Written by: Robin C. Farrell | May 7th, 2021
Jupiter’s Legacy (Steven S. Knight, 2021) 1 out of 4 stars.
Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy adapts the 2013 comic series of the same name, written by Mark Millar and drawn by Frank Quitely. Over the course of eight episodes, it depicts the evolution and breakdown of superhero ideology and explores themes of political and social commentary and the strain of family obligation. Beginning in the present day, we’re introduced to a world full of superheroes, led by “The Union” with, at its center, “The Utopian” (Josh Duhamel, Think Like a Dog), Lady Liberty (Leslie Bibb, The Babysitter: Killer Queens), and Brainwave (Ben Daniels, Captive State). Behind the scenes, however, trouble is brewing at home and there’s dissension in the superhero ranks over the handling of powers and influence, all of which is interspersed with flashbacks to The Union’s origin story, set in 1929.
That Depression-era narrative is largely character-driven and compelling with impressive performances by Duhamel, Daniels, and Matt Lanter (Chasing the Rain), in particular. Stylistically, this time period invokes the likes of Jules Verne and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. The modern segments, however, don’t offer nearly the same luster. With the yo-yoing back and forth between centuries, plus an overcrowded cast of characters, plot threads get muddled or abandoned altogether. The political debate in the first episode over heroes’ involvement in government affairs quickly takes a backseat to the dispute over another specific and dire aspect of “The Code,” which causes the symbolism to grow murky and elicits uncomfortable questions. How did The Union’s philosophy of staying impartial to national affairs play out during World War II, the Civil Rights Movement or the Vietnam War?
The time jumps may be more fitting in the comics, but here they frequently seem unmotivated, tonally discordant and lacking in comprehensive worldbuilding. For example, we might be shown explicitly where The Utopian, Lady Liberty, Brainwave, Blue-Bolt (David Julian Hirsh), The Flare (Mike Wade) and Skyfox (Lanter) get their superhuman abilities (and presumably their offspring inherit theirs) but what about the new, seemingly unrelated kids with superpowers? Or the supervillains? These details are never made fully clear.
Visually, Jupiter’s Legacy resembles some broadcast-TV style comic-book adaptations, but even compared to those, the make-up and costumes here fall short. The suits lack any kind of practicality, the wigs are obvious, and where hair dye is used to communicate characters’ old age, the shades of white and grey often look unnatural on the actors. Then, when characters strip down in more intimate scenes, they reveal otherwise completely youthful and robust bodies, no sign of maturity at all. The two who most successfully manage to convey any advanced years are Duhamel and Daniels, believable as the same people at wildly different stages of life, carried out in their physicality and overall performance.
As far as other trappings of the genre go, the fight choreography comes off as bland and repetitive. The characters rely almost exclusively on physical strength, running up to the bad guys to land knockout punches, sometimes kicks. This seems to contradict many other hero-based narratives, which assert the wisdom that brute force is not enough. Have they undergone any kind of combat training? How has The Union managed the same routine for over eighty years? It betrays a further lack of depth and self-awareness.
A few moments manage to shine, including an Episode-Seven fight sequence featuring the non-super-powered Hutch (Ian Quinlan). The scene itself is uniquely inspired: the stakes are high, the setup is brilliant with choreography and cinematography to match, and the outcome is refreshingly unpredictable. The show really would have benefitted from more of such ingenuity. The ideas of generational divides, idealism vs. harsh reality and, perhaps the most important and underused of all, action vs. inaction, may be worthwhile in theory, but they just don’t deliver in execution in Jupiter’s Legacy.