BY MATT TUCK
It’s hard to look past Jupiter’s Legacy’s exterior, but there is an engaging and emotional story hidden beneath the low-quality special effects.
May was a busy month at the Temple of Tuck, but I finally got around to finishing season one of Jupiter’s Legacy. As a whole, it was a quality show, but those effects were difficult to get past.
I’ll give Jupiter’s Legacy this much: at least it took its subject matter seriously. Sure, the special effects and prosthetics left much to be desired, but there was an introspective story of jealousy, resentment, and conflicting responsibilities that left a lasting impression on the viewer.
When it comes to superheroes and science-fiction in general, we are in the age of “wink and nod,” fourth-wall breaking comedy. Our beloved characters are written to constantly remind us that, yes, we are watching a work of fiction in case we happened to get caught up in the drama and forget. (Thanks for reminding me, WandaVision.) In a sense, everyone wants to be Deadpool when what makes that franchise special is when no one else breaks the fourth wall and points out the tropes. These days, practically every movie and series tries to copy that formula.
Jupiter’s Legacy steers away from that, choosing not to pander to the “it’s all stupid when you think about it” method of storytelling that has overtaken the superhero genre. The writers here took a different, more dramatic approach without being yet another self-aware television show. It was nice to get lost in the story without being pulled from that with a snicker and nudge.
That’s not to say the series did not have its flaws.
This was a superhero series that, ironically, was at its worst in the spandex-and-capes moments. Netflix was operating on a relatively low budget that made the CW’s Arrowverse special effects look state of the art. The foam muscle suits were particularly obvious, but the makeup and prosthetics were particularly offsetting. It was like the CGI face transplant that we’ve seen in movies like Rogue One and Ant-Man, as well as Luke Skywalker’s cameo in The Mandalorian; from a distance, the makeup and prosthetics are passable, and I commend Jupiter’s Legacy on its use of practical special effects in this case, but close ups were strikingly unnatural.
Just like most CGI faces, those close ups pull back the curtain and remind us that this is not real. With the long white hair and beard, Josh Duhamel/Utopian’s aged-up prosthetics are not as noticeable. On the other hand, Leslie Bibb/Lady Liberty and Ben Daniels/Brainwave come across as downright creepy in certain angles and lighting. There were scenes when the rubbery faces looked like a combination of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” music video and Lazytown.
To be completely transparent, I found it very hard to get through the first episode for that reason. The superhero moments were the worst moments of the show, and it was mostly due to the low-quality makeup and effects. Their primary villain, Blackstar, would make for an amazing cosplay at a comic convention, but not so much for a series on the innovator of video streaming. That’s why this review took so long. The first time I tried to sit down and watch a couple of episodes, the effects were too much for me, and it distracted me from what turned out to be an engaging story in true Mark Millar fashion.
When I decided to give Jupiter’s Legacy another go, the ongoing mystery of the island where they gained their powers and Sheldon Sampson’s questionable mental state felt torn straight from a season of Lost. Some might call it a ripoff, but I appreciated the callback. As I mentioned earlier, I found it refreshing that a superhero show didn’t opt for the Marvel copycat, action-comedy routine.
Overall, the performances from the actors were top notch. If they hadn’t been, that would have pushed it to my breaking point, and I would not have gotten past the fourth episode. On the contrary, the entire cast kept me engrossed in the budding plotlines. Duhamel, who conjured his soap opera past with a few overacted moments, held the show together and deserves to be commended for his work, but Tyler Mane stole the show in his Blackstar prison scenes. It is a great turn for Mane, who up to this point, was most famous for playing nearly mute giants like Sabretooth in 2000’s X-Men and Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s 2007-2009 Halloween reboot.
Jupiter’s Legacy’s first season is definitely worth your time to watch, and season two should be full of twists and turns, especially for those of us who haven’t read the comics. I just hope that going forward, the show’s producers realize the shortcomings of their special effects and spend less time on capes and spandex.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.