The trailer for this looked so pretty and ridiculous, I just knew I had to watch it… and last night, I finally did.
*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*
Last week I reviewed the Wachowskis’ foray into Netflix and awarded their efforts with Sense8 five glorious splats. This week, I’m reviewing their latest cinematic offering: the ever so lavish if somewhat over the top, Jupiter Ascending.
Jupiter Ascending is based on a well-worn fantasy trope, that of the ignorant Chosen One being thrust into a chaotic world when they eventually become aware of who they really are and their grand destiny etc. We’ve seen it a dozen times before and the execution here didn’t really offer anything fresh, except that Mila Kunis is a Russian immigrant in Chicago, which added an extra layer – albeit thin – to the Cinderella-esque aspects of this story.
Like Guardians of the Galaxy, I don’t think this movie is meant to be taken seriously, but it could’ve been a lot more awesome had as much time been taken with the story and character development as was clearly taken with the ostentatious sets and costuming. This film is exquisite and attention to detail is excellent, from the way feathers sprout in a goatee on the token black guy to the intricate tribal etchings on the spaceships. This film should win an Oscar for set- and costume-design. But it’s a superficial prettiness, a gilded veneer that adds little sparkle to a lacklustre storyline.
Having recently watched 2010: Odyssey 2 and in the wake of films like Prometheus, I wasn’t super impressed by the idea of a master alien race being the seeds of human life across the universe. The reason why this alien race seeds human life was even more implausible, at least in the way it was portrayed. Here’s where we get into spoilery territory… so apparently, the master race who has a near-religious affinity with genetic engineering, splices their DNA into native populations on planets in order to grow these populations for a harvest which results in an immortality elixir providing the wealthy uppercrust of the master race longevity and youthful appearances. Now this I can totally get behind, but why would said master race leave humans on Earth to their own devices, allowing them to develop nuclear weapons to a point where they might actually be able to defend themselves from an incoming harvest? These master aliens and their various minions are also capable of erasing memories, turning invisible at will, and restoring buildings after Man of Steel-scale destruction in a matter of hours, so why they don’t take advantage of some very real and easy opportunities to kill Mila Kunis’s character and the eponymous Jupiter, I have no idea. Because plot convenience.
Okay, so this film is science fantasy in the vein of Star Wars and John Carter of Mars so I shouldn’t examine the science of this too closely, but a master race that farms and obliterates entire planets, should at least have more effective weapons when they are desperately trying to kill a target. Nope, instead they have what amounts to stun guns allowing the hero to swoop in in the nick of time to save the damsel in distress, again and again and again.
Jupiter’s character is a space Cinderella but instead of a fairy godmother, she has a magical genome and becomes a queen, not a princess. She also gets a genetically spliced space werewolf with wings instead of a prince – the princes here are trying to kill her – which is kinda cool, but Channing Tatum is less wolf and more elf. They give him this whole vicious backstory – that’s never explained – but never show him going full beast (despite allusions to Beauty and the Beast – barf!). In fact, most of the time his facial expressions range between kicked puppy and a dog about to get belly rubs leaving him as a cardboard cut-out, one-dimensional, stereotypical yet reluctant hero. As such, he swoops – literally, given his gravity-surfing boots – in to save Jupiter from her own idiocy time and time again. It becomes so predictable that there is zero tension in this film. Zero. You know he’ll save her and they’ll all survive major explosions and other certain-death moments because this film is all about the happy ending. I’m not against Disney-esque uplifting feel-good films, but I’d like the film to at least throw a few curve balls and maybe have believable moments of angst. It’s not a good sign when you start rooting for the hero to die just to make the film a little less predictable and pedestrian. Also, this love story. Yeah, I have nothing good to say about it. Cute at best, but oh so very trite.
About this hero business. I am so sick of seeing this damsel in distress trope and Jupiter here was the most reactive, idiotic female protagonist ever, who needed constant saving from herself by the big, burly dude. I’m not sure if it was Mila who thought it was a good choice or the director, but to have her utter these little gasps every time something astonished her – almost always – was a bit much. There were precisely two stronger female characters, one was a psycho bitch trying to outwit her brothers who vanished from screen after her five minutes were up and the other was a stoic space captain- hooray for a person of colour! But sadly the only one of any significance in this film. I am absolutely not counting the token Asian and black guy hunters who appeared and disappeared just as quickly without serving much relevance to the plot. In a fantasy film featuring feathered aliens and even sentient dragon-people, why couldn’t the royal house of Abraxas be people of color or even biracial? Nope. Given the aliens’ obsession with genetics, I find this an interesting choice that smacks of Aryan eugenics. Perhaps it was meant to make a statement about the evils of such things. I’m not sure. As a side note, there was no apparent LGBT+ representation in this film either, making it pretty ordinary Hollywood sci-fi fare.
The best part of this film was Eddie Redmayne’s character – a totally unhinged alien royal with some serious mommy issues. He was by far the most complex character, but he hardly got any screen time and when he did, he didn’t have much to do other than be an asshole. There were a few moments where we got to see his more complicated and vulnerable side toward the end of the film and I was looking forward to him developing a relationship – however creepy – with Jupiter (the genetic recurrence of his mother) but that gets cut short in the interest of flashy action scenes that got boring after the first thirty seconds because it’s so painfully obvious Channing won’t die despite getting mauled by a dragon. And he still didn’t wolf out! I feel cheated! *sulk*
Did I enjoy this movie? Weirdly sort of yes. It was brainless entertainment and two hours of eye candy. The score is also pretty impressive thanks to Michael Giacchino. Would I sit through this film again? Not if you paid me. Would I see a sequel? Only if Channing goes full space werewolf! It was ridiculous fun, but these days I’m looking for more than that in my sci-fi. We already get the fun, spectacular, hilarious stuff from Marvel. I wanted a lot more from this movie that seemed to have a huge creative force behind it but lacked the courage perhaps, to blaze a trail into new territory the way the Wachowskis’ did with The Matrix. Perhaps that’s the biggest problem. Every time I watch a film by these siblings, I expect to have my mind blown the way I did with The Matrix, and then I’m left only with disappointment when it doesn’t happen. 2/5 ink splats for me, for being exceptionally pretty and somewhat entertaining.