Movie Review: ‘Raising Dion’, Netflix’s Superhero Origin Story
Science fiction is a genre Netflix continues to mine and with its latest original seriesRaising Dion, the streamer attempts to blend a family-friendly story about a child’s discovery of his own identity and abilities against an edgier exploration of grief and greed. This familiar-feeling tale not only comes from a fresh perspective, the series dodges genre tropes and expectations to deliver a fun supernatural story with edge and purpose.
The nine-episode series, based on the comic book by Dennis Liu, follows 8-year-old Dion (Ja’siah Young) and his widowed mother Nicole (Alisha Wainwright) as the boy discovers he has superpowers. It’s an intriguing notion to present the majority of the story through the eyes of a parent. Still reeling from the mysterious death of her husband Mark (Michael B. Jordan), it’s soon revealed there’s a lot more to this story than the simple trope of unwitting heroes discovering their powers years after an other-worldly incident took place.
There’s a puzzle that presents itself right underneath the surface story. Yes, it’s cute to watch precocious Dion using his mind to make his Legos and breakfast cereal float. But there’s a scientific component that alludes to something more sinister at play. It turns out a weather anomaly, which takes the shape of a giant lightning man, has been spotted in various locations throughout the world. Mark’s scientific work at Biona, a large company working to fight the effects of climate change across the world — among other secretive laboratory projects — seems to be the key.
As a parent, you learn to compartmentalize all the responsibilities of keeping a tiny human alive while also operating outside of the family bubble you’ve created at home. Keeping Dion safe is indeed Nicole’s number one priority, but since Mark’s death, her public life has been a shambles. She’s been unable to hold down a steady job, her social life is a joke, and her sister is concerned she may be actually losing her mind. So when she witnesses her son’s abilities first hand, you best believe she holds that discovery close to the vest.
Things are just as complicated for Dion at school. He knows he’s different, but tries so hard to fit in with a group of boys he deems as “the cool kids.” Adding his abilities of telekinesis, teleportation, and healing, it’s easy to understand his excitement to share these gifts with his friends. But, as you’d expect, they don’t believe him and he becomes the brunt of ridicule and bullying.
Over the course of the episodes, we learn that Mark’s death is the glue that holds the whole series together. Michael B. Jordan has a small on-screen role to play as the scientist in question. It’s a refreshing tidbit, to see the superstar take a backseat and let the story play out with the fresh-faced talent on screen. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a bigger role in the project — his production company championed Liu’s story, bringing it to Netflix in the first place.
There are a number of moving parts in Raising Dion that work: Nicole’s drive to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and protect her son; the scientific mystery behind Mark’s death; the supernatural space storm that transferred super-human abilities to unknowing onlookers; Dion’s own empowering self-discovery. But all that said, there are points throughout the series where things feel rushed. Striking the right balance between all these story components is a narrative challenge, and it feels as if Raising Dion misses the mark here and there.
We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the Stranger Things-y elephant in the room. Looking at the promotional materials for the show, it’s easy to see the genre hopes Netflix may have riding on the series. Pitting an extraordinary child against a larger-than-life supernatural threat sure feels familiar. And if audiences didn’t get the aesthetic connection that wasn’t evident enough, Pat’s ringtone in the series — which is the aforementioned show’s theme song — should hopefully nail that point home.
Despite these issues, the pros definitely outweigh the cons here. Young’s performance as Dion starts off a bit clunky, but as the episodes progress, he brings the boy’s joys and pains to life in an empathetic, yet lighthearted manner. Wainwright’s Nicole is the heart of the show, as most of the story is presented through her perspective.
We don’t often get superhero origin stories told through the mother’s point-of-view — yes, Brightburn did a similar thing, but things don’t get so sinister, bloody, or violent here. Her drive to protect her son, at all costs, while also attempting to mend her personal and professional life is a juggling act any parent could easily relate to. Ritter’s inclusion in the cast adds the nuanced character work he’s known for. His Pat is quirky, yet loving. And his good intentions carry certain plot twists through to the show’s electric finale.
Raising Dion is family entertainment with enough edge to appeal to all audiences. In the cluttered superhero landscape, where Marvel and DC continue to dominate the small screen, Liu’s over-all story is a fun, science-friendly, breath of fresh air.