Netflix’s adaptation of the Mark Millar comic is an unapproachable blip in the ever-widening field of deconstructionist superhero shows.
Hollywood’s year-long hiatus on major comic-book adaptation movies has left ample room for streaming services to pick up the slack and then some. Amazon, for example, has wisely curated high-profile releases from existing superhero stories that subvert the genre in ways that would probably ring unfamiliar if attempted by the more mainstream Marvel and DC fare. The Boys is all about poking a gory hole in how superheroes can be vapid, unchecked, and even monstrous celebrities. Invincible just ended its first season with a bang of a finale, taking its colonizer version of Superman to task. And then there’s the curious case of Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy.
To be clear, this is far from Netflix’s first time at bat for the genre thanks to two seasons of The Umbrella Academy, a competent adaptation that softly satirizes elements of X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and plenty other properties. But Jupiter’s Legacy is a resoundingly bland affair by comparison and more akin to the simplistic tone and stylistic palette of the in-universe movies from, well, The Boys.
The show centers mostly around an aging, godlike superhero known as The Utopian (Josh Duhamel) and a Justice League-esque superteam called the Union. The Utopian’s wife, Lady Liberty (Leslie Bibb), and son, Paragon (Andrew Horton), round out the team along with a mix of young and old heroes. But this Incredibles dynamic wears out quickly because rebellious daughter Chloe (Elena Kampouris) wants no part of their vanilla ice cream crime-fighting escapades. I can relate.
Early on in its first season, Jupiter’s Legacy teases an inter-crossing explanation of where most of these superheroes got their powers. But this series of flashbacks to 1929 are drawn out over the course of all eight episodes, and the payoff is absolutely not worth the tedious slog of getting these characters through the most uninteresting segment of their origin stories.
That said, it’s not like the present-day plot for the show is all the more exciting. There’s a dangerous supervillain on the loose, a former hero who betrayed the Union many years ago, and an ongoing debate about the team’s “Code”, which prohibits them from killing their enemies. Like the flashbacks, the drama surrounding the Union’s reluctance to evolve its literal code of ethics is drawn out to an exhausting eight episodes, with endless conversations about how difficult it is being a superhero, which translates to a mostly unrelatable takeaway for the audience.
To be clear, superhero stories strive on unrelatable circumstances driving relatable characters. Spider-Man isn’t easy to relate to because he can shoot webs out of his wrists, obviously. You connect with him because Peter Parker is grounded by the weight of responsibilities holding him back from having the life he thinks he wants. Jupiter’s Legacy dwells on all of the most out-of-reach aspects of the superhero life because we have no concept of what these people are like outside of their insular bubble.
Jupiter’s Legacy dwells on all of the most out-of-reach aspects of the superhero life.
The show also delves into some regrettable commentary about superheroes as cops, perhaps unintentionally, lacking the nuance to say anything substantive about the role of individuals who have the power to legally enforce laws and grapple with the brutality of their actions in doing so. Make no mistake, this isn’t a show at all equipped to carefully thread that needle.
It’s a shame because there are pieces of well-executed storytelling lying in wait for patient watchers. Some episodes wisely spend less time with the superfamily, giving us a bigger picture of this broken, troubled world where people with superpowers can pop up from time to time. The show is at its most engaging and binge-worthy when focusing on the more contrarian offspring who reject The Utopian’s way of doing things, mainly Hutch (Ian Quinlan), the powerless son of one of the Union’s founding members who mysteriously broke bad.
Pivoting the entire show to his anti-hero perspective could have done absolute wonders in revealing the strengths of Mark Millar‘s original intent with the 2013 comic series, which focused a good bit on the titular legacy these young adults have to reckon with. But just when the show rolls with some of these ideas, it crashes back into being a stupendously dull retread, and maybe even an unfortunate case study in the rising tide of superhero fatigue.
Jupiter’s Legacy is currently streaming on Netflix.