Duhamel), his wife Grace (Leslie Bibb), older brother Walter (Ben Daniels), best friend George Hutchence (Matt Lanter), and Fitz Small (Ben Wade). In the 1929 scenes, we see how the Stock Market Crash led to Sheldon becoming obsessed with visions that lead him to a mysterious island where the team gains their powers. In the 2021 scenes, we see how a century of being superheroes who live by a code of not killing has impacted the next generation of heroes, namely the children of The Union. Sheldon and Grace’s kids are at the forefront. Brandon (Andrew Horton) tries to follow in his father’s footsteps while his sister Chloe (Elena Kampouris) struggles with substance abuse as she makes her way as a celebrity.
The eight-episode first season (or first volume, as it is displayed on Netflix) dives right into the present day as the Sampson clan deal with their responsibilities as heroes while also facing typical family crises. It quickly becomes apparent that Sheldon’s code is becoming less and less viable as supervillains take lives without a second thought, forcing an impasse between the generations. This makes for some tense moments that, at least in the early episodes, feel somewhat laughable as the special effects and costumes come across as a little silly compared to what we have seen in Marvel and DC productions. But, as I made my way through the full season, I began to warm up more and more to these characters and their moral struggles. Sheldon (aka The Utopian) is a deeply religious man who firmly believes in his mission to protect mankind without taking any lives. At the same time, the younger up-and-coming heroes are content to go out clubbing, do drugs, and have promiscuous sex because they know they are impervious to repercussions.
While Watchmen and The Boys deal with morally ambiguous heroes, Jupiter’s Legacy puts a higher focus on the infighting and struggles between parents and children. Many times through these eight chapters I found myself disliking the younger heroes immensely and at others, I sympathized with them. This is further muddled by the flashbacks that show how the original heroes were impacted by gaining their powers. Personally, I would have enjoyed it if this season were entirely set in the 1930s era as it reminds me of The Shadow, The Rocketeer, and even King Kong. We have not had many comic book adaptations that take advantage of the Golden Age inspiration and it offers an intriguing dichotomy with the contemporary moments.
Where Jupiter’s Legacy struggles is in the 21st century part of the story. The younger heroes are far less interesting than their parents and the pulpy approach to the story feels silly in modern times whereas it fits well into the 20th-century setting. Oddly, the flashbacks feel darker and more engaging than the current timeline, something I did not anticipate as the series progressed. The other major issue is the make-up and special effects which wildly shift from looking decent to seeming like placeholders until the finished effects were added in. Josh Duhamel delivers a solid performance that is undermined in every scene that he has facial hair as it is the fakest looking beard I have seen in years.
Creator Steven S. DeKnight is no stranger to superhero projects as he wrote for Smallville and shepherded the stellar first season of Netflix’s Daredevil. While this series certainly has an intriguing premise and some solid world-building accomplished, the disconnect between the established acting talent and the newcomers here is quite noticeable alongside some moments of mediocre special effects. This is a violent and adult-themed comic book adaptation that further drives the nail into the cliche of “superheroes behaving badly” stories. There is enough here to make this series worth watching and sets up some potential for future volumes in this tale, but it doesn’t hold up when compared to other, better-executed films and series in the genre.
Jupiter’s Legacy premieres all episodes of Volume 1 on May 7th on Netflix.