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Photo: ‘Jupiter’s Legacy’/Netflix
It is common knowledge that perhaps the biggest fad in the entertainment industry, practically creating its own sub-genre, is superhero stories. Whether told in alternate universes or in the universe we know as our own, people love to see what it would be like if life was a little bit more fantastic– a little bit more super. The challenge is, at a certain point, there are only so many superhero plotlines that can be shown, only so many unique superpowers and different perspectives to tell; it comes a time where the story you see is a story you already know.
Unfortunately, this is the case with Netflix’s newest original superhero series, ‘Jupiter’s Legacy,’ based on the comic book of the same name by Mark Millar (creator of ‘Kingsman’ and ‘Kick-Ass’), published in 2013. In proper Netflix fashion, the show was released to binge, dropping all ten episodes of Volume 1 on May 7, 2021. If you don’t want to invest two hours into the first two episodes to see if the remaining eight are worth it, I have you covered. Here is my review of the pilot and second episode of ‘Jupiter’s Legacy,’ starring Josh Duhamel and Leslie Bibb.
Related article: A Tribute to Richard Donner: Father of the Modern Superhero Movie
Every Choice Has a Consequence
When it comes to telling a superhero tale, you either have to create a new world or rebuild the world we know. With that, there are so many variables that go into the development before even setting up a plotline. Lucky for creator Steven S. DeKnight, the world had already been created on paper, he just had to adapt it to the screen. Now, do not get me wrong, that is still not an easy task. An adaptation is not a retelling, there are so many original decisions the showrunner and all of the creators have to make from pre-production to post. With so much to choose from, they let the lack of choice pioneer their story.
The most prominent crack I noticed in the first two episodes of the show is that so far, it can’t decide what it wants to be about: whether it wants to be a family drama or an action-packed superhero story. Now, this may not necessarily be a bad thing. The indecision that the show brings to its audience echoes the same conflict of our main character, Sheldon Sampson, aka Utopian (played by Josh Duhamel). He is in a constant state of war, both internally and externally, not being able to juggle his duties as a parent and member of his family and his duties as the worlds leading superhero.
This is where the real stakes of the show lie for Utopian. Put poignantly by his daughter, Chloe, “the suit and cape are the real you, dad, not this.” That is where the substance of the show is rooted, in the split worlds of family and hero, because you cannot choose both. These contrasting lives that our characters live are even reflected in the cinematography.
In our moments with the Sampson family, the show is shot in a single camera, realistic style, not afraid to move around, making it seem like you are watching someone’s actual life, witnessing their familial discussions. But, when the superheroes are documented, when we see these truly incredible beings, the show changes tone, which is supported by the way its shot: using a steady cam, much clearer and intentional use of the camera, making it feel like a big-budget movie, wanting us to be aware that this is not what we know as real.
These small details that do not stand out, rather are embedded in the way we watch, do wonders to let us get an inside look into the mind and through the eyes of our protagonist, at a deeper level than just what we hear from him. The inventive cinematography and camera movements that are paired with the fight scenes make them visceral experiences. If only it weren’t so apparent that the show spent more time on the superpowers than the people who have them.
Being a Father is its own Superpower
When the world sees a superhero, his kids see an absent father. Every life saved is a forgotten trip to the ice cream store in the eyes of the Utopian’s kids. The resentment that can grow from that is worth looking into, and that is what this show hints at, but doesn’t spend nearly enough time on. In these first two episodes, they are too busy setting up an origin story and giving every other superhero minute character details that try to be relatable. Point blank, they made the scale too big, when really, if they focused on the chore of the family, they would have found that there is an untold story there.
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Think about ‘The Incredibles,’ but if Dash could never run fast enough in the eyes of his father, Mr. Incredible, a father who pushed Violet so far away that she never used her powers again. Now, that is purely hypothetical, but that is a story that I would watch, that is a grounded tale of a not so grounded family, that is enough for me. But, I understand that it is not enough for most people. Not everyone wants a character study, in fact, I would agree that CGI fights with aliens and wizards are more appealing than a slow burn of introspective character growth. The ability to reach and connect with a mass audience is a big feat in and of itself, and it is completely understandable that this is the goal of the show.
But, there were glimpses of hope for viewers like me. There were moments that made me feel like the show was willing to slow down and focus on its characters; not their physical fights but their personal demons. We do get glances of excellent writing and relatability, which I’ve said repeatedly in my other articles about content from the MCU, is the hardest thing to do with superhuman characters; ground them.
