Movie Review: Magic Mike & The Starlight Express (Er… Jupiter Ascending)

Jupiter_AscendingTypically when we talk about movies and television on this blog, it is in reference to comic books, and the other media they inspire.  There is no question that we live in what will almost certainly be known as the peak of the comic book crossover media craze.  And what a craze it’s been!  We’ve been veritably blessed with a string of awesome movies and TV shows, and it hasn’t even begun to wane.

It’s a good time to be alive.

But as much as I love me some Marvel (and to a lesser extent, DC) movie goodness, there is something to be said for content that is fresh, creative, and not another adaptation, reboot, remake, or sequel.  Frankly, it seems like original genre films don’t come along very often at all these days, so when does pop up, it’s popcorn time!

(Light spoilers for Jupiter Ascending follow.  Meta-spoiler: No amount of spoilers will actually diminish your enjoyment of the film, because for a spoiler to matter, a movie’s plot must be coherent to the degree that a spoiler actually makes sense in the context of the film and therefore might ruin one’s enjoyment by presaging a plot point.  Jupiter Ascending is incoherent from start to finish, and while there is a plot, it is less a tidy collection of points and more like a Jackson Pollock painting.  So no worries there.)

What can I say about Jupiter Ascending that hasn’t been said a dozen times or more?  I’ll be honest with my opinion: It’s not a great film.  It’s ponderously slow at times and yet the details, dialog, and action come so blazingly fast at other times that it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on.  It’s complex and overwrought, but the plot is shockingly simplistic (I mean how the hell do you set up a sibling drama of Shakespearean proportion and then fail to execute on even a little bit of real betrayal?).  Most characters are either two dimensional (in the case of Douglas Booth’s rendition of Edward Cullen Titus Abraxas) or utterly pointless (see Sean Bean’s daughter who must be a leftover from the deleted scenes to give Bean’s character Stinger something resembling a motivation, and Tuppence Middleton’s Kalique Abraxas–a third sibling in the interstellar dynasty who exists only for exposition, but who is otherwise ENTIRELY purposeless and benign).  Hell, Jupiter Ascending is not even especially original–the Wachowski’s have a history of borrowing from those they love, and Mass Effect, Dune, Soylent Green, Warhammer 40,000, and about a dozen other works would luuuurve to have a word with Lana and Andy about homage and attribution…  But by the gods, you should still see this movie.

Jupiter Ascending is a glorious pastiche, a hot mess made of many parts, but arranged just so–just off center enough that you haven’t seem them assembled quite like this.  The movie is as messy as the “science” that underpins it–in Jupiter’s world, humans aren’t batteries, but our genetics are the key to immortality.  However, to access those genetics, you need lots of wires, drills, knives and goo…  Inorite?  The Wachowskis have a thing for the power of bodies, as evidenced by the Matrix movies, and it’s more or less the same macguffin here, only instead of being wired into the Matrix, for the humans of Jupiter Ascending, the whole Earth is a prison…  To borrow a phrase the Wachowski’s made famous, “Whoa.”  As in, “Whoa, the Wachowski’s even borrow from the Wachowski’s.  Talk about recursive!”

I still think you should see it.  In fact, I’ll give you three big reasons why Jupiter Ascending is worth your ten fiddy.

  1. It’s gorgeous.  If the Wachowskis got nothing else right, they nailed the execution on the visuals.  The vistas are amazing and for a CGI heavy film, the intersection of the real and the virtual is hard to find.  The extra months in post after the film’s delay from a summer 2014 to winter 2015 release definitely paid off.
  2. Despite my ragging on the Wachowskis’ penchant for liberally borrowing from other’s work, Jupiter Ascending is very imaginative.  Galactic civilization has a very slick “Ancient Future” vibe, which blends gothic, baroque and something akin to steampunk in a way I’ve never quite seen before.  The scenes on the bureaucratic planet in particular paint a pretty slick picture of Jupiter’s universe.
  3. This is it people.  This is the one.  This is the movie where Sean Bean doesn’t die!  We are through the looking glass, people! *head_explody.gif*

In a world where we’re so hard up for media to adapt to the big screen that Disney actually cranked out a film based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars stories and Warner Bros has Tom Cruise starring in adaptations of Japanese sci-fi novels, it’s safe to say that Jupiter Ascending is a breath of fresh air.  Fetid, unctuous air, but sweet O2 nonetheless.  So go forth with the lightness of knowing that you won’t be impressed by the plot, and that it may not make sense from beginning to end, but steadfast in the righteousness that you are supporting something which seems entirely lost from Hollywood genre films: Originality (such as it is when the Wachowski’s are at work).

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This entry was posted by Chris Avery.

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