First, let me apologize for doing this in text. I have a cold, and talking for more than 2 minutes at a time in a voice that doesn’t sound like I’m dying is very difficult. So…a text review you get.
Jupiter Ascending is the best video game movie that was never based off a video game. It has it all, man!
Caine, a former soldier, bound to get back his honour!
Awesome aerial dogfights with bizarre CGI ships that defy all physics!
Tons of cool looking aliens to mow down with a variety of weapons that…all seem to fire the exact same sort of ammo!
Beautiful alien worlds and palace levels with all kinds of gonzo technology!
Generic cyborg mooks with gun arms!
…oh, and Mila Kunis was in it…but she didn’t really say or do all that much, so its often easy to forget that she was there.
Jupiter Ascending is a space opera, and that aspect of the film is, at least, executed with a phenomenal degree of style and grace. It is a very, very pretty movie. Its CGI is wonderfully rendered, and its props and sets are absolutely gorgeous. There are grand alien vistas and mind bogglingly complex space stations. There is an epic narrative about the secret history of the human race and its millennia-old, nigh-on-immortal nobility. It has genetically modified soldiers, decadent nobles, justice-hungry space police, and a hilarious bureaucratic navigation scene straight out of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
(To be fair, this was the best part of the movie, in no small part because it was Terry Gilliam playing all the hilariously ridiculous bureaucrats that he had already written into Brazil…basically its just Terry Gilliam doing a one-man reenactment of that entire film, and is, by far, the best part of the entire movie)
…unfortunately, those are not, theoretically speaking, what the actual plot of the movie is written around, and certainly not what it is named after.
Jupiter Ascending is centered around Jupiter Jones, a half-Russian, half-English immigrant who, along with her quirky and hilariously lower-class family cleans toilets and gets regularly bitched at for wanting more out of her life. Then she discovers that she is the genetic reincarnation of the 95 millenia old matriarch of…basically the entire universe. Her genes say she’s a queen. I swear to god, if you removed the space battles you could turn the entire film into a comedy on par with Hitchhiker’s Guide. This is sitcom gold here, my friends.
“On the next episode of Jupiter Ascending, what happens when Cousin Vladie comes to Jupiter with another one of his get-rich-quick schemes? Jupiter’s mother won’t stop cleaning the Throne World’s toilets! And will her cousin Katya ever find a single man who isn’t secretly part murder-bot? Find out next week…ONLY ON FOX!”
It seems that in this vast, super-science, magical technology future, thousands of worlds are seeded with human life so that, at the apex of their civilization, they can be harvested and used by the progenitors of their species as raw material to ensure longevity.
…I am also relatively certain that I just described the plot of Mass Effect.
Because she has the right junk (DNA) in all the right places, Jupiter is caught up in a galactic version of piggy in the middle, wherein three vastly wealthy, seemingly immortal siblings are all vying to control it and its seven billion lives…which they can harvest into glowing white liquid which will, in turn, sustain human immortality. However, Jupiter’s mere existence foils this plan…hilariously, in fact, because if the siblings had just ignored her presence, they could have continued to squabble over the Earth and their various toys. Instead, by revealing her, she takes dominance and possession of both this planet and, apparently, dozens of others. Plus vast resources and wealth. And the fealty of a large swath of the universe.
It is, however, with Jupiter that we find the film’s biggest flaw. Without her, Jupiter Ascending would be an oddly named but highly effective space opera. Heck, with a bit of rewriting it still could be. The problem and flaw comes with how Jupiter is written. Now, I want to be clear: I have zero problems with Mila Kunis as an actress. She can show emotion and physicality in a role. The problem is that she was handed a role written with so little personality, emotion, agency, drive, motivation, verve, and/or passion that wringing any sort of interesting narrative out of it was pretty much a doomed venture from the beginning.
Jupiter is constantly being saved. By pretty much everyone. She is captured not once, twice, or three times, but four freaking times in the course of the film. Every time she stumbles like a fish out of water through the various revelations thrown at her by her abductors. Every time she is saved by Caine Wise, the genetically engineered ex-soldier played by Channing Tatum. Every. Single. Time. She often barely even has a chance to defend herself in the process, and every time winds up sulking afterwards before inevitably being conned into doing something against her will by the baddies.
If that weren’t enough, the film’s end falls into…I don’t even know what to call it. Ahem. Please bare with me.
