Saturday, February 7, 2015


This afternoon I saw the new science fiction film Jupiter Ascending, the latest production by the minds behind The Matrix, with my friend Daniel.

The Plot

Working-class illegal Russian immigrant Jupiter Jones (her father is British) learns that she's a rare genetic recurrence of the recently-deceased matriarch of the powerful interstellar Abrasax dynasty--a sort of clone/reincarnation. Given the terms of said matriarch's will, she's the owner of Earth in the eyes of a powerful space civilization that seeded the planet 100,000 years before. The matriarch's heirs have other plans, but she has an ally in Caine Wise, a genetically-engineered warrior combing human and canine DNA.

The Good

*Points for originality. These days it seems everything is a remake of some older, more successful film or an adaptation of a young-adult novel. I don't mind book adaptations one bit--I hope to make a butt-load of money off those someday--but something purely original seems to be a rare treat these days.

*Though the beginning is slow, once we get into space things get more entertaining.

*It seems everything is set in New York or Los Angeles. The fact something is set in Chicago and there are recognizable Chicago buildings is kind of cool.

*This could be the jumping-off point for an interesting fictional universe, even if the movie doesn't do well. I could easily imagine comics, TV series, etc.

*They at least try to explain some of the more outlandish conceits. For example, the "seeding" of Earth with humans (who apparently really evolved elsewhere a billion years ago) involved mixing human DNA with that of indigenous life to bring about independent human evolution on Earth. Another example involved just why it didn't really matter that attempts to cover up alien-human involvement on Earth wouldn't be 100% foolproof.

*Jupiter's loving--if at times difficult to deal with--working-class family is contrasted with the decadent interstellar aristocracy. The whole concept of foils shows the Wachowskis were trying for something more high concept than "pulpy space opera."

*Although the dialogue has been criticized a lot, I actually liked it. I found the "I've always loved dogs" bit from the trailer funny in context, and the scene where Jupiter's family finds out her slimy cousin Vladie had persuaded her to try to sell her eggs was pretty amusing.

*There were a couple bits of humor I enjoyed.

*Can't go into detail, but I did think the ending was kind of sweet.

The Bad

*It's a very pretty film, but it's pretty dull in parts. The scene where bounty hunters in space fighters hunt Caine and Jupiter through Chicago was actually kind of dull. And where was the military/police reaction? We see cops coming on the scene later, but that's it.

*Jupiter doesn't really display a whole lot of agency until the climax. Obviously someone snatched from a mundane life into a world of interstellar craziness is going to be a bit lost and bewildered for awhile, but if the plan was that her character arc was "growing a spine" (Mila Kunis described the character as hating her life but too lazy to do anything about it), the "showing her progressively getting more and more opinionated and willing to do something about it" angle should have been stronger.

*Even though they try to lampshade it, I still have a hard time buying that in an age of smart phones with cameras, YouTube, etc. that it would be possible to cover up large-scale extraterrestrial activity. Especially when Caine claims damaged buildings would be quickly rebuilt to continue the cover-up. If the fact this worked in the past and is no longer working became a plot point, that would be tolerable, but it doesn't.

*There's clearly so much world the Wachowskis have built, but it's hard to work it all into a normal movie coherently.

*There're some anti-capitalist elements that weren't really handled well. I don't mind political messages I don't agree with, but I'd rather they be presented well. Either do it right or leave it out. That makes more business sense as well, given how alienating politics can be.

*Eddie Redmayne's delivery needs some work. He comes off as petulant and not really able to hold his own in a fight--which given his decadent-aristocrat upbringing isn't really a surprise--but the way he alternates between whispering and shouting isn't that good.

*The "interstellar DMV scene" (with apparently homages to the film Brazil) clashes aesthetically with the rest of the space civilization as depicted. I imagine the intent is comedic--and they do get a couple amusing jokes out of it--but it just doesn't work worldbuilding wise.

*Two plot threads involving rival heirs are left hanging. Are these being left for the sequel? Given how hard it will be for a film this expensive to make back its budget, that might not have been such a good idea.

The Verdict

It's worth seeing once. 6.5 out of 10. Hopefully it does well enough to justify a television series or books like what ultimately happened to Dark Angel. It would have been better off as a high-budget TV show in the vein of Game of Thrones.

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