Movie review 'Jupiter Ascending': A complex space opera

Movie: Jupiter Ascending (A) 128 min
Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton
Director: Lana and Andy Wachowski
Rating: 3 Stars

Jupiter Ascending is a complex space opera revolving around the destiny of Russian-American Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis). While struggling with life and work pressures, this young woman makes a series of startling discoveries: 1) There’s intelligent life in the universe; 2) some of them, the Abrasax family of Titus (Douglas Booth), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Balem (Eddie Redmayne), wish to destroy Earth and all of humanity; 3) while others are nice spacemen who speak in American and British accents — Stinger (Sean Bean) and Caine Wise (Channing Tatum); 4) Jupiter Jones is Earth’s only hope.

The genre of science-fiction or fantasy, whether it’s The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or The Matrix (the most successful and compelling film of directors Lana and Andy Wachowski), works best the less we know about it; the more oblique and opaque the metaphor, the greater the space for audiences to fill in the blanks.
In the case of Jupiter Ascending, the plot is actually a little more nuanced. In that it’s not so much good-versus-evil as it is a simple coming-of-age story, i.e. a girl becoming a woman. Mila Kunis, despite the weakness of the material, is quite compelling as Jupiter, the daughter of a widowed Russian exile growing up in America as part of an extended family.

She deals with doubts about her career, her isolation from her family and her yearning for love. However, the outer space element is presented to us without any mystery, any terror or ambiguity. We are given conversations describing the villainous Abrasax family, what their evil intentions are, we are told what the real origins of life are, but they don’t surprise us, nor do these revelations bother Jupiter. Unlike Guardians of the Galaxy, a more entertaining space opera, there’s not a lot of humour to be found here. We have flying Dinosaur Angels in the movie, but none of them is as interesting as a talking raccoon with a machine gun.

The Wachowski brothers are one of the few film-makers who have a genuine comic-book sensibility. Their movies revolve around creating a certain set of stylised images (what is described in comics as a “Splash Page”), creation of all kinds of groups and sub-groups (which can cynically be considered as a means to create a stable of action-figures) that revolve around certain archetypal characters. Jupiter Jones is not just a woman but she is “The Girl” — single, cute, nice, ordinary yet gorgeous.

It’s not just science-fiction, it’s also a heroic adventure story, it’s also a story about pseudo-Shakespearean family dynamics and it’s also a love story. It essentially becomes an American Bollywood movie complete with a last-minute wedding crash montage that stretches suspense and tension to the last possible minute. Comic books are not so interested in plot and character as much as scene-setting, allusions to all kinds of side-characters, weird incidents and other minutiae, that in the hands of Wachowski becomes an end-in-itself rather than a detail in a larger vision.

This minutiae moreover comes in the vehicle of an action blockbuster. The action here is lifeless and without any real weight. 3D is not used creatively and the SFX depicting space travel is nothing compared to Gravity or Interstellar. However, there are moments of true weirdness and unexpected beauty. There’s the outer-space wedding scene — where the arrival of a bride in a weird costume descending on a floating platform is genuinely operatic.

The writer is programmer, Lightcube Film Society

( Source : dc )
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