In the second episode of the series, the conversation between Sheldon and Chloe, the superpowered father and daughter, hits hard. It offered complexity and thought-provoking dialogue about topics that could impact a normal father and daughter who have normal disagreements stemming from their history together; a parent and child who are both too fickle and reliant on the other to extend the first olive branch. Chloe tells her father that the only way they’re going to fix their relationship is if she stops being her or he stops being him.
They have all this history together, a history that we haven’t seen, but is powerfully described to us in this scene. This all culminates in her statement that she has no other choice but to always pick a fight with her father, it’s all she knows. But, because she has been fighting him her whole life, it makes sense that she doesn’t have the energy to fight the supervillains her dad wishes she would, because, to her, he is the villain. This conversation alone is immersive and enlightening and haunting, but framed in the context of two superheroes really talking about the funeral of two superhuman friends dying in a fight with an enhanced supervillain, a new layer of complexity forms around each word spoken.
Closing Thoughts on the Show’s Opening
Genuinely, I wish superheroes were not consistently played by Hollywood’s definition of conventionally hot people. That is always going to make the least amount of sense to me. The only superhero film that I’ve seen that hasn’t linked attractiveness with superhuman abilities, which by the way is so damaging in and of itself, is the ‘Deadpool’ franchise, specifically ‘Deadpool 2.’ If a show wants to ground itself in realism, the first step is to show, and then tell. This series is not the first of its kind, and it will not be the last.
With such an insanely high volume of superhero content, such as the entire MCU, the entire DCEU, one-off movies like the upcoming ‘Free Guy,’ and shows like ‘Invincible’ and ‘The Boys,’ it’s tough to make new superhero content feel fresh, original, and still engaging. Superhero content is always going to fall into the range of corniness to some degree, but this show in particular struggles with choppy dialogue and corny production design a majority of the time.
The creators of this series had a lot on their hands. Beyond placing us in the world of this family, they had to set up a backstory for our main characters and introduce an entire league’s worth of superheroes to fight alongside them. But then, they killed three of them off in the first episode. Typically, that is not a problem, but to have that set up to be the driving force for these characters, there needs to be an emotional connection there for the audience. Instead, we only get one short scene with two out of three of them, meaning we have to learn about these people through dialogue.
We don’t get a chance to see them because there are so many other things we have to see since each episode can only last so long. This means, we get these one-off lines about how one of them was best friends with the other since middle school; just saying that doesn’t make me feel for him. I wish this show scaled down its story and kept its visual and emotional devices while keeping the characters examined at an intimate number. Even in the first two episodes, it is trying to stand out from its hero-driven counterparts but also trying to capitalize on the same universal intrigue surrounding superhero stories.
Despite all of this, I only watched the first two episodes, that’s 1/4 of the season, or “volume.” From what I have noticed, the show is already trying too hard to be a big, mass-audience-attracting spectacle, instead of giving fans a proper look into these troubled people’s lives, because that’s they are: people. The show made artistic choices that gave a new look to a familiar story, successfully setting it apart from a dense sub-genre. Yet, ultimately, the attraction of the formulaic plotlines of superhero action overshadowed what could have been an intimate look into the choices humans make, and the real-life “great responsibility” that truly comes with “great power.”
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, Ben Daniels, Andrew Horton, Elena Kampouris
Cinematography: Danny Ruhlmann, Nicole Hersch Whitaker | Editors: Josh Beal, Henk Van Eeghen, Tirsa Hackshaw
Directors: Charlotte Brandstrom, Christopher J. Byrne, Steven S. DeKnight, Mark Jobst | Writers: Julie Cooperman, Steven S. DeKnight, Henry G.M. Jones, Mark Millar, Frank Quitely |
Producers: Sang Kyu Kim, James Middleton, Steven S. DeKnight, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Dan McDermott, Mark Millar, Frank Quitely
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Samuel James Parven is an avid fan of all things entertainment and pop culture, who shines in reviewing the hidden gems of Hollywood. Samuel is fascinated by the direct correlation between media and culture. If art imitates life and vice versa, Samuel focuses on highlighting the ways that the entertainment industry and their consumers alike can improve our interpersonal world through the content with which we engage. With the aligned values of Hollywood Insider to focus on positivity and growth, Samuel is a passionate writer hoping to pen his takes on how to add more substance and inclusivity to the industry we love so much.