Sunday, February 8, 2015

Movie Review: 'Jupiter Ascending'

Shut up, critics. This movie is awesome.

Jupiter Ascending, starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, and Sean Bean.  Written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski.  Warner Brothers, 2015.  127 minutes.  Rated PG-13.  CNS Rating is A-III (Adults).

Jupiter Ascending is the movie that has finally destroyed my faith . . . in film critics.

My faith began to erode when I noticed critics panning Interstellar, which is possibly the greatest science fiction movie ever made.  But at least it was only some critics who panned it; others recognized that film for what it is.  And at least some who panned it were man enough to admit they couldn't understand it.

But the main reason Interstellar got attacked is because it's old-school Campbellian sf about the glories of science and the heroic sacrifices of explorers, and because it praises familial love and fails to treat fathers as despicable tyrants (and because it takes a dig at the public school system).  Thus Leftists call it an "ideological monstrosity," as in this amusing article from The Jacobin, which, using the stream-of-consciousness non-logic of today's Left, argues that the rugged landscapes of Interstellar's exoplanets are reminiscent of the rugged landscapes in John Wayne movies, and John Wayne movies suck because they're American, and therefore Interstellar is evil.  Or something like that.  If you think I must be exaggerating, go read it for yourself.

Jupiter Ascending, however, is getting panned not just by some critics, but by almost all of them.  It is definitely no Interstellar, but it's a good popcorn flick that in no way deserves the reaction it's received.  Due to past experience, my cynical side suspects that, as with Interstellar, critics have chosen to exaggerate its flaws simply because they don't like what it says:  this is a movie in which a heroic guy fights to save the day and get the girl, and Leftists lately have been quite clear that those sorts of wholesome stories cheese them off.  It also arguably has a Pro-Life message lurking under the surface, and I'm sure that leaves a bad taste in their mouths as well.

So, Jupiter Ascending is the story of an ordinary girl who learns that she is the reincarnation of a space princess . . . wait a minute, I could swear I just reviewed this.  Eh, whatever.

Space princess.

Where was I?  In Jupiter Ascending, humans have a vast empire stretching through the universe.  Enjoying advanced technology and great luxury, they extend their lives by seeding planets, such as ours, with human life in order to return later for "harvesting," in which they collect all the people, kill them, and render them down into blue goo that can rejuvenate DNA.  The lucrative practice of seeding and harvesting planets belongs largely to the royal Abrasax family; after the recent death by foul play of the family matriarch, three siblings, Balem, Titus, and Kalique, are fighting one another over their inheritance.  The Earth, in particular, is in question, since its population is especially juicy when it comes to producing this life-giving blue goo, which for convenience I'm just going to call Soylent Green.

  The three Abrasax siblings debate intergalactic finance.  And that's what I call action film excitement.

At the moment, the Earth belongs to Balem (played with disconcertingly erotic menace by Eddie Redmayne), who runs a Soylent Green refinery hidden in the Great Red Spot of Jupiter.  He plans to harvest the Earth in the near future and cash a fat check, but he has recently learned of the existence of one Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), the daughter of a Russian immigrant eking out a living as a housekeeper in Chicago.  Jupiter has, apparently by pure chance, a DNA code identical to that of the Abrasax siblings' mother.  According to space law, DNA is identity, so this makes her legally the same person, which means she owns all of the Abrasaxes' corporate assets.  Balem sends assassins to kill her, but Titus (Douglas Booth) has hired a mercenary named Caine (Channing Tatum), a disgraced ex-soldier who's part wolf, to nab her first in the hopes of, combining legal finesse with an oedipal complex, acquiring her holdings through marriage.  Jupiter herself, of course, wants to use her newfound clout to prevent the harvesting of the Earth and perhaps even stop harvesting altogether.

Large-scale action sequences with lots of goofy sci-fi weapons quickly commence.  Caine has a pair of antigravity boots that allow him to zip around Chicago with Jupiter in tow as the two evade the various mutants and monsters out to kill them.  Then, with the help of an intergalactic police force called Aegis, they travel to space and proceed with more action sequences.  Caine protects Jupiter at first because he hopes to be reinstated as a soldier, but over time, of course, their feelings for each other grow.

A refreshing dip in reduced human juice while watching the storms of Jupiter.  Aaaahhh.

The movie climaxes with a genetically engineered werewolf fighting a dragon in an exploding Soylent Green factory inside Jupiter's Great Red Spot, and that right there ought to be enough to recommend the movie to anybody.  If that doesn't appeal to you, then I simply can't help you.  You have no poetry in your soul.

