Superheroes and Moral Relativism

With the many, many, many, many superhero movies and shows coming out of the Marvel factory over the course of the past decade, it was inevitable that there would be a pushback to the quickly established studio-enforced sameness of superhero movies. The last few years have spawned works like The Boys, Watchmen, and The Umbrella Academy. Now comes Jupiter’s Legacy, the newest entry in the superhero deconstruction genre that may also be its best—a show that combines escapism with serious contemplation about moral relativism. 

The Netflix show follows the aging world’s greatest superhero Sheldon Sampson, better known as the Utopian (Josh Duhamel), as he leads a superhero team consisting of his wife Grace Sampson/Lady Liberty (Leslie Bibb); his brother Walter Sampson/Brainwave (Ben Daniels); his son Brandon Sampson/Paragon (Andrew Horton); and a few others. Also in their orbit is Sheldon and Grace’s daughter Chloe Sampson (Elena Kampouris), who has renounced her family’s occupation by becoming a drug-using socialite who uses her powers and name to score modeling gigs and dates rather than fight crime. 

There are two interwoven stories at play in Jupiter’s Legacy: The first follows the protagonists in modern day, focusing on the lives of Brandon and Chloe as they struggle with the weight of expectations and their parents’ fame. The second explores how Utopian, Lady Liberty, and others from the first generation of heroes received their powers 90 years earlier—they all age incredibly slowly, allowing them to still kick butt in modern day despite all being born in the early 1900s. It’s a bit like the Fantastic Four by way of H.P. Lovecraft and 1930s pulp fiction: Following the stock market crash in 1929 and the death by suicide of wealthy father, Sampson starts experiencing eldritch visions that call him to a mysterious island. With a well-coiffed band of friends turned adventurers, Sampson sets out for the island and the group is endowed with superpowers by some higher being.

Both are interesting storylines, but it’s the latter that truly shines. It’s good old fashioned escapism with mystery and adventure, and the cast lends itself well to the 30s throwback vibes. Duhamel is well-suited to the swashbuckling leading-man role, bringing the right amount of angst, confusion, madness, and heroism to the part. As I said, the present day storyline is quite interesting as well, but I felt myself longing for a full miniseries or movie about the group’s trip to and exploration of the island.

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