Movie Review: Jupiter Ascending

This may come off as snobbish, but The Matrix, V for Vendetta, and Cloud Atlas are grossly under appreciated for their subtlety and symbolism. I know bullet time and long droning conversations about the meaning of reality are not exactly subtle, but when you consider the casting, wardrobe, and themes of those films, you can find a common thread of sexual and gender acceptance throughout.

The Matrix did not shy away from including women in many male dominant roles and dressing its men like metro-sexual gangsters. V for Vendetta, despite being worthless when compared to the comic book by Alan Moore, made a clear point in saying no matter your race, sex, or creed, anyone can be a revolutionary. In Cloud Atlas, a movie you should definitely watch, it showed gender and sexual orientation are changed and passed down across cultures and generations. These films have so much to say, but so few care to listen. Does Jupiter Ascending have anything to say or is it another misunderstood flop?

When trying to describe the film, I am at a loss for words. I am not implying it is bad, but what I am saying is Ascending is so bat-shit insane, I cannot articulate what the movie is like. Inherent Vice was something out of this world, but one could at least comprehend and explain it to others. Allow me to put it this way:

Take John Carter, Star Wars, Foundation, Dune, Warhammer 40k, and Farscape, combine them with the strongest weed only Toronto could produce, and you have Jupiter Ascending, a film I believe has resurrected the Space Opera genre.

The story follows Jupiter Jones, played by Mila Kunis, a Russian immigrant and maid. While trying to earn money by donating her eggs, she finds life threatened before Caine, played by Channing Tatum, a genetically altered soldier, rescues her. From there Jupiter is thrust into a Universe-spanning conspiracy involving a family of ancient royalty and their nebulous business.

If you had not gathered from the collage of related works in my attempt to explain this movie, Ascending is unique. Granted if you took The Matrix and tore out its theme, you get the archetypical Hero’s Journey that Ascending employs. What sets it apart is the scope and aesthetics it uses to both tell the story and build its strange world.

It has a visual style that borrows from so many sources it becomes its own. All the ships, spacecraft, and planetary installations are beautiful pieces of art that only sci-fi fantasy could produce. It is sheer eye-candy and so cool you forget most of it is CGI. I know how that sounds and I am always the first to advocate the use of practical effects, but when you see the many artistic influences stacked on top of each other, glazed in shining color, you will beg for a print of every frame.

With its beauty comes Ascending’s out-there world. It is packed to the brim with tropes mashed together in a mess of glorious chaos. It has people spliced with animal DNA, androids, age rejuvenating drugs, intergalactic bureaucracy, and an alien with the face of an elephant. It is so earnest and serious in its depiction that a sentence like “Channing Tatum fights a dragon on top of a burning cathedral using gravity boots” makes total sense within the context of the film.

To explain this convolution, Ascending focuses very much on building its world, and that is where it completely fails.

Almost every piece of dialog is dedicated to world building, with maybe 30% reserved for exposition, character, and story. In my opinion, that is a perfect balance because it leaves room for the audience to figure out what is going on. I have no problem with too much world building. However, because Ascending’s world is denser than a nuclear fallout shelter, it has a lot to say. So much so, you lose focus after the 30-minute mark.

What the film lacked the most was a sense of verisimilitude; a way for the audience to quickly identify what something is based on name alone. I am all for weird names for stuff in fiction, but if I need to turn on the subtitles to translate gibberish, you have done something wrong. Had it been the other way, the density of Ascending would have been bearable because at least I can follow and remember what is what.

That is the main problem I feel is more important than a few minor complaints.

For one thing, the story is also quite dense. A lot happens within the first hour and the movie could have ended twice. With so much going on, it would have been better suited in two parts.

Despite snippets of theme, there really is not much to get you thinking like other Wachowski movies. It tries with a ham-handedly executed examination of consumerism, but not enough to get me to care, at least from my point of view.

Furthermore, the acting was nothing special and very phoned-in. Sean Bean was pretty good mostly because he spoke with his regular accent and did not die.

The high point of the performances was Eddie Redmayne in the villain role of Balem. He succeeds by making the character one of the creepiest antagonists I have ever seen. It is not what he does, but how he does it. He speaks with this thick monotone gravel that punctuates his unique features. His movements and expressions are akin to Max Schrek in Nosferatu, with a very stiff posture and little to no changes in a face that was no doubt made to play villains. Redmayne was worth this long sit of a movie.

Many people will find a lot to complain about in Jupiter Ascending. I appreciate it for not only the aesthetics and the signature Wachowski fight sequences, but the fact that it is original sci-fi and a reemergence of the Space Opera. Believe me, there is a lot to enjoy, but one cannot deny the obvious problems with pacing and density. If you are a veteran fan of sci-fi, you will like this movie. If not, stay home and wait for it to come out on DVD.

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