Hello, I’m AsimovLives and I love Science Fiction. But the love is not always mutual.
Writers/Directors: The Wachowski Brothers… err, Siblings… Mutually Related Through Common Parentage… The Wachowskis… yeah, that’s it, right
Producers: The Wachowskis and other people (strangely, not Joel Silver)
Cinematography: John Toll
Music: Michael Giacchino
Editor: Alexander Berner
Running time: 127 minutes
Actors: Mila Kunis (Jupiter Jones), Channing Tatum (Caine Wise), Sean Bean (Stinger Apini), Eddie Redmayne (Balem Abrasax), Douglas Booth (Titus Abrasax), Tuppence Middleton (Kalique Abrasax), Bae Doona (Razo), Maria Doyle Kennedy (Aleksa, Jupiter’s mother), James D’Arcy (Maximilian Jones, Jupiter’s father), Nikki Amuka-Bird (Diomika Tsing), Tim Pigott-Smith (Malidictes), Terry Gilliam (a Seal and Signet Minister Bureaucrat)
Jupiter Jones hates her life. She and her mother emigrated from Russia after the tragic death of her father, live by doing menial jobs, and have conformed to the notion that her life will be a perpetual cycle of waking up at 4:15 AM to scrub the toilets of Chicago’s elite.
But little does she know that she is a perfect genetic repetition of the former matriarch of the Abrasax family and Earth and humanity is her own personal prized possession.
After being rescued (from an attempt on her life) by the human/dog hybrid soldier Caine Wise, she goes for a great galactic-span adventure where she meets new allies, sees many wonders, meets her “kids”, faces galactic soul-draining bureaucracy, fights for her inheritance and consequentially the future of mankind.
How do I even start with this one?
I find it easy to talk about good or bad movies. Their virtues or faults are readily identifiable and thus easy to comment upon. But what to say about a movie that’s neither? What to say about a movie that leaves you cold and disengaged? Jupiter Ascending is one such movie.
I have been working on variations of what to write in the opinion section of this article, and so far I have yet to come up with one satisfying text that expresses my thoughts on this movie. The very reason for this is that this movie doesn’t invite much of those because the movie just doesn’t engage me. It is funny considering that I should be this movie’s perfect audience. I get so many of the film’s references and influences, and some of the ideas are quite clever.
Jupiter Ascending is supposed to be the Wachowskis big comeback – I guess an attempt to put them back into the same position they enjoyed after the mega successes of the Matrix Trilogy. I was not that aware they needed a comeback but maybe the apparent less than stellar commercial performances of Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, they might have necessitated a commercial comeback of sorts. It’s a sad necessity of operating in commercial-oriented Hollywood.
If this is a comeback, I do have to applaud the siblings for not going for an all too obvious route. They could had gone back to their cyberpunk roots, they could have pumped from the well of The Matrix and conjured up a 4th movie *coughTransformersPiratesOfTheCaribbeanscough*.
Instead, they went for a completely new creation, and one divorced from their previous works. And, more boldly even, they went for a space opera epic. The public has not consistently embraced space operas in recent years – so it really was a risk on their part.
And they should be commended – to a degree. Jupiter Ascending is bold in that aspect, but sadly, ambition alone is not the hallmark of successful film. As a consolation, it could have been a spectacular failure, a fantastic charismatic train wreck spectacle. But the movie is not that either. This movie is just… there.
The only thing about it I can say for certain I hated about it: the music score by Giacchino. I don’t hide the fact I don’t like his work and this is not the occasion he will dissuade me otherwise. It’s again one of his cacophonous pieces of work where a lot of symphonic noise pretends to be epic music. It says a lot that his best work yet, his score or Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, is a complete pastiche of the John Barry scores from James Bond. This film’s score hurts the movie more than it helps it.
What’s good about this movie? A few of the ideas that serve as the building block of the world building are pretty OK. The notion that captains of industries treat people as mere material resources is nothing new to all those who don’t worship commerce. But it’s great to see this type of anvil dropped in a piece of mass entertainment in today’s day and age.
The visuals of the movie are lush and given the nature of the story – where we follow a group of high class snobs whose tastes are nouveaux riches tacky (ironic as their family goes back to 120 thousand years, but maybe that’s the whole point) – makes for a change of style in the depiction of space ships, all baroque and gothic. It is rich people showing off their riches. Or the bird inspired light crafts. Or the gravity surfing boots of Caine.
The visual style of the movie reminds me, and I’m quite certain is a deliberate call back, to the art of the influential French comics Métal Hurlant, co-created by Jean Giraud, aka, Moebius. If you want to go for a space opera stylistics that is not indebted to either Star Wars or Star Trek, Métal Hurlant is your best inspiration choice. They often went for highly unusual designs, often incorporating gothic elements that made the spaceships they depicted things more out of a dream – or nightmare – then what one would conceive of a practical spaceship. One of their works I was quite reminded of was the strange epic 1979 comic “So Beautiful and So Dangerous” by Angus McKie.
And I could say that the special effects of the movie are pretty good, in a technical way. Again, their design should have impressed me, and yet, didn’t. In theory, it is nice to see a Hollywood spectacle that doesn’t rely on a repetition of the aesthetics of Star Wars for a space opera, but still, something is just off. The end result is disengaging. Strange!
The action scenes, namely the Chicago fly chase, were disappointing. They were a mere repetition of what we have already seen in such blockbusters as the Transformers movies and Man Of Steel, namely, mass destruction happening between skyscrapers. Is there some mandatory law these days in Hollywood blockbusters that every flying action scene has to happen in high populous cities surrounded by tall buildings? Really, it’s getting annoying.
The depressing thing is that the Wachowskis were once trendsetters with their Matrix movies. Today, it’s the Wachowskis who feel compelled/forced to repeat the annoying action stylistics of lesser filmmakers. It is quite sad to see how the mighty have fallen.
As for the story itself… well, if from my synopsis above the idea you got from the movie that it’s all about a struggle for an… inheritance? Well, yeah, that’s basically it. That’s the movie, a space opera about the dramatics of a family heirloom. The concept is so demented it could have worked if the movie was a full-blown comedy. But it’s not; it wants to be taken seriously. Well, I couldn’t do it.
The movie is cast with a group of pretty good actors… and Channing Tatum. Nobody exactly slacks, but nobody excels either.
What am I to make of this movie? What I am to make of the Wachowskis? They once blew my mind with Bound and especially The Matrix. These two movies heralded the emergence of two of the most interesting talents to emerge in Hollywood. Genuine geek filmmakers making geek movies for geeks, which, in the case of The Matrix, crossed over and captured the imagination of the mainstream public. They once made the movie that competed and won against a new Star Wars movie. History seems to be repeating again with their new movie, which comparisons to the new Star Wars movie will be inevitable. The thing is, in an ironic twist of fate, even if the new Star Wars movie is crap, it will still be more memorable and will be far more talked about than the new Wachowskis film.
I’m pretty certain Jupiter Ascending will be quickly forgotten – even in the foreign markets that have been commercially kinder on the box office – and it will soon be found in a bargain bin in a discount store next to you.
In the end, I guess all I can say about this movie in a shorter version of what I wrote above – Jupiter Ascending: Somewhere inside this movie is a much better movie trying to get out but can’t. I can’t like it nor can I hate it. But I can lament about what it could had been but isn’t.
Much ado about nothing indeed.
This is AsimovLives signing off. Have a better one.