Jupiter Ascending: The movie we never knew we wanted

I’ve had Jupiter Ascending rolling over and over in my brain for the last 18 hours and my conclusion is this:

Damn if I didn’t know this at the time but this is exactly the kind of film we should be encouraging, not discouraging, our filmmakers to write. It’s a flawed – it’s got all kinds of wonderful ideas that it doesn’t give enough breathing space to – but ultimately redeeming story of how inheritances tear a family apart, told on the backdrop of an intergalactic mercantile empire run mostly by the sheer quantity of scenery Eddie Redmayne can chew without raising his voice above a whisper. Until he screams.

Mila Kunis, a white woman with brown hair wearing a vest and close-fitting leggings, falls into a technological abyss.

Mila Kunis spends entirely too much of her screen time like this, but it’s actually ok. © 2015 Warner Bros.

Spoilers are behind the cut.

I cannot personally do this movie justice. Lana Wachowski and her brother Andy have created an absolutely amazing fantasy world that is also completely tripping balls. The visuals are surreal and wonderful, with spaceships and mechs that feel simultaneously solid and airy, realistic and fantastical. The Wachowskis build a Rube Goldberg of a paperwork scene – a paperwork scene of all things – that manages to keep the screen time moving and demonstrate the prodigious bureaucratic depth of a universe where coming back from the dead can in fact happen, complete with an increasingly harried legal cyborg who eventually resorts to outright bribery to get his charge’s affairs in order.

The universe’s hidden horror is treated by its inhabitants as fundamentally reasonable, which makes it all the more horrible. The makers of Soylent Green probably wished they could have made their movie’s ending as disturbing as the scenes of blades and needles digging into the flesh of unconscious humans being processed into Regenex, the youth serum that drives the biomedical industry of this millions-of-years-old intergalactic empire.

Proving that Tropes Are Not Bad, if you’ve seen Star WarsThe Matrix, and Mass Effect, you can probably tick off all the plot points in this movie at least twenty minutes before they actually happen, but viewing them is actually a tremendous pleasure. And in how many movies does the heroine actually listen and respond right at the moment you’re about to shout at her to just kick the villain in the balls already!?

One of the things I appreciated about the movie is that Jupiter is not omnicompetent – she’s smart and brave, but Balem, Kalique, and Titus are thousands of years old each, and have had that long to learn how to lie to and manipulate everyone around them – they might feel a certain sympathetic attachment to their late mother, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to manipulate her reincarnation. Fortunately, Jupiter is a quick study.

And there’s magic science bees. BEES. That recognize her, somehow, as a noble.

If you love space opera, you should see this movie and appreciate it, warts and all, because it’s one of a tiny handful of really original sci-fi movies since the turn of the millennium. Science-fiction and especially space-opera worldbuilders need to see this film with pencil and notebook in hand.

 

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