At first glance, Syfy’s forthcoming Krypton gives the impression that it is a prequel to one of the most iconic superheroes in the history of comic books: Superman. You can approach the drama as a prequel but it seems better to come at it as standalone series. Bringing its own personality into the DCEU, Krypton provides some deep cuts into the Superman narrative to give us a different kind of origin story.
With its look, tone, and approach, the series itself blatantly works hard to set itself apart from its DCEU peers by taking a familiar story and looking at it from a different angle with a deliberate, slow-burning pace. And from the pilot and through the first five episodes, it seems like it’s saying, “We’re not going to crossover with the other shows.” The approach isn’t totally fresh and new, but it has legs that will catch the attention of fans because of the new take on the iconic hero. Whether or not it can sustain interest beyond the first five episodes is a different story.
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Instead of giving a direct origin story, Krypton takes it to another level by taking us two Superman generations back and focusing on Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), Kal-El’s (a.k.a. Superman) granddaddy. Set on Superman’s titular planet before it was blown to smithereens, Seg-El is going through some problems. Under Kryptonian leadership, the House of El has been dragged and dropped as Superman’s great granddaddy Val-El (Ian McElhinney) has been accused of treason after saying “Hey, we aren’t alone in this vast universe.” That said, the House of El is stripped of their rank and are shunned.
Fast forward 14 years later and Seg-El is a troublemaker and a scammer. It’s not until he is faced with the time-traveling Earthling Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) who tells him, “Hey man, your grandson’s life and legacy are in danger and he needs your help.” It is at this moment when Seg-El follows the quintessential “chosen one” story arc. He must make some serious life choices to not only redeem the honor of the House of El but to save the fate of any and all film and TV iterations of Superman.
Krypton is bold in that it attempts to give a new spin to the Superman story that hopes to appeal to diehard fans and the masses. However, it seems that this is a show for more of those who want to dig deep into the Superman mythology rather than those who just want some Superman fun. It’s like an extra credit assignment for the superhero franchise — which is why Syfy is the perfect home for it.
With showrunner Cameron Welsh (Ash vs. Evil Dead, Constantine) at the helm, the series feels more fantastical and of the sci-fi ilk with its storytelling nuance and world-building that, although cut from the same cloth, wouldn’t exactly fit in with its CW peers. On the visual front, it is a marvel. As opposed to past iterations of Superman’s home planet, the series fully fleshes out this world with technologically advanced Gaudi-like architecture and Kryptonian accents (which all sound British adjacent). From the iconic “S” symbol to variations on John Williams’ musical theme, the series has everything from the original franchise except for Superman himself.
From the pilot, the look of the series tends to eclipse the story. The pilot plants seeds that hope to flourish and then continues to cruise along without giving much for water cooler talk. From the beginning, it struggles to find its footing and the characters need more time to develop because, even after five episodes, all we care about is Superman — and he isn’t even physically present in the series. There are layers of this new narrative that can be appreciated by a cult following, but those who are looking for a straight-forward origin story with immediate action-packed fun might want to look elsewhere. There’s a lot of real-life parallels with plot points involving division of class, political unrest & deception, family legacy, and abuse of power from a mysterious God-like tyrant they call the Voice of Rao who wears a mask that looks like it was stolen from the set of Eyes Wide Shut. There’s even a love story buried in there somewhere. With all its moving parts, Krypton barely digs its hooks into you like a franchise-based series should. Even with another version of mega-villain Brainiac (iterations of him have been seen in Smallville and Supergirl), the series doesn’t quite reach the apex of peak TV.
Admittingly, Superman isn’t necessarily at the top of my list when it comes to superhero franchises — but that doesn’t mean I won’t discount stories about him. He is an icon and an all-American institution that is an integral staple when it comes to the tale hero’s journey. Even so, how many times can Kal-El’s story be rebooted, retold and reimagined before it becomes excessive? Krypton attempts something different to sidestep regurgitated superhero TV fare and although it doesn’t fail, it hasn’t proven itself enough to succeed. Five episodes in and it’s still difficult to invest in the characters and their stories that lack a solid direction. It feels like its trying to find a balance to please Superman purists while trying to appeal to fans that lean more towards The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. Hardcore fans are looking for ownership while the masses are looking for something entertaining and worth their time. Krypton is struggling to find that balance.
The Star Trek-meets-Game of Thrones-meets-King Arthur narrative pushing Seg-El’s journey can very well lead to a compelling drama that eventually leads us to the birth of Superman — but we’ll be waiting a long time for that. The prequel/spinoff/reimagining is an ambitious approach but it’s off to a one-note start. If you have that kind of patience and a loyalty to the Man of Steel, Krypton will make you want to build your own Fortress of Solitude. If not, this superhero series might be your Kryptonite.
Krypton debuts on Syfy on March 21.
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