Jupiter's Legacy
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Credit: Netflix

Critics admire the ambition of Jupiter's Legacy, even if it may not fly as high as the heroes it sets out to deconstruct

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May 7, 2021, 11:48 AM EDT (Updated)

Earlier this yearMark Millar described Jupiter's Legacy as "the most ambitious superhero project ever." Does that assertion hold up now that the small screen adaptation (based on Millar and Quitely's groundbreaking comic book of the same name) is streaming on Netflix? Reviews for the deconstructionist superhero show are now coming online and critics aren't holding back on their thoughts.

A current score of 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes should give you an idea of which way the wind is blowing. Fortunately, that number only represents the critics and not the general audience, which has bestowed Jupiter's Legacy with a fresher 77 percent.

"Jupiter’s Legacy is without a target demographic — despite occasional swearing and some cartoonish violence, it’s practically BYU TV–level bland compared to The Boys — and messes with the show’s focus," writes Daniel Fienberg for The Hollywood Reporter. "When there’s nothing to be gained from watching a superfluous superhero TV show, at least there’s nothing to be lost from skipping it entirely."

NPR's Glen Weldon also compared the show to other 21st century comic book translations with a nifty list of quick bullet points:

  • Less cynical and empty than Amazon's The Boys
  • Less bright and blood-flecked than Amazon's Invincible
  • Less weird and imaginative than Netflix's The Umbrella Academy
  • Less funny and idiosyncratic than HBO Max's Doom Patrol
  • Less dark and dour than HBO Max's Titans
  • Less innovative and intriguing than Disney+'s WandaVision
  • Less dutiful and disappointing than Disney+'s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
  • Less thoughtful and substantive than HBO's Watchmen

Liam Nolan of CBR took the comparitive critique one step farther by likening Jupiter's Legacy to the widely-maligned debut season of Iron Fist: "By the end of Jupiter's Legacy Season 1, the series has delved no deeper into any of its big questions than it did in the very first scene of the show. This leaves the show feeling much more similar to the much-maligned Iron Fist Season 1 than Daredevil, and that's genuinely disappointing."

Ouch...Set across two different timelines (the 1930s and modern day), the series follows a group of aged superheroes (a Justice League-esque team known as The Union) who hope to pass on their world-saving enterprise to their super-powered children. Easier said than done when the world is a lot harsher than it was almost a century ago.

Sounds like a pretty solid set-up, but CNN's Brian Lowry posits that "Jupiter's Legacy moves in what feels like slow motion. The result is a Netflix drama that's impressive in its scope — adding to the growing roster of dark comic-book tales — but frustrating in its sluggish pacing, oscillating between twin timelines over the course of its eight initial episodes ... Watching Jupiter's Legacy isn't a heavy lift. Yet even allowing for the fact that fleshing out the story works against moving faster than a speeding bullet, it would behoove all concerned to move a whole lot faster than this."

In a three-star review for The Guardian, Lucy Mangan writes that the project takes its subversion a little too seriously: "Any opportunity for fun is shut down by perpetually morose teens, action set-pieces we have seen many times before and clunky speeches about the state of the world ... The occasional lighthearted moment would not negate the show’s sincerity. The confidence to include some might even display its depth."

Credit: Netflix

Not everyone has something not-so-nice to say. IGN's David Griffin, for example, qualifies the debut season as "a success." His verdict concludes that the first eight episodes are "filled with memorable characters with impressive powers and mysterious locations to explore. Though many of the compelling aspects that make this series work are centered around the founding members of The Union during the 1930s rather than the kids' adventures in the present day, there will hopefully be time for them to take the spotlight later: The mystery surrounding Skyfox's disappearance leaves plenty of questions that I'd love to see addressed in a potential second season."

Josh Duhamel leads the ensemble cast as Sheldon Sampson, aka The Utopian, an idealistic savior modeled in the vein of DC's Superman. Back during the Great Depression, Sheldon traveled to a mysterious island where he — along with his brother, Walter Sampson/Brain-Wave (Ben Daniels); wife, Grace Sampson/Lady Liberty (Leslie Bibb); and friends, Fitz Small/The Flare (Mike Wade), and George Hutchence/Skyfox (Matt Lanter) — gained metahuman abilities. Now, their progeny (mainly Chloe and Brandon Sampson; played by Elena Kampouris and Andrew Horton) are primed to carry on the...legacy.

"You can't fault Jupiter's Legacy for scale or for establishing compelling core characters," writes Richard Trenholm for CNET. "It's just a shame events unfold so slowly. It's strange to say that a show filled with so much stuff doesn't do enough. Jupiter's Legacy is superpowered enough to leap tall buildings in a single bound; if only it remembered it could move faster than a speeding bullet."

Netflix currently owns the screen rights to all of Millar's creatow-owned comics (published under the "Millarworld" banner) and already plans to adapt more than half a dozen of them into films and TV shows. Just yesterday, Millar himself provided an update on several of the streamer's upcoming projects based on his works.