After the events of the movie, Jupiter is now the ruler of Earth. She has sole deed and title to the planet, and no other alien is allowed to set foot on it, under pain of something-or-other-non-specific. Awesome. She is rich beyond the dreams of avarice, heir to one hundred thousand years of wealth and power. Awesome. She has the power to change the Earth for the better, bring it advanced alien technologies and medicine. Awesome. She has the love of a hunky, well chiseled super-soldier who, for some reason, looks like Legolas’ cyberpunk cousin. …Awesome, I guess? If you’re into that kind of thing? I’m not, but I can get the appeal. What does she do with all this?
Becomes bright and chipper about getting up at 4:45am, being the person tasked with making coffee and breakfast for her mother and her eight other family members. Scrubbing the toilets of the obscenely wealthy, every day, and hurrying it so they can clean 4 mansions instead of 3. Eating dinner with her family who are all strangely nitpicky and critical of her…even after she saved their lives from giant dragon aliens (to be fair, they were all unconscious for that part and probably just put it down to bad stereotypically ethnic food). And talking about how she doesn’t really want to do anything with her wealth, power, or technology for becoming immortal. She just wants to hang out with her new super-soldier boyfriend and enjoy the benefits of his anti-gravity boots.
Life lesson of the film: Being rich is hard, man. You have all this money and all these responsibilities. Wanting something more in life just brings you pain. It sucks. Its better off to scrub toilets and wake up before the sun rises, every day. Clean, drone, clean!
I may be griping on that point a bit too hard, but I couldn’t fail to read a definite classist note to the film’s end. Jupiter eschews her wealth and power and goes back to being a maid, meanwhile her relatives are out there, literally murdering billions of people for fun and profit, even though she apparently actually has the power to stop it. But screw those billions of people. That’s rich people problems!
Keep in mind, this is a movie, theoretically speaking, about Jupiter Jones (who, I will admit, has one of those awesome pulp space opera names that you’d expect to find in old school issues of Astounding). Except not really, as discussed. No, this movie is about the far, far, far more interesting Caine Wise.
Caine Wise is everything you would expect from a space opera protagonist, especially one from a sci-fi action first-person-shooter video game. Everything about him is awesome. He is a “splice”, a genetically engineered human with part of his DNA melded with that of a canine. On the plus side, this gives him superior strength, speed, endurance, and senses. He has an almost post-cognitive sense of smell, and can track based on genetic markers. Also he seems to genetically have abs you could grate cheese off (which he happily accentuates at every opportunity with tight, thin shirts and uniforms…or just plain going topless because why bother with armour when you have holographic shields?). Apparently, Caine’s specific breed of splices are designed with a pack instinct, but because he was the “runt of the litter” he was sold off to the army. He is, quite literally, a dog of the military (minus funky pocket watch and transmutational superpowers). He was part of some sort of elite paratrooper-type regiment where he had implanted cybernetic wings which let him fly like a bird.
So here we have this badass super-soldier who could give Captain America a run for his money, who looks and acts like your typical Shadowrun character. Instead of having a pack, he finds a home in the Legion. He has a life-long love-hate friendenemyship with Sean Bean, who is apparently part bee. I do not know why. But he’s part bee. Now, lets add in some tragedy! Caine apparently once went berserk and murdered an “entitled” (presumably they weren’t terribly important, like a Duke or something, because he wasn’t executed for the crime…probably just a Baron or a Squire). For this he was cast out of the army, stripped of his wings, and sent to rot in prison. However, because this is all about him, Caine was released under the recognizance of one of the richest men in the universe in order to go to Earth and rescue one single person: Jupiter. The reward? Reinstatement for himself and Sean Bean (who, because he’s half bee, is called “Stinger”…yes, really).
So, to recap, Channing Tatum’s character is a super-soldier who a rich, painful history, a big mission to save the universe (or at least its economy), and a juicy reward that fulfills his character arc. He has a beginning, a middle, and an end to his part in the movie. He has something he desires, something that gets him in trouble, and something that defines who he is. Caine Wise is a fully developed character. If Jupiter Ascending were a video game, Caine would be your PC.
It’s a damn shame that his princess’ personality is in another movie.
Jupiter doesn’t really have an arc. She doesn’t really want anything (except, perhaps, for a nice brass telescope like the one her father had). She ends up only slightly different at the end than she was at the beginning. She has no real desire, and no real agency. And therein lies this movie’s biggest problem. And it is a problem.
