If you watched the opening segment of “Superman: The Movie” (or “Man of Steel”) on Krypton (or Krypt’n, as Marlon Brando would say) and weren’t among the 95 percent of the audience thinking “C’mon, just get to the Superman part,” “Krypton” (10 p.m. Eastern Wednesdays on Syfy) is for you. The latest “Superman” project luxuriates in the ice planet, the peasant-class underground and the brutal maneuverings within the sparse governmental palace corridors – all while teasing a Superman connection that’s much further away than in the aforementioned films.
The 15-minute documentary that follows the 45-minute pilot validly points out that Krypton’s history has gone largely untapped in the 80 years since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Supes. But the episode itself – co-written by show creator David S. Goyer (“Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman”) – doesn’t invent anything we haven’t already seen in those 80 years, in other sci-fi franchises.
Krypton’s sociopolitical structure is split into Guilds – the Zod family comes from the Military Guild, and Superman’s great-great-great grandfather, Val-El (Ian McElhinney), is part of the Science Guild. Val-El, like Krypton’s Galileo, refuses to recant his discovery that there is life elsewhere in the universe, and he’s forced to walk the plank that protrudes outside the force-field – an admittedly creative way for the state to dispatch its enemies. The House of El becomes Rankless, similar to the Factionless in the “Divergent” series.
A mile below the soaring towers is where the Rankless live — an underworld similar to Coruscant’s in “Star Wars.” Here, “Krypton” loosens up a bit. Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) – Val-El’s grandson and (eventually) Superman’s grandfather — and his bartender buddy Kem (Rasmus Hardiker) have their share of laughs. They collect money off people betting that Seg-El won’t stay on his feet more than a minute and 37 seconds after taunting the corrupt soldiers who patrol the underground.
From its towers to its tunnels, “Krypton” looks almost as good as the DCEU films, and better than “Supergirl” or the average Syfy show. But Krypton is more bleak (both visually and in quality of life) than wondrously futuristic – although admittedly, high technology within a dystopia will ring true to modern viewers.
In addition to Seg-El presumably working to overthrow the government at some point, more high stakes come from the arrival of a Detroit Tigers-cap wearing young man from the Earth of Superman’s time, Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos). His message to Seg-El is from the playbook of “The Terminator’s” Kyle Reese: Work with me to save this time in order to preserve the future. The time- and world-hopping threat, he tells Seg, is named Brainiac, the “Collector of Worlds.”
So the stakes, on paper, are as high as they get — but in the show itself, not so much. Seg-El is glib – appealingly glib compared to the jackbooted thugs he taunts – but still glib. Whether the good guys — Seg-El’s parents and his secret girlfriend, Lyta-Zod (Georgina Campbell), are also around – are successful in evading state agents depends on the needs of the script.
Seg-El and his mom jaunt over to Val-El’s Fortress of Solitude, and agents track their skimmer, but somehow not to the Fortress itself. The state can bring whatever spy strategies or manipulation or brute force it wants to bear (imagine the U.S. government times 100), yet Seg-El leisurely flies to the Fortress again to close the episode. This is one of those shows where our hero will succeed or fail based on the whims of the writers, and there’s zero sense of real drama.
There is something here for serious fans of “Superman” lore. But for the average person who dips into the DC Extended Universe, this will look like the expositional part of “Man of Steel” turned into a hundred-year backstory. What’s more, “Krypton” won’t even lead up to “Man of Steel” or “Supergirl” or “Smallville” or any other Super-verse, since it’s a separate timeline — a perk for the sake of free-rein storytelling, but a weakness for getting the average viewer to care what happens.