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‘Jupiter’s Legacy’ Is A Shakespearean Family Drama That Happens To Be About Superheroes

Let me state the obvious here: no shortage of comic-book adaptations exist about white dudes (and green-skinned ladies), both heroes and villains, who find themselves propelled by daddy issues. You can’t swing Thor’s hammer without hitting several of these similarly afflicted characters who largely hail from the MCU (although it’s debatable who’s suffered more anguish, Gamora, Peter Quill, or even Tony Stark, so I’ll make like a trickster here and go with Loki). Image Comics doesn’t shy away from the trope, either, as the recently adapted Invincible quickly revealed on Amazon Prime, and now, the publishing house is finding a home for another title, Jupiter’s Legacy, on Netflix as part of its overarching deal with Mark Millar’s Millarworld umbrella. The daddy issues weigh in heavily here, although it’s for a substantial reason.

Again, the issues-with-parents focus obviously isn’t new for comic-book projects. Heroes and villains might be practically indestructible but often remain vulnerable to inner frailty, but as with most Mark Millar material, there’s a deeper focus. And the show also arrives at a time when we’ve grown accustomed to watching superhero “league”-style showdowns with dark forces as all kinds of collateral damage goes down. Jupiter’s Legacy does make several nods toward such action scenes and contains several of them. Yet this series takes a look at how a younger generation would react to seeing their Boomer-esque parents be the very first superheroes on Earth. The inherent tensions, the feelings of doubt, the “latchkey kid”-type resentments that might linger, they’re all there and unprecedented in this context, at least for this version of Earth.

What Jupiter’s Legacy comes down to is this: it’s certainly about superhero-ing, yet it’s much more of a family drama at heart. While writing the comic, Millar (with an assist from artist Frank Quitely) found inspiration from William Shakespeare, and boy, does it show. The set-up is essentially Hamlet with power-infused people in tights. The superhero protagonist, Sheldon Sampson/The Utopian (portrayed by a heavily bearded and grizzled, although ripped, Josh Duhamel), experiences a jarring trauma, which is quite Shakespearean in nature and sets up the vibe for the whole first season. Also, Sheldon’s not sure whether his son, Brandon (Andrew Horton), has inherited the ability to be the next The Utopian, but he’s definitely inherited the tendency toward theatrics.

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Brandon has a conflicted sister, Chloe (played by Elena Kampouris), and the two attempt to navigate power dynamics that test loyalties and the bounds of family. Can the new generation live up to the unique code of Dad, Mom (Leslie Bibb), and Uncle Walter (Ben Daniels)? Will the first gen retire, and can they handle watching their ideals be supplanted? The answer is a layered one, and although Jupiter’s Legacy might not be as flashy as other recent offbeat superhero series, it’s an engrossing ride to take.

Of course, Millar’s skewed take on superheroes generally makes things weird, as one might expect from the Kick-Ass and Wanted creator. And if you are familiar with his work on Kingsman, you know that Mark Millar enjoys tossing in an opaque critique of a subject that can be politically dicey, and sometimes, it’s not entirely clear whether he’s straight-up critiquing or playing with satire-fire. There’s some of that in Jupiter’s Legacy, which holds a death-of-capitalism theme on its surface, and that arc includes decades full of flashbacks. There’s also an epic journey undertaken by Young Sheldon (that’s not a Big Bang Theory prequel reference, I swear), and the mythology that unfurls throughout the season is one that Millar fans (and nerds in general) should enjoy.

That’s even the case during uncomfortable moments when these characters feel burdened by their anguish. And the family must grapple with the fact that, yeah, they are celebrities, so everyone’s watching their drama go down. The voyeuristic aspects do work well, and there’s also a superficial diversion that I must mention, if you don’t mind.

What piqued my interest about the casting of Josh Duhamel is that he looks quite unlike himself in this show. Now, Duhamel is a handsome man. He is a very handsome man who looks a lot like many other tall, slender, brown-haired, handsome men in Hollywood. Google “Josh Duhamel looks like,” and you’ll see a lot of names: Timothy Olyphant, Johnny Knoxville, Eric Dane, and so on. I’d toss Joel McHale in there (although he also looks like Ryan Seacrest), as well as Armie Hammer (although no one wants to be compared to him these days, Josh Duhamel did recently replace Hammer in Shotgun Wedding). My point is this: Josh Duhamel is almost interchangeably handsome and rarely strays from looking like his very handsome self in projects. A litmus test: If one Googles “Josh Duhamel unrecognizable,” you’ll only see one of his old Halloween costumes. So, it was high time for Josh Duhamel to do a project where he wasn’t all Duhamel-ed up, and Jupiter’s Legacy is that series.

However, be warned that dual timelines exist on this show, so while we do see a lot of what one character refers to as the “hot Santa” look from Duhamel, he also looks, well, like himself during younger years. Still, I’m willing to work with this because Jupiter’s Legacy isn’t what people are expecting from a superhero series at this moment. It’s atypical but not outrageously so, and it attempts to dive into heady themes while also rolling around in spandex-clad excess with pulpy throwbacks in the mix. It’s a swell way to spend a handful of hours, especially if you dig that Shakespeare-type drama.

Netflix’s ‘Jupiter’s Legacy’ streams on May 7.

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