Supacell review: This excellent superhero series keeps a foot planted in the real world

The idea of ordinary people suddenly being endowed with superpowers befitting a costumed comic book hero isn’t exactly box-fresh.

E4’s Misfits (2009-13), focused on young offenders doing community service who acquire various powers after being caught in a strange electrical storm.

It would seem, then, that Netflix’s new six-parter Supacell (streaming from Thursday, June 27), which concerns five unconnected young Black south Londoners who develop a variety of incredible powers, might have arrived a little too late in the game. Not least because of the time it has taken to reach the screen.

Filming on the series was completed more than a year ago, which is a long time to sit on the shelf. Also, the pre-publicity for Supacell has been comparatively low-key. But any suspicion that Netflix might have less than complete confidence in the series is quickly blown away by a terrific opening episode that unfolds at breakneck speed (I won’t be giving away too many details about the other episodes, as I’ve no wish to spoil your enjoyment).

One of the things that sets Supacell apart from the superhero crowd is the absolute seriousness with which the series treats its fantastical material.

Seeing the five discover their abilities is thrilling fun, certainly, and the series is hugely entertaining. But director Rapman has made something that marries the visual dazzle of a Marvel movie (the cinematography and special effects are excellent) to a story of depth and substance that has much to say about racism and the gang-related knife crime that plagues many working-class communities.

Supacell opens with a middle-aged Black woman wearing a jumpsuit being pursued by heavily armed guards through what appears to be some kind of secret prison facility. When she reaches a dead end, her eyes glow yellow and she unleashes a massive force that blows a hole through an outer wall.

She’s seconds from escape when a guard shoots her in the back. As her blood-soaked body is dragged through a corridor, we see other Black people of various ages, all wearing the same kind of jumpsuit, being held in glass-fronted cells.

Looking on is the man who appears to be in charge of whatever is going on. He’s played by the great Eddie Marsan.

Then we meet a delivery van driver called Michael (Doctor Who’s Tosin Cole), who’s in a stable relationship with his girlfriend Dionne (Adelayo Adedayo from The Responder) and plans to propose to her during a meal at an upmarket restaurant.

As Micheal is making a delivery in a council estate, he’s menaced by a local gang led by Tazer (Josh Tedeku). When Michael refuses to pay the “charge” for entering the estate, Tazer stabs him.

As Michael lies on the ground, bleeding out, his eyes start to glow yellow and — whoosh! — he disappears into thin air. He finds himself living through the same events again, only this time Tazer lets him leave unharmed.

Michael, having tried hard to convince himself that what he experienced was either an extreme case of deja vu or a bizarre dream, proposes to Dionne and she accepts. During, let’s say, a passionate moment back at their apartment, Michael’s eyes glow and he vanishes again.

This time he lands in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic London and comes face to face with what he thinks is his double but is, in fact, himself in the future. He and four allies are engaged in a battle with hooded adversaries.

Future Michael tells Present Michael that he has the power to travel through — and even freeze — time, and that he has jumped forward three months. Then he whisks him off to show him Dionne’s grave. If he wants to save her life, he must go back and find his four future allies.

We’ve already met them and know that they too have unique superpowers: Sabrina (Nadine Mills), a telekinetic nurse; Andre (Eric Kofi Abrefa), a financially-pressed call centre worker with incredible strength; Rodney (Calvin Demba) a small-time weed dealer who can run super-fast, and none other than Tazer, who can become invisible — which comes in handy when he and his small crew are outnumbered by a rival gang.

Supacell might essentially be a superhero fantasy, but it’s one that keeps a foot planted firmly in a recognisably real world. Excellent.

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