How Krypton Lived
We all know how Krypton died, but not how it lived. Superman’s exploding homeworld came to life last week as Krypton arrived on SyFy. This pseudo-prequel to both comics and Man of Steel is being run by the latter’s screenwriter, David S. Goyer. Set 200 years before the planet went boom, the series follows Superman’s grandfather, Seg-El, as a young man thrust into adventure. Along the way are time travelers, forbidden romance, theocratic tyrants, a famous baddie, and enough political intrigue for Game of Thrones. So, let’s dive into the legend before the legend.
The Ballad of Seg-El
Our story begins several years before the “present” of the series. In flashback, Seg-El recounts how his grandfather, Val-El, defied the government of Krypton. His crime: saying there is life out beyond the stars. This, of course, goes against the will of the recently empowered theocratic government, led by the silent and golden-masked Eminence of Rao. Val-El is executed, and the family is stripped of their rank and thrown into the slums. In the present, Seg is an aimless young man, pulling cons and getting into trouble. Part of that trouble is an illicit affair with Lyta-Zod, daughter of the head of the Military Guild.
Things change for Seg very quickly when he helps stop a terrorist attack. Suddenly, he is granted a new family and rank, not to mention a young woman to be paired with. This woman, Nyssa-Vex, is the daughter of the man who ordered Val-El executed and is aware of the power plays Seg is now a pawn in. Shortly thereafter, a mysterious man named Adam Strange accosts Seg in an alley. Strange claims he’s from the future and is in the past to make sure Krypton isn’t destroyed before Superman is born. He gives Seg a sunstone key and says to find “the Fortress of Solitude” before vanishing. This sets the big wheels of the episode’s story in motion.
While rising above CW cheese when it comes to acting, the actors must still work with character tropes versus fully fleshed out characters. Cameron Cuffe is charming, if sometimes surly, as Seg. However, he’s a bit wooden in his performance when it comes to the more dramatic moments. Georgina Campbell is wasted so far as Lyta, who is there basically to show the Military Guild and be the “Betty” to Nyssa’s “Veronica.” Wallis Day, as Nyssa, gets to have more fun, chewing scenery as Seg’s forced-upon genetic partner when it comes to creating a child (which on Krypton is a very sterile process). As Adam Strange, Shaun Sipos is a bit too snarky and world-weary compared to the silver-age space jockey he’s supposed to be.
These young actors are, thankfully, surrounded by a great ensemble for the adults. While on screen briefly, Ian McElhinney commands the screen as Val-El. Rupert Graves (Lestrade on Sherlock) and Paula Malcolmson portray Seg’s loving parents. To contrast them, the producers cast Ann Ogbomo as Lyta’s hardnosed mother and head of the Military Guild and Elliot Cowan as the plotting Daron-Vex. The parents are the stronger performances thus far.
The design for Krypton is much more Art Deco than seen in Man of Steel, harking back more towards the Silver Age and more recent Modern Age look for the planet. Things are shiny, streamlined, and look like Coruscant in Star Wars. However, that’s for the city proper. The slums, to keep the comparisons going, is more like Mos Eisley in A New Hope. It’s much more grimy, with a neon noir feel. Unfortunately, this means that the designers didn’t stretch their imaginations enough. The overall design work (mostly CGI) feels more generic sci-fi city sometimes, compared to a unique vision. This also extends to the costumes. The most imaginative designs so far are the mask of the Eminence and Brainiac’s designs.
Music-wise, the soundtrack so far is pretty forgettable. There isn’t a main theme for Krypton or the characters that sticks with you. However, a familiar sound cue does rise to the surface now and then, only to sink back down.
The plot, while serviceable, is a bit “paint-by-numbers,” while at the same time trying to do too much. In this episode alone, we have time travel, political intrigue, illicit romance, and a young man’s quest to find his place. It’s also attempting to be a quasi-reboot of Man of Steel, while having minimal callbacks to that film. There are too many plot threads being introduced. While they don’t choke on each other, it would be nice to have some breathing room. The beats are also a bit predictable, and partially spoiled by the teasers.
The pilot for Krypton is not going to go down as a milestone in genre television. It is serviceable and sets up the plot to come. However, it suffers from the same flaws as most genre television, ranging from tropes to wooden acting. Still, it thankfully mostly avoids the cheesiness often seen in the Arrowverse shows. While a shaky foundation, it’s still sturdy enough that we can be in for at least one season where we’ll see Krypton live.