It’s hard not to discuss some of the massively loved but equally uncouth comic book stories without Mark Millar being part of the conversation. An established presence in the industry, his favoured titles Kick-Ass and Kingsman struck a chord that rippled out to the movie masses when they were adapted, earning sequels for both a result. However, a lot has changed since the debut of underage assassins and council estate espionage agents. The average small and big screen audience member is super savvy when it comes to the in’s and out’s of a handful of comic book universes, making it a perfect time for Millar to hand the keys to his own – Millarworld – over to Netflix to get adapting. Their first pick from the pile getting the binge treatment is Jupiter’s Legacy, that while based on a favoured source for its time, hovers over ground that has since been tread by other shows and in a much more gripping fashion.
Set in a story that spans decades, Josh Duhamel plays Sheldon Sampson aka The Utopian, the head of the Union of Justice who has protected America for years, and a man struggling to keep his own superfamily together. But, with a daughter living a truly supermodel lifestyle, drinking and snorting most of it into oblivion, and a son desperate to earn the respect of his dear old Dad, it seems the biggest threat to the organisation he helped build is stopping it crumbling from within. Soon the lines between right and wrong blur across decades as the team’s core members are forced to face a foe they’ve feared would return and could tear themselves and the world apart.
So far, so super familiar, right? To a point, that’s something Jupiter’s Legacy often bravely flies into the face of but comes off worse because of it. Even within the first episode, there’s a nod to having great power and great responsibility before the Sampson family return to their quiet farm home that has everything but the hidden space crib. Bold and brave it may be to give these winks to familiar comic tropes, but its execution isn’t the unfiltered tongue in cheek standard that the likes of The Boys and even Invincible nailed. Instead, it comes across as both stoic but incredibly stilted, fudging its superhero landing in more ways than one. It’s a concerning state of affairs given that this is from Netflix’s Daredevil creator, Steven S. DeKnight who seems to be struggling to handle proceedings here.
Positing the tired and tested question of what limits a hero can be pushed to, the cast involved struggle to make this rather plain perspective on the matter a compelling one. There may have been other franchises in the past that have left their caped crimefighters to dissect the issue rather than punch their way through it, but Jupiter’s Legacy spends far too long doing the former. A lot of time is spent watching this superfamily huff and puff at one another rather than progress in stirring the conflict that’s trying to be made. As a result, it barely comes to a simmer, and any time things do start to heat up, we’re thrown back in the past to the super team’s origin story that could’ve been told in a season all on its own. Doing so would’ve made the tame twists and turns that eventually reveal themselves far more impactful and more time to get to know a cast that is bursting with potential but is limited to showing it here.
Whether they be core crimefighters or sidelined supers, the show’s biggest weakness is keeping a balance on who gets the most attention and when. As Elena Kampouris and Andrew Horton play the bland and basic troubled children of the family, Josh Duhamel is left dealing with most of the drama as the super team’s founding father. Still, even his gruff and good-hearted hero outstays his welcome reasonably early on. The redeeming recruits of this earth’s mightiest heroes are the likes of Leslie Bibb as Shel’s wife Grace Sampson, aka Lady Liberty, and Ben Daniels as his reluctant younger brother Brandon aka Brainwave. The star of the show in more ways than one is Matt Lanter as Sheldon’s charismatic best mate George, aka Skyfox. Conjuring a hybrid of Han Solo and Bruce Wayne and loving every second of it, he’s criminally underused in a show that depends on him and given the overall result, we’d be lucky to see again.
It’s no secret that the House of N doesn’t suffer fools who fail to deliver on the first season, and as far as debuts go, Jupiter’s Legacy is a hugely disappointing one. Self-aware of the genre it’s trying to fit in with, but struggling to do so with every episode, the first chapter of Millarworld isn’t off to a great start at all. If it does come back for a second season, it’ll take more than a leap in a single bound to overcome the issues at play here.
Jupiter’s Legacy is available on Netflix from May 7, 2021