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Krypton - Pilot - Review: "Meet Superman's Grandfather"



This is going to be a spoiler-heavy review of Krypton's pilot. If you haven't seen the episode yet I strongly encourage you to check out Gina's Advance Preview here.

Krypton 1.01 "Pilot" - Review:
Directed by Ciaran Donnelly and Colm McCarthy & Teleplay and Story by David S. Goyer and Ian Goldberg

I'm going to start this review by saying that I'm a massive Superman fan. He's one of my favourite comics characters of all-time. Superman '78 is my second favourite superhero movie of all-time, behind Batman '89, and Man of Steel is one of my favourite modern superhero movies of the decade, and I really love Cavill's take on the character. At first though, the idea of exploring Clark's grandfather on Krypton sounded odd, especially given that you could have simply used Jor-El instead who would at the very least, bring more name recognition to the table, but the more and more I learned about this show, the more exciting it sounded. SyFy have an interesting track record when it comes to shows in the past, they've given us some great shows like Battlestar Galactica, The Expanse, The Magicians and Wynonna Earp, so I was interested to see what side of the fence it would fall on quality-wise and for the most part it didn't dissapoint.

As it turns out, the show that Krypton reminded me the most of when I was watching it was Starz's Da Vinci's Demons, an historical epic that focused on Leonardo Da Vinci himself. That should come as no surprise given that it is David S. Goyer who has been involved with both series, and especially given that Goyer has history within the DC Extended Universe being the writer for Man of Steel and the co-writer of The Dark Knight Trilogy with Person of Interest's Jonathan Nolan (who helped Goyer on The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises respectively, it makes perfect sense that it instantly reminded me of Man of Steel in tone and structure, despite the inclusion of the classic John Williams Superman score, which at this point has become as ingrained with Superman's character as his symbol itself.

The show has a lot to get through and it feels really rushed given the fact that it it is only forty-five minutes long. It has to introduce the characters, the world and the plot and given the amount of characters, world and plot that have to be introduced there's barely any room for the show to slow down. It speeds from scene to scene, and the characters that we will spend the next few weeks with are given rapid-fire introductions as we learn more about them and the world that we inhabit. It's certainly an ambitious project that Goyer and Damian Kindler have taken on, especially on television, as something as big and as epic in a sense of scale as Krypton is no doubt going to need a good visual effects budget in order to tell its story.

Thankfully, the visual effects look good. It kept me immersed in the world of the show, as we were thrust from one location to another. Krypton itself is a harsh and unwelcoming planet, isolated from the rest of the universe. Here, having a family name and a house is something incredibly important, steeped in tradition, with each different house having their own sigils. And we learn just how important these sigils are in the status quo of Krypton's society through the eyes of our protagonist Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), Superman's grandfather, who is part of the House of El family that has been stricken of its rank due to the actions of his own grandfather Val-El (Ian McElhinney). Val-El was a believer who wanted to look to the stars and explore the universe, and was convinced that they were not alone. However, such a belief was forbidden and he was exiled to the Phantom Zone for his crimes, in a chilling opening sequence where we get to see a much younger Seg.

Cuffe is an interesting choice for Seg-El, who is the every-man outsider protagonist who we find ourselves liking quickly after his introduction. Like with Florence and Da Vinci's Demons, Krypton is populated with plenty of British accents and it feels odd for a culture as diverse as it was in the comics, especially when you have Sherlock's Rupert Graves playing Ter-El, Seg's father. But it was only a minor issue that didn't bother me too much at all, as I quickly found myself pulled into the world.

Seg makes a living in a seedy bar roughing up soldiers and gaining profits off the people who have come to bet how long he'd last in a fight. He's a man of the people it seems, quick to stand up when they're being persecuted and despite his relatively cocky persona that he brings to the table that's reminiscent of Guy Ritchie's take on King Arthur, it's clear to see that this as someone who could potentially be Superman's ancestor. It's still early on in his character's journey however, and at the moment, Cuffe seems to be still getting into groove with the character, and his portrayal does seem fairly uneven. But it's only the pilot episode, and there's plenty of room for him to grow over the course of the series.

We quickly learn that Seg is actually in a forbidden relationship with Lyta Zod (Georgina Campbell), a reluctant military cadet who comes from that other big family in Superman lore. The Seg/Lyta relationship has been talked up as a Romeo and Juliet-type one (so expect a tragic ending ahead for them both), and whilst the two actors have chemistry together, we don't get to spend enough time with them as Seg decides to end the relationship following the death of his parents at the hands of Lyta's mother, who is the stern Primus of the military guard, who is rather brutal to her cadets, instructing them never to yield and inflicting rather brutal punishments on them should they do. Alura (who shares a namesake with Supergirl's mother), is rapidly turning out to be someone who is not to be messed with, and she is aware of the relationship that Seg and Lyta share, which is why in part she's willing to kill Seg's parents in the first place, so they can avoid suffering from a fate worse than death. Something that fans of the Superman lore will be aware of is that Superman's enemy, General Zod - was actually good friends with Jor-El before everything fell apart, so it'll be interesting to see what direction this plotline takes in future episodes.

