Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jupiter Ascending is Fun Winter Escapism that Left Me Wanting More

The villainous Lord Balem (Eddie Redmayne) views Jupiter, jewel of his empire, from a regenerative bath.

Eddie Redmayne Steals the Show in Otherwise Frustrating, Yet Imaginative, Intergalactic Opera

Jupiter Ascending, the newest offering from the Wachowski siblings who brought us The Matrix trilogy and Cloud Atlas is a fun science fiction opera that left me wanting more. There seemed to be a push and pull throughout as the movie jumped between action and the explosions that are that genre's bread and butter, to long conversations that only just touch on something deeper and more profound.

In Jupiter Ascending the audience meets Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) an immigrant born between continents under the sign of the planet Jupiter who makes her living scrubbing toilets and taking out other peoples' garbage. But like Cinderella, there's more in Jupiter's future than slaving day in, day out. Where the glass slippers gave Cinderella her path to a palace, Jupiter's genetic code is what singles her out for greatness.

You see, Jupiter is a "recurrence," a genetic identical of the dead mother of the Abrasax clan. This mother's 3 scheming children control planets which they harvest for genetic material that keeps them young and virile for lives spanning tens of thousands of years. The eldest of these children, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), wants Jupiter dead because, by simply existing, the Earth and other planets in Balem's inheritance will belong to her.

Balem's pursuit puts the plot in motion as Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) a spliced half human, half dog bounty hunter, rescues Jupiter from her would-be assassins.

You don't have to pay attention too closely to see that Jupiter Ascending is a critique of capitalism. Or at least the reality of human society as a pyramid with a select group at the top controlling most of the money and resources. In an early scene the Abrasax heirs are taking a walkabout on an empty, harvested planet. Balem, Titus (Douglas Booth), and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) snipe at each other about their dead mother's inheritance and who took title to what planet.

Balem is the villain here, as well as the most interesting character in the movie. He speaks only in throaty whispers or full on drama queen screams. He loves his dear departed mommy, yet killed her for reasons unspecified. In perhaps his best line, Balem declares life to be, "an act of consumption." I left the theater wanting to know more about this thinner, more handsome version of Dune's Baron Harkonnen.

Here lies Jupiter Ascending's greatest weakness. Because it can't decide if it wants to be an action movie or a more philosophical, idea-based science fiction journey, we're robbed of character development. The Abrasax are all schemers, Jupiter is a naive woman constantly being saved by Caine, and Caine is the valiant gentleman who tries not to let on how much he loves Jupiter. All of the primary characters have one or two note personalities — there's no depth here, though the fact that some of them (particularly Balem in his final in person showdown with Jupiter) hint at depth in their speeches is frustrating. 

I suggest making time to watch the wonderful Mars et Avril, a Canadian sci-fi created in Quebec, to get a sense of what Jupiter Ascending might have been had the Wachowskis spent a little more time on character development and motivation. Mars et Avril manages to connect the planets with human intrigue and love. It is an immensely emotionally and visually satisfying film to watch. 

While the chase scenes and explosions are entertaining in Jupiter Ascending, by skipping on character development the audience ends up not giving a shit about the characters. What makes it even more frustrating is the groundwork is there. Background and context are given throughout.

I give the Wachowskis points for attempting something original and daring. The movie is fun winter escapism, but it misses the certain something that could have made it amazing. Although the movie's release date was pushed back from summer 2014 to February 2015, they could really have used more time to decide on the kind of film they wanted to make and then make that film really well, as opposed to this strange fusion that left me wanting more. 

The planet Jupiter, home to a towering refinery that is the seat of Balem Abrasax's empire.

No comments:

Post a Comment