'Jupiter's Legacy' doesn't know what it wants to be
by Chuck Duncan
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, Ben Daniels, Elena Kampouris, Andrew Horton, Mike Wade, Matt Lanter
There are times when a movie or TV based on another property is released that it's better to go into it blind, without any expectations of what it should be. Other times, it's good to have some familiarity with the source material so you're not completely lost or left on the outside of the in-jokes and Easter eggs other members of the audience are enjoying. With the new Netflix series Jupiter's Legacy, I went into it completely blind, not really sure what the show was about (foolishly, I thought perhaps it had something to do with Roman gods). I'm still not sure after eight episodes.
From the start we meet a team of superheroes in modern day America (this is a decidedly American show with flag-waving and Christian values that may not translate well to other countries where it may simply promote American arrogance) facing off against the usual band of supervillains. One in particular, Blackstar (Tyler Mane), has been a thorn in their side (by the way, this group of heroes appears to have no team name although they all gather under their own version of the Hall of Justice, just one of the many derivative things in this show), and he's been incorporated in some Supervillain Superman prison ... until now. With the heroes coming out in full force to battle Blackstar, the son of The Utopian (Josh Duhamel), The Paragon (Andrew Horton), has to make a snap decision to save his father's life ... so he destroys Blackstar's skull, completely violating The Utopian's 'code' that they will never kill anyone, no matter what. This event is the driving force of the series, and it also begins to tear apart not only the heroes (most of whom believe the code is outdated as the villains become more powerful), but the family of The Utopian, also known as Sheldon Sampson. Not only does his son Brandon's actions cause embarrassment to the group (in Sheldon'e eyes, at least), he's also got rogue daughter Chloe (Elena Kampouris) openly showing disdain for her family while using her superhero superstardom -- yes, none of these heroes seem to hide their identities -- into fame as a model with a hot temper and a drug addiction (she also gets mixed up with the son of someone from Sheldon's past who has a device that can transport him anywhere he wishes). Sheldon's long-suffering wife Grace (Leslie Bibb) stands by his side and acts as the spokesperson for the group, but even she isn't sure about Sheldon's adherance to the code, and his brother Walter (Ben Daniels) also believes it's time to move on from the code. Their story takes a twist when they learn Blackstar is actually still in prison, so they now have to find out who sent this clone after them.
The series spends half of its time in the modern world, but half of the time is spent giving up the origin story of the original six heroes (and there's no real explanation about the other, younger members of the group except that aside from Brandon and Chloe, there is one other child of the original six) that begins on the eve of the Great Depression where we meet Sheldon and Walter, sons of a steel magnate who commits suicide after gambling away all of his employees' pensions to expand the company despite warnings from Walter that things are about to change for the worse. Golden boy Sheldon is sent into an emotional spiral, constantly haunted by the mangled ghost of his father, tortured by a story by Grace (a reporter at the time before she married Sheldon) revealing the truth about his father, and nearly driven mad by visions of windmills and circles and coordinates in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. All Sheldon knows at this point is that he has to go to that location to see what's drawing him there, and after having another vision of Walter, Grace, a boat captain, one of his former employees, and unknown man and his best friend George (Matt Lanter), he convinces them all to get on a boat and follow him on his crazy quest ... and after almost dying in a raging storm, they find what Sheldon is looking for -- an island that appeared from out of thin air. The group ventures onto the island, which then won't let them leave. They finally realize that they must work together to survive, and they are awarded their superpowers for their efforts. By whom, we don't know but the planet Jupiter is visible, but if that is the legacy of the title it's never explained (and this doesn't happen until the seventh episode!). Back in the modern world, though, we're left with the question 'where's George?' That is finally answered ... sort of, but not really.
This is the basic problem with Jupiter's Legacy, splitting the action between two timelines over the course of the entire series. It would have worked much better with a modern day intro to this world of heroes and villains, and then spent an episode just on the whole backstory. The back and forth just muddles everything and breaks any momentum of the present day story, its only purpose seeming to be giving the post production team the chance to play with aspect ratios, with the scenes in the past filling the screen and given a more golden hue, and present day cropped in a more cinematic, colorful widescreen ratio. It's a nice visual trick, but that's all it is. It doesn't do anything to clarify anything in the story and, sadly, nor do the actors.
This might have seemed like a great project to sign on to, with the chance to play both younger and older versions of themselves, but the whole concept is laughable. We're supposed to believe Duhamel, Bibb and especially Daniels are in their early 20s in 1928. Daniels is pushing 57 and undergoes some obvious digital de-aging for the scenes in the past, whereas Bibb and Duhamel are subjected to some old age makeup in the present -- which it seems is pretty much forgotten about by the second episode as they just wear their really bad white wigs and, in Duhamel's and Daniels' case, glued on beards. Mike Wade, who was the steel mill employee hired for the sea voyage, doesn't appear aged at all. His older self is in a wheelchair with some skin discoloration (burns?) on one side of his face. Otherwise he looks the same almost 100 years later. Speaking of bad wigs ... that rat's next they put on Chloe's head is, in a word, awful. Think Liza Minnelli if she never combed her hair. I think the entire make-up budget went into Tyler Mane's Blackstar prosthetics (I'm assuming it's prosthetics, although it very well could be digital) because that is the most impressive look in the series.
Besides no favors being done by the makeup, the script also does no justice to the actors. Duhamel's given a range of stoic to unhinged with very little ground between them. Bibb's firecracker reporter is reduced to patient wife. Daniels at least has some shades to Walter, who has to tread a fine line with his baby brother while always having some resentment towards him bubbling just beneath the surface. Horton's Brandon reminds one of a young Clark Kent, except more bland, and Kampouris's Chloe is just as annoying as her wig. Ian Quinlan, who plays Hutch (the guy Chloe gets mixed up with) is at least interesting with questionable motivations -- Is he lying to Sheldon about not knowing where his father is? Is he using Chloe to help his father get revenge on Sheldon? We don't know but it's the most intriguing part of the story. And then there is a twist that leaves the series on a cliffhanger ending ... that probably could have been resolved in one more episode.
Will there be a second season? It seems that's what Netflix is banking on calling these first eight episodes 'Volume 1' instead of 'Season 1' (which means they could have already filmed a second 'volume' of eight episodes as they did with Ratched). The question is, will there be enough people tuning in who actually want to spend another eight episodes with these people?