Film #146: Jupiter Ascending (2015)

jupiter-ascending-still03Directors: Andy & Lana Wachowski
Language: English, Russian, and some creative gibberish
Length: 127 minutes
Watched on: 1 April 2015

As usual, Japan is late in releasing movies. In this case, it was only about a month late, so it was still within the window where there was a bit of hype going around about the movie.

Essentially, Jupiter Ascending (known as only Jupiter in Japan, for what it’s worth) seems to have been a pretty polarizing movie, with some people really liking it, and others really vehemently hating it. A lot of this has been blamed on gender, as the movie attempts to be a trashy B-movie made for women, with a female lead and a smouldering Channing Tatum as the love interest. It’s a wish fulfillment fantasy aimed at women, essentially, where the main character discovers she’s a space princess. It’s not so ridiculous, but apparently the public is more willing to forgive a movie for being trashy wish fulfillment if it’s got a male lead, as most movies have. I think that there’s an element of truth in this, but I don’t think it’s, at the end of the day, the reason why it’s flopped.

The Wachowskis have never quite managed to hit the high they did with The Matrix, again, and this is no exception. They wrote V for Vendetta, which has taken its place, for all the wrong reasons, in popular culture, with the spread of those awful Guy Fawkes masks to represent 4chan and Anonymous culture. In the interest of disclosure, I used to like V for Vendetta when I was a teenager, but it didn’t bear repeat viewings. By the third or fourth time I just wished the Wachowskis’ brand of pop psychology that ran so rife would die its well-deserved death.

The thing is, this movie can be very fairly described as a gender-flipped version of The Matrix. It’s pretty much the same plot point that supports the movie: the deception of humanity by a higher order that is using human beings to power their nefarious means.

Except that that’s not quite right. Mila Kunis’s main character, called Jupiter, has two or three male love interests over the course of the movie and much of the movie is them using her as a pawn in their galactic war-of-sorts, a kind of family feud. She often doesn’t have a lot of agency of her own, being literally dragged from place to place and constantly bailed out by Channing Tatum.

I’m also very bothered about the portrayal of the evil men: although they were ostensibly straight (and trying to marry her against her will), in contrast to Tatum’s gruff, muscular werewolf character, they were portrayed as feminine and lithe. I think if we’re going to examine any gender biases in this movie, it should be that one. I don’t take too kindly to movies that code their villains as gay – as a society, we should be over this by now. The Hayes code is out of vogue!

The other reason I think this could never be as groundbreaking as The Matrix is that there is no innovation in this movie. It’s a space opera. Space operas are two a penny, frankly, and this one didn’t do anything new. The Wachowskis are going to have to step up their game if they want to repeat the success of that movie. (As an aside, recently I’ve been hearing about their new TV series Sense8 which seems to be more innovative and unique, so perhaps I’ll check that out.)

That said, Jupiter Ascending didn’t have absolutely zero merit – its graphics were amazing, and the depiction of many different galactic worlds was really cool. There was also a sense that some background detail had gone into the planning of the film’s universe, that we’re getting an inside look into something larger. Things don’t happen particularly randomly, or without consequence. A couple of scenes stand out as memorable, including purely comedic scenes with the gay robots and a cameo from Terry Gilliam when they go to the bureaucratic homeworld, reprising what looks a lot like his role in the Monty Python movies.

I also liked the idea of actually plunging into the clouds of Jupiter and having a space base hidden from view inside the great storm – this itself was pretty unique in my experience, although my instinct was then to question why the gravity of Jupiter didn’t crush the protagonists. Ever the literalist.

So if you enjoy a simple romp through the galaxy, and don’t mind movies that are a bit simplistic, this might be for you. It’s no classic, but it’s not terrible. Perhaps Mila Kunis could actually do some more fighting of her own instead of relying on Channing Tatum, and the film has its fair share of problems. It’s not flopping because of the protagonist’s gender, though.

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