[Editor’s Note: The following review contains light spoilers for “Jupiter’s Legacy,” but really just the end of the first episode.]
When Paragon smashed in Blackstar’s brain, he broke my brain, too.
The premiere of “Jupiter’s Legacy” ends exactly as expected: with a climactic battle between our newly introduced heroes and a seemingly unstoppable supervillain. Set high on a grassy hilltop safely away from innocent bystanders (and at sunset, of course), dozens of caped crusaders use their respective powers to put down a raging behemoth baddie by the name of Blackstar (Tyler Mane). Lady Liberty (Leslie Bibb) tries flying at him really fast and ends up grounded, face first. The Flare (Tenika Davis) shoots fireballs that do less damage than a water balloon, and Tectonic (Stephen Oyoung) erupts the Earth under Blackstar’s feet, amounting to little more than a detoxifying mud-bath.
The scene serves as both a battle royale and a short-hand introduction to each hero’s abilities (the dude named Tectonic can shake the Earth, get it?), but any grasp on logic is lost when the fighting abruptly ends. Blackstar kills two young superheroes. He pins Utopian (Josh Duhamel), leader of the good guys, and is about to “go nuclear” when Paragon (Andrew Horton) steps up. You see, Paragon isn’t just the heir apparent to Utopian, gifted with similar powers and strong moral character; Paragon is Utopian’s son, and he can’t watch his dad die.
So what does he do? He punches Blackstar really, really hard.
Paragon’s mighty blow isn’t the first fist to finish on Blackstar’s ugly mug, but it is the first to obliterate his face into a shattered pile of goo. As Utopian scolds his son for killing their enemy, other, more pertinent questions begin to percolate. Why, exactly, did Paragon’s punch kill him? Why didn’t all the other punches do similar damage? Is it just that Paragon is really that strong? If so, why didn’t Paragon’s earlier punches do similar damage? Was he holding back? Was there no in-between punch that decimates without destroying? And what are Paragon’s powers anyway? He can fly, he’s strong, and I don’t know, he’s got really long hair? (Though not as long as his dad’s wig.)
Unfortunately, these aren’t the only inexplicable questions left up in the air throughout “Jupiter’s Legacy,” a new Netflix series adapted from Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s 2013 comic book series of the same name. The foundation of this shoddily-produced and tonally unbalanced superhero series is sound enough: An older generation of superheroes is preparing to hand over their tights to the next generation, but the two groups don’t see eye to eye on how they should be making a difference. What actually divides the Boomer heroes and millennial supes is just one more unresolved plot point in Season 1. These eight confounding episodes generate plenty of questions, but they lack the acumen to answer them or properly tease their eventual resolution. From its big ideas to its most basic details, “Jupiter’s Legacy” is an absolute mess.
Told in a time-hopping story structure befitting a show stitched together in post (showrunner Steven S. DeKnight left the series during production over creative differences, and, even after replacing him, reshoots were required earlier this year), “Jupiter’s Legacy” is essentially a family story. Sheldon Sampson is Utopian, a man’s man who relies heavily on his dorky name to hide a heroic alter ego. (In another unexplained plot point, Sheldon was born around the turn of the century, the show takes place “now,” and yet he’s only aged into his late 50s?) When his kids are barely waist high, he tells them, “Service, compassion, mercy: Those are the words we live by. That is our code” — the code he demands they live by for the rest of their lives.
Steve Wilkie / Netflix
Talk about high standards! Dad is already the world’s greatest superhero, and now he’s committing his children to a life of benevolent servitude. Brandon (aka Paragon) does his best to embody those words and live up to his father’s “perfect” legacy, but failing to meet such impossible standards pushes his sister Chloe (Elena Kampouris) into rebel territory. Constantly high or drunk and living off modeling gigs she gets from her family name (and that Old Man Sheldon disapproves of because she’s not wearing enough clothes), Chloe only uses her powers for fun. She doesn’t show up for the aforementioned hilltop battle; she doesn’t show up to the funeral for her fallen friends; she just throws a Lamborghini across a photography studio and snorts a bag of blue crystals without even asking what they are.
The kids are given the short-shrift in the series, attention-wise, and we’re supposed to connect with them solely because we identify with the burden thrust on them by their folks. That plan might work if “Jupiter’s Legacy” offered more engaging development elsewhere. Fight scenes that follow the premiere’s are more and more cartoonish, and not in a good way. Slow-motion is over-utilized and misunderstood, as desperate attempts to make awkwardly staged showdowns look cool only end up looking extra cheesy. That doesn’t blend well with the show’s unearned, sporadic violence, nor does it help some eye-rolling dialogue sound any more convincing. (One of the show’s first and worst lines comes from an armored car robber in a monkey mask, as he stares down a supervillain trying to steal his score. “Yo Blondie, get the hell out of the street,” he says. “We’re trying to rob this bitch.” To which she replies, “No, I’m robbing this bitch.” If either had used a comma to alter the profane object of their sentence — “We’re trying to rob this, bitch” or “No, I’m robbing this, bitch” — then maybe it works, but twice referring to the truck as a “bitch,” rather than your adversary, is pointless and lazy.)
Still, if it was just cheap fight scenes and goofy dialogue, “Jupiter’s Legacy” might’ve been able to transition into enjoyable camp, like a bad, big-budget version of a CW show. But the drama dares to reach for “big ideas” and, in coming up empty, invites confusing, mood-killing comparisons. As aging white guys often do, Sheldon and his older brother Walt (Ben Daniels) sit down with a couple of beers to lament the state of the world. “The country has never been more divided,” Sheldon says. “Congress is at a standstill. No one is willing to meet in the middle anymore.”
When Walt argues they could help change things by taking a more active role in government, Sheldon flips out. “It is against the code,” he says. “We don’t kill, we don’t lead, we inspire!” Sheldon thinks it’s too slippery a slope, from superheroes using their powers in international conflicts to dictating policy in peacetime, but Walt tells him the days of making a difference by stopping a few bank robbers are over. “The real evil today is less black and white,” he says. “It’s corrupt corporations and politicians, the quiet guy at work no one talked to who just bought an automatic rifle.”
Steve Wilkie / Netflix
If “Jupiter’s Legacy” could further this line of thinking beyond two old dudes drinking, perhaps it could resonate in ways the comics clearly have. But acknowledging problems is one thing and offering solutions is entirely another. Given the series’ set-up, the next generation should be heard, but they aren’t. As episodes progress, more and more time is spent in flashback, as we see how Sheldon and the first batch of superheroes discovered their powers, and the series becomes consumed by super-strength and laser vision. Soon, all those ideas batted around by the olds are diluted into one central question for the younger heroes: Is it OK for superheroes to kill? The old guard says no, and the new guard, well, they don’t say anything really, but we’re meant to believe that they’re OK with offing a few bad guys if it means making the world a better place.
At best, “Jupiter’s Legacy” is just really bad at understanding modern cries for revolution; at worst, it’s as if the show is positioning today’s youth as advocates for police brutality — that those asked to protect others should have the right to protect themselves and their colleagues, by whatever means necessary. Not only does such a comparison seem ludicrous in light of recent demands to defund the police and dismantle corrupt institutions, it’s not even well-argued because the series can’t build an argument for anything. The series is an unconvincing in its high-falutin talking points as it is with its wigs and wirework.
It’s almost as if a show that struggles to explain how its own characters can be killed shouldn’t be debating who deserves to die.
“Jupiter’s Legacy” Season 1 premieres Friday, May 7 on Netflix.