Visually, Jupiter Ascending is stuffed to the gills with lavish sets and beautiful environments as well as elaborate and expansive action set pieces.  The action sequences are sometimes hard to follow, mostly because they're busy and contain an excess of spinning things, not because there's anything wrong with either cinematography or choreography.  This is an excellent special effects movie.  It's very pretty to look at, but I recommend not spending the extra money for 3D.  I saw it in 3D and thought it added nothing.

Jupiter Ascending is loaded with elaborate and beautiful visuals.

Contrary to the claims of critics, the dialogue is clear and direct, not leaden, and the plot is easy to follow, not muddled.  "Muddled" and "leaden" are vague words critics like to employ when they want to dismiss something without bothering to get down to specifics.  No actor turns in an especially brilliant performance, but all performances, with one exception, are good.  The only actor who stands out to me is the aforementioned Eddie Redmayne, and he stands out mostly for being simultaneously effete and creepy and for acting like he just doesn't give a darn while delivering supervillain lines in an affected smoker's cough.  And he actually makes freckles look menacing.

Eddie Redmayne and the metrosexual freckles of doom.

The weak link, sadly, is Mila Kunis in the titular role.  Sometimes, she appears to be standing there as if she doesn't quite know what to do.  She has no memorable personality traits and no character development.  That leaves Channing Tatum, as Caine, to carry the movie, which he mostly does by shooting and punching stuff while performing acrobatic flips, and by brooding.

There are some overt fairy tale motifs, including the aforementioned dragon-slaying, as well as the pair of antigravity seven-league boots.  A villain even attempts to marry the heroine just as his evil plans go into effect.  In its visuals, Jupiter Ascending appears to owe something to Babylon 5, Dune, and maybe those Riddick movies, and its premise is reminiscent of Soylent Green and Parts: the Clonus Horror or its knockoff The Island, or maybe the video game BioShock.  The Wachowskis' anime fandom is not quite as evident here as it was in The Matrix or Speed Racer (though a girl with blue hair does make an appearance); to me, this appears instead to get most of its influence from live-action TV space opera.

Speaking of Speed Racer, critics might be panning this Wachowski film for the same reason they panned that one:  it's a popcorn flick that, while not terribly convoluted, is dense enough to demand more from the audience than many of the critics might have been prepared to give.  Although it won't cause the sensory overload Speed Racer did, it shares with that movie a plot that revolves around money and dirty deals, complicated enough that the viewer has to pay attention if he wants to understand what's going on.

Movie critics should learn to shut up and look at all the pretty pictures.

As an example of critical cluelessness, I turn now to to the review by Joseph McAleer at Catholic News Service, a source whose movie reviews impress me less every time I read them.  As you might have noticed in the credits blurb at the top, I cite the CNS ratings; I do this as a sort of grim duty, since the CNS reviews are the degenerate offspring of the once-mighty Legion of Decency.  But anyway, at the end of his review, McAleer gives the typical laundry list of objectionable content, including, and I quote, "a benign view toward egg donation."

McAleer did not watch the same movie I watched.  At the beginning of the Jupiter Ascending, Jupiter is indeed considering egg donation, something that brings her to the attention of interstellar corporate cronies, but to call the movie's view of this "benign" is to reveal that McAleer was too busy typing notes on his iPad to actually pay attention to the film.  Jupiter is considering egg donation only because her cousin goads her into it, because he wants to split the cash with her and buy a fancy television.  She's creeped out by the prospect, but reluctantly agrees because she needs money to buy a telescope and follow in the footsteps of her astronomer father.  Later, another relative, finding out about the attempted egg donation, slaps her cousin around and says, "You don't treat your cousin like a chicken!"  Furthermore, the literature for the clinic where the donation would have happened, if aliens hadn't interrupted, refers to the process as "harvesting," the same term the Abrasaxes use for their genocidal business.

The whole point of the movie is, in other words, to condemn the screwing around with the human reproductive process and buying, selling, or killing offspring for financial gain.  Jupiter Ascending takes jabs at things like cloning and gamete donation.  It strongly implies that this kind of high-tech slave trading is dehumanizing and monstrous.  By making such references, the movie subtly proposes a parallel between killing worlds to harvest their blue goo and killing children to harvest their stem cells, or for any other selfish purpose.

A Catholic film critic should have praised Jupiter Ascending to the skies, not only for being a fine movie, but for its positive moral message.  But as I already mentioned, I no longer trust film critics.


Content advisory:  Some skimpy outfits and brief nudity.  Frequent action violence, naturally.
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