Seg is able to earn a promotion in the ranks when he ends up foiling an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber and finds himself adopted into the Vex family by its head, Daron-Vex, played by Da Vinci's Demons veteran Elliot Cowan. In Krypton, there is no natural marriage anymore and everything is done by design. Given that Superman was the first product of a natural birth in centuries on Krypton when he was born, it's no surprise to see Seg voice his support of this method. Seg is quickly forced into an arranged marriage with Nyssa-Vex (Wallis Day), Daron's daughter, who is keen to show him the ropes at first given that they will apparently be spending the rest of their lives together. Alura Zod is not the only one who shares a namesake with someone else in the DC Comics universe it seems - as Nyssa-Vex shares hers with Nyssa Al Ghul. Hopefully she'll play more of a role in the season to come, but in this pilot, it's understandable that she's reduced to the side for now with so many characters that the show has to cover.

Before Seg can spend too long under the house of Vex, he immediately finds himself drawn back to his old stomping grounds. Things rapidly move into action when Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos), a time-travelling superhero from the present day Earth wearing a Detroit cap and some very Un-Krypton-like clothing, shows up and confronts Seg, claiming that not just the future but the entire universe is in danger of being erased from a monster that Seg's grandfather saw coming when he looked to the stars. Nothing is capable of stopping it, and even Superman is in danger. Seg brushes Adam aside, but accepts the Codex given to him and takes it back to his father, who confiscates it and takes it away from him when he returns to his home to learn that his parents won't be joining him in their new house and they will remain rankless. However, Seg quickly pickpockets the codex, suspecting that his parents are hiding something from him.

And it turns out that they are right. Charys, played by Ray Donovan veteran Paula Malcomson, shows up to rescue Seg after he's caught out after curfew in a stolen speeder. Charys takes Seg and tells him about the Fortress of Solitude, Val-El's near-mythical home of science and knowledge that was lost with him when he was exiled. However, the location of the stolen speeder was quickly tracked and Charys is taken in by the guards after hiding Seg, with the guards content to bring in Charys despite there being two life-forms in the speeder.

Charys faces trial before the court where she has claimed that she was working for a terrorist organization named Black Zero. However, the real reason why she wanted a trial as public of this was to remind the people about the claims that Val-El made, that they were not alone. This only leads to more outrage, and before things can turn worse with Seg being a suspect as the second passenger after he was caught in the open after curfew, things are not looking good for him and not even his recent adoption into the House of Vex will be able to save him. However, his father, Ter-El, steps up to join his mother in meeting their deaths. It's a powerful scene, even if we've seen this type of story played out so many times before. It's largely thanks to the good performances of both Graves and Malcolmson that the loss of their characters is felt, and it's a shame that they were taken from us so soon as I would have loved to have seen more of both. Hopefully we get to see them again in some form or another.

In the aftermath of his parents death, Seg heads back to the Fortress of Solitude where he runs into Adam Strange again. Blaming Strange for the death of his parents, Seg is eventually talked out when Adam brings up Superman's famous cape, which is slowly fading away from existence due to the threat that is coming to kill them all. He puts an extra emphasis on the House of El being Superman's heritage, suggesting that at some point in the future, Seg is successful, which shouldn't come as a great shock because even though Krypton ends up getting destroyed, it is not through the actions of this mysterious villain, which is revealed at the end of the episode to be none other than Brainiac.

I love how Brainiac is included here right from the get go as the primary antagonist. It's a bit ambitious to be sure, especially given that Brainiac is one of Superman's biggest foes, but I love that this show isn't afraid to go into its comics mythology. Yes, there are no superpowers (yet) and Krypton itself feels more like the world of V for Vendetta than a sci-fi utopia, but it is still early stages and it looks like that with both Doomsday and Hawkgirl confirmed to appear on the show in the future, it hopefully won't be long before the show fully embraces its potential within the DC Comics Universe. Brainiac has shown up recently in Injustice 2 as the antagonist as well as in the Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham game, where we've seen different incarnations of him, and looking further back, James Masters has even portrayed him in Smallville. And as a result, I'm really fascinated by seeing what direction the show will take with him going forward and how this incarnation, played by Blake Ritson, differs from what else we've seen on screen in the past.

Is the show perfect? No. The dialogue isn't great and there's plenty of exposition going on. But then again, it is a pilot, and once the show has a few more episodes under its belt it should improve quickly. There are plenty of clich├ęs that the show builds its world in, which is also heavily influenced by Game of Thrones. And there are also plenty of things that we don't spend too much time on, for example the whole Rao mythology aspect isn't given enough depth to go into just yet and some of the supporting cast don't receive as much attention as I would have liked. But by embracing the familiar, Krypton allows itself to put strong foundations in place and hopefully we'll get to see these traditional storylines subverted as the show progresses. It's a very ambitious project that's full of potential, boasting impressive visual effects that looks only set to be tested going forward. I found that the pilot as a whole flew by very quickly, and I very much enjoyed the time that I spent watching it.

Fans of DC Comics and science fiction shows should enjoy this one. I'd even recommend it to fans of young adult dystopias like Divergent which it shares similarities to. Whether it will be successful in the long term we'll have to wait and see, but this is actually one of the stronger SyFy pilots that I've seen over the past few years, so I'm excited to see what lies in store for us next.

What did you think of Krypton's pilot episode? Did it do enough to win you over? Let me know in the comments section below and don't forget to keep an eye out for the next episode, which airs next Wednesday on Syfy.

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