When the news first hit in late 2014 that Syfy would have a series focusing on the life of Superman’s grandfather Seg-El on his home planet Krypton, it was met with yawns. While the Krypton-based sequences of Man of Steel were among the best parts of the movie, it was questionable if a series about power struggles on a planet that we all know would explode is a concept that would work.
Fortunately, thanks to a likable cast, some beautiful imagery, a slightly retooled concept and a high-quality production, Krypton exceeds those initial impressions and comes out firmly on the side of being something good.
One major change to the series — which was originally going to have imagery tied directly to writer David S. Goyer‘s Man of Steel film directed by Zack Snyder — is the inclusion of time travel to the story, courtesy of Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) who arrives in the pilot to warn Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) of an oncoming threat that could jeopardize the future existence of Seg’s grandson, Superman. This threat, Brainiac (Blake Ritson), is a “collector of worlds” who looks like he’s directly taken from the run of writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank on Action Comics a decade ago. On screen, this Brainiac is, so far, the most impressive-looking Superman villain in any live-action medium — and there has been a lot of live-action iterations of Superman.
That time-travel aspect did not seem to be a part of the series when originally proposed; in fact, the trailer that leaked online for a brief moment a year ago, based on the original draft of the Krypton pilot, had less than a half-dozen shots that ended up in the finished product. Even the crest of the House of El — Superman’s family, for the uninitiated — now resembles the more familiar “S” rather than the “hope” sign seen in Man of Steel. In the end, though, all of these changes (including a Superman cape that warns of changes to the future much like the photograph in Back to the Future where Marty’s siblings disappear) have turned out to have been positives.
The other great positive of Krypton is the appearance: The show looks cinematic, which could be a reason it has been in development for so long. If anything, Krypton‘s look shows off the flaws of a project like Marvel’s Inhumans which was rushed to air. Unlike Inhumans, viewers are more likely be talking about how great the series looks rather than how corny it is. The settings — exterior shots, the lower “Rankless” zones of Kandor, the quarters where people live, and most impressively, a Fortress of Solitude complete with the iconic statues — are a big win for this show. Aside from perhaps Man of Steel, the planet Krypton has never looked so good.
While not playing Superman himself, Cameron Cuffe is a fine lead for the series, and a protagonist that audiences can get behind. So often with comic book adaptations you get other supporting characters whose popularity eclipses the series lead; in this case, though, this is completely Cuffe’s show. I admit that the use of human slang from Seg-El and others takes some getting used to, and Cuffe is much better when playing the scrappy hero vs. playing anger or rage, but that latter thing might just be because he seems more comfortable as an optimist. Even with that said, the show has no weak links, with each character offering layers that get peeled back week to week.
(The other “human” trait that I had trouble getting past sat with Adam Strange and smoking cigarettes; at one point he tries lighting up in a proto-Fortress of Solitude, which just seems wrong. I still have yet to understand why they made Adam Strange smoking a thing; he’s not John Constantine. I don’t know if it’s an attempt to make him more edgy or what, but it does not work.)
As for the rest of the great cast that help make Krypton special, Georgina Campbell and Ann Ogbomo are members of a Zod family that is honorable, and both of their performances, as well as how they interact with Seg, have been fascinating to watch. Wallis Day‘s Nyssa Vex is a wildcard; I feel like we think we know her but there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye, and a lot of credit for that goes to Day’s performance. Elliot Cowan plays Nyssa’s father, the Russell Crowe-lookalike Daron Vex, whose actions early on in the pilot change the House of El forever.