Jupiter's Legacy review: Netflix's superhero drama buckles under its agonising pace
The streamer seemingly wants to eke out as many seasons as possible from this comic book adaptation – but it will be lucky to get a second.
Even at a time when comic book adaptations have never been more prevalent or popular, large swathes of the general public remain blissfully unaware of the thriving independent scene that lies beyond Marvel and DC. A wide array of smaller publishers have successfully carved out space for themselves in the industry with creator-driven stories that traverse a variety of genres and styles.
Netflix has been doing its bit to elevate these offbeat tales, bringing both The Umbrella Academy and Locke & Key to the screen, as well as purchasing the company founded by prolific writer Mark Millar (Kick-Ass). But while it's great to see stories from independent talent brought to mainstream attention, the simple truth is that none of these adaptations have lived up to their full potential – and unfortunately, the same is true of Jupiter's Legacy.
The narrative of this fantasy saga is split between a lengthy origin story set against the backdrop of The Great Depression, and roughly 100 years later, as a new generation of caped crusaders clash with the originals over their dogmatic beliefs. Specifically, Union of Justice leader The Utopian (Josh Duhamel) staunchly argues that superheroes must never kill their adversaries, but a growing faction counters that there are certain situations where it can be justified.
It's a debate any superhero fan will have heard several times before and the iteration pitched here falls well short of the pack (in fact, Netflix's own Daredevil did a better version in its second season). Rather than develop the argument or add any fresh perspective, Jupiter's Legacy simply hammers the same points over and over again until the whole discussion becomes a tedious chore – an issue exacerbated by the characters having it.
Josh Duhamel (Transformers) plays Superman stand-in The Utopian, also known by his civilian identity Sheldon Sampson, who must be one of the least likeable superheroes to ever leap into live-action. In the present day, Duhamel sports a laughable fake beard and a gruff old man voice to match, which he puts to good use by belittling any who dare challenge him. Meanwhile, in the flashbacks, Sheldon spends much of his time shrieking at ominous visions that quickly wear out their welcome and lose any dramatic heft.
Having such an unsympathetic character as the focal point of the show is a major hindrance and the supporting cast can't do enough to pick up the slack. Matt Lanter (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) is the closest this show has to a standout performance, giving a charismatic turn as struggling socialite George Hutchence, although this only makes his absence from the modern scenes even more sorely felt.
Ben Daniels (The Crown) and Leslie Bibb (The Babysitter) show potential as Sheldon's brother Walter and wife Grace, while Ian Quinlan is a charming enough rogue as small-time villain Hutch. On the other hand, relative newcomers Elena Kampouris and Andrew Horton feel miscast as troubled youths Chloe and Brandon, two pivotal roles that really ought to leave a bigger impression than they do.
While this series has little in common with The Boys on a thematic level, it's difficult not to compare the two in terms of craft. Where Amazon Prime's thriller has found a way to incorporate bright and bold superhero costumes into a somewhat grounded world, the garish wardrobe of Jupiter's Legacy never feels consistent with its wider universe. Much like the aforementioned ageing prosthetics, the end result does vary but too many of the so-called super suits end up looking like a shop-bought fancy dress costume.
This might be part of the reason why the show's action sequences look a little off. They certainly don't lack ambition and the visual effects are reasonably good (with the qualifier 'for television'), but ultimately only one stands out in the mind as particularly novel and satisfying – naturally, it doesn't arrive until the final episode.
There's a good chance you might not make it that far as the cardinal sin of Jupiter's Legacy is its pacing. Both plot threads move along at a snail's pace, which becomes acutely frustrating by about halfway through the season. The flashback scenes are especially devoid of tension as we know exactly how that story ends before it even gets started, which means the most exciting thing about the series finale is that it's only 35 minutes long.
As the first fruit to grow from Netflix's merger with Millarworld, Jupiter's Legacy is a little too squidgy and discoloured to recommend eating. It's a great shame as the source material is perfectly sound, but this adaptation doesn't do it a shred of justice. The fleeting moments that work are far outweighed by an uneven cast, lame script and agonising pace, the latter of which is fast becoming a systemic problem suffered by most Netflix original series.
Want more show content? Read all about the changes that Netflix made to the Jupiter's Legacy comics, or if you've finished vol. 1, you can read our Jupiter's Legacy ending explainer for some analysis of the finale.