This is the sort of plot I would have expected from a film ten or twenty years ago. I admit, I went into the movie knowing almost nothing about it. I had, naively, assumed that Jupiter would either use her wealth and power as a weapon (dealing with the problem through diplomacy, logic, and/or wit and guile), or she would get some awesome future tech weapons and kick some ass. Maybe save Caine from capture at some point? Hell, there’s even a scene where she is kidnapped, Caine is kidnapped, and it would have been fantastic (and even redeeming for the film) if she had reversed their roles for once, kitted out with some hyper-tech (maybe one of those holo-shields Caine used during the film?) and rescued him from a legion of cybernetic guards whose arms have been replaced with guns, or the dreaded Space Dragon Gestapo?
But no. That doesn’t happen. Because that would be giving Jupiter agency. Can’t have that in this “Princesses need to be saved” fanfiction. Which amazes me, because this it the Wachowskis we’re talking about here. They created Trinity, who at least in the first Matrix film was unbelievably badass and basically switched the roles that Tatum and Kunis play in this movie! There was so much potential here, but it was repeatedly squandered in favour of tired, bored clichés and a plot that is straight out of a last-gen console FPS.
Mind you, most of the other female characters (the few there are) aren’t given much more. Kalique Abrasax is one of the three powerful siblings vying over Jupiter for the rights to harvest Earth. She is a schemer, a manipulator, and reminds me no small amount of characters like Cersei Lannister in Song of Ice and Fire/A Game of Thrones and Atia from Rome. At least, I’m assuming as much, because she only has two scenes in the film before she is written out of the entire goddamn movie as “ambiguously malevolent”. No, seriously. She has mercenaries kidnap Jupiter and bring her to Kalique’s throne world. She explains the plot and setting to Jupiter…who is then promptly stolen back by Caine, and disappears from the film, presumably to have more glowing rejuvenating baths and eat more fluorescent-light-bulb-coloured sweets.
There is a female space police ship captain, and to be fair she is basically made of fucking awesome, but she and Kalique are just about the only two female characters other than Jupiter have major roles in the film. Both have more story, drive, development, and arcs than Jupiter herself. Shit, I really just want to see a movie about Captain Diomika Tsing (played by Luther’s gorgeous and badass looking Nikki Amuka-Bird) and her ship of space police (which includes a cybernetic first mate and an elephantine pilot who communicates his enthusiasm solely through trumpeting his trunk). She is also, I will add, one of a very, very, very small number of non-white humans in the film. There are one or two non-white splices (including one who…err…basically looks like a sexed up version of Gadget from Rescue Rangers), but that’s about it. The rest are aliens who defy ethnicity by virtue of being dragons, cyborgs, or Grey Alien-looking things. Heck, even their robots are Caucasian. This universe full of humanity’s vast interstellar glory is about as ethnically diverse as an episode of Happy Days.
I cannot get past the short shrift done to Mila Kunis in this film. She and her character could have been so much more, but instead she is reduced to being a plot coupon for the three Abrasax siblings and Caine to fight over. That is pretty much her entire role in the film. Jupiter is a plot coupon. She must be collected to complete the “Take Control of the Earth” and “Get Reinstated by the Legion” questlines. Jupiter does not have her own quest.
Heck, Captain Tsing is essentially the only person with a major speaking role in the movie who doesn’t give two shits about Jupiter, save for ensuring her continued survival. Doesn’t want to romance her, doesn’t want to manipulate her, just keeps sighing and say “I have to go save Her Majesty’s ass again. I picked the wrong day to quit drinking.” (I just assume all police captains and chiefs talk like extras from Lethal Weapon movies…it’s a personal flaw).
“Dammit, Tsing! You blew up another entitled cruiser! You’re a loose cannon, TURN IN YOUR BADGE!”
Jupiter Ascending is not a good movie. It is a very pretty movie. It is a very well rendered movie. It is a very well crafted and well shot movie. It is not, however, a good movie. It has a lot of problems with its characters, with its story, and with the way it handles its setting. It had a lot of potential, but it is mediocre at best in that regard. However, I think I agree with many of my friends in that it is a fun bad movie to see. Because it is pretty, because it is well rendered, because it is well shot, because it is well crafted (by which I mean the props and costumes are gorgeous).
Were I to have a rating system, I would give this movie 2.75 to 3 stars out of 5. If you are going to watch a movie, I would much rather you watched this than Fifty Shades. Seriously. Whatever you do DO NOT WATCH FIFTY SHADES. DO NOT GIVE THAT MOVIE YOUR MONEY. But I think I would rather watch Lucy than Jupiter Ascending.
Be seeing you.
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