This week, against my better judgment and suspicions, I went to go see the new Wachowski siblings movie Jupiter Ascending starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatumtots, and Sean Bean.
Jupiter Jones (Kunis) is a janitor who finds out that all life on earth and other planets was seeded by an alien empire so that when the animals evolve to a state of “Darwinian perfection” (which is not how evolution works), they can harvest their genes to create a serum that will make them immortal. Jupiter finds out that she is secretly alien royalty and heir to the earth. She then embarks on an epic adventure full of spaceships and aliens. One such alien is Caine Wise (Tatum), a genetically engineered warrior made from albino human and wolf DNA. Gene splicing has never really been a new thing in science fiction, but this movie gets ridiculous. Sean Bean is a human-bumblebee hybrid. Bumblebee. So, it’s a little weird, but at least semi-original. As opposed to everything else in the movie.
Immediately, Jupiter Ascending felt like a grittier verision of the world of The Fifth Element. I’m not going to say that The Fifth Element was wholly original in its aesthetic, in fact both Jupiter Ascending and The Fifth Element took their look from a french artists named Moebius. But Luc Besson just did it better. While I’m not sure that The Fifth Element is a good film, it is definitely a fun film. Whereas Jupiter Ascending feels too cluttered and too serious compared to its aesthetics to make it engaging, endearing, or enjoyable.
The Wachowskis have claimed that The Odyssey and the future scenes of Cloud Atlas were inspirations for this film because of their “spiritual journeys.” One is regarded as one of the greatest epic tales ever made (and indeed helped codify the epic story), the other is a mediocre, forgettable, intro film course, pretentiously wax philosophic piece of self-inflated crap. More than that, Cloud Atlas was actually made by the Wachowskis. THEY GOT INSPIRED BY THEIR OWN FILM. Okay, fine, sometimes that stuff can happen. I’m sure they’re not the only artists that got influenced by something they did in another work, a theme they wanted to explore, or an insight they had. But that kind of mediocrity is not the stuff of inspiration.
Seriously, though, I couldn’t find a decent picture of it, but Sean Bumblebean has bee wings.
I think that I’ve talked before about how I think that the Wachowskis simply got lucky with The Matrix (which I still wouldn’t classify as a decent film). But much like the original Star Wars, its quality was the result of other people’s contributions and one of the few good examples of executive meddling. If you look at literally every other film they made, non of them have been anywhere in the same cosmological cluster as “good.” When they’ve been given large creative control, they bomb it with this kind of self-masturbatory pretentious and trite stuff.
I think that it’s fair to mention the one scene that the Wachowskis are most proud of: an eight-minute long chase scene that was made Kunis and Tatum film every day for six whole months. I respect this not really for the direction, but for Kunis and Tatum’s dedication to this craft. One of the good things I will mention is that much like the original The Matrix, they tried to use practical stuns wherever possible. And in an age of CGI obsession, it’s really nice and relieving to see. Another compliment that I feel obliged to give is that the design of the ships is really really cool.
One final complaint I shall mention is the Wachowski’s fascination with “the one.” Someone who the plot is thrust on that has been predestined to become a hero or important. It’s a relic from ancient stories about gods and the divine, and other (read: more competent) artists have done it well before. But the “fate makes the hero” approach is at best tiring. It’s the story we’ve heard countless times and it’s generally the same: average schmuck learns they’re not so average and is predestined to rule/save the world/balance the force/force the balance/whatever. I get it, a lot of us lead normal, boring, or pointless lives, and wish that we were more important. As a power fantasy, those plots work, but as a narrative, they always leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Let’s talk about Harry Potter for a second. In the series, there’s a prophecy about the person who will destroy the dark lord. Everybody with even a reptilian brain can instantly predict that it refers to HP, but there was a sub-sect of the fanbase (including me) who hoped that it would refer instead to wimpy sidekick turned hunky asskicker Neville.
They don’t call him “Longbottom” for nothing (What?)
Not only would this cement Neville as a person who rose from coward to badass, but it would send an amazing message to kids: that even if you aren’t the predestined “one,” you can still do good and you can still be a hero. But because J.K. Rowling is a hack, you know it wouldn’t happen. But you know who actually did that? Fucking Spy Kids 3.
They are just as shocked.
In that movie, the spy kid in the yellow armor, Juni, is thought to be a mythical hero called “The Guy” (the films are not known for their creativity). But as it turns out, he’s not “The Guy,” Elijah Wood is (seriously). Nevertheless, Juni persists and becomes the actual hero.
In the Star Wars trilogy (shut up, you know which trilogy I mean), Luke Skywalker isn’t predestined to be a hero- or even a Jedi. In the universe set up by the original trilogy, being Jedi wasn’t an infection of microbes that you got from your genes. Everybody had the force running through them and with enough effort, practice, and enlightenment, anybody could become a Jedi. Luke becomes a “Jedi, like my father” not because he’s predestined to or anything- he does it because he thinks that it’s noble, and that he could do some good. I like that. I like when average characters rise to the call and crawl their way up to hero-hood. But no, in Jupiter Ascending, it’s about getting the throne that Jupiter is owed, not earning the throne she gets.
Things I liked about it: Ship design, aesthetics, the fact that I got to write “Sean Bumblebean”
Things I disliked about it: Stupid, flat characters, horribly boring and trite plot, over-crowded action scenes, Sean Bean’s bee wings.
Should you go see it? No. Just no. True, I’d say it’s a visual spectacle, but if you’re really interested in that, go check out concept artist George Hull’s other stuff. He worked on the Matrix series, Iron Man 2, Elysium, Cloud Atlas, Battleship, The Amazing Spiderman, and Transformers.
What should you do instead? Go watch other good space operas: Star Wars, Flash Gordon, The Fifth Element. Hell, go watch Spy Kids 3 instead.
This would have been a better ending for Wilfred
Be sure to check out my other column Trope-ic Thunder, where I discuss science tropes in the media.
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