So I watched Jupiter Ascending yesterday, and I have thoughts. Potential spoilers follow, you’ve been warned.
I know, I know. “You should have seen it in the theatre! The big screen!” Unfortunately the big screen means other people, and I just didn’t have the energy to deal with that when it came out. I much prefer movies in the comfort of my home, where I can stop them to get a cuppa or corral the cat. Or, you know, take a break every half hour and check on the noises contractors are making.
All in all, I enjoyed the hell out of it. I like the Wachowskis, and they’re extremely interesting visually. Mila Kunis did the best she could, Channing Tatum is always fun to watch, and Sean Bean didn’t die in the first twenty minutes! Plus, aliens! Danger! Seduction! Soylent Green makes you functionally immortal!
The problems I had with it are going to be more interesting to my faithful readers, I suspect. So, while I liked it overall and am glad I bought it (I can see it becoming a comfort-watch movie) I am frustrated by a few things.
I get that they were doing a Wizard of Oz homage, and part of that is fun (Kunis’s blue checked shirt, I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE!) but in the end, the story they scratched the surface of is far too complex for the ending of “I’ll go back to scrubbing toilets and I like it!”
What I wanted the ending to be runs a little bit like this: Jupiter turns Balem down, finally finding her strength and taking charge of this massive inheritance she’s received. She saves the earth, but it’s far too dangerous–for her and her family–for her to go back to scrubbing toilets, so her families’ memories are wiped, with her mother poignantly believing she lost her daughter as well as her husband, and Jupiter watches them from afar as she grieves and learns her new role. That would have felt emotionally true and revolutionary to me.
I also wanted at least one of the three Abrasaxes to say to Jupiter: you may feel differently about harvests when you’re old and staring death in the face. That would have made the movie ever so much deeper and richer–Jupiter may have triumphed, but any huge inheritance raises questions like that. I was gnashing my teeth at such wonderful, meaty narrative gone to waste, believe me. The closest we get is Kalique’s interrupted, “All you have to do is close your eyes–” Which isn’t nearly enough, and could have been preparatory to a stabbing.
Kalique is by far the most interesting of the three semi-villains. “My brothers must not suspect my involvement.” And at the end, she’s sitting pretty, both her brothers/competitors in business destroyed and Jupiter unwilling to take the helm of her vast inherited concern. It would have felt far more true if Kalique or her playboy brother killed their mother–or all three of them, a la Murder on the Orient Express. With the Wachowskis so intent on Oz instead of the story they were excavating, Kalique was forced into the role of Glinda when she could have been so much more.
Titus was another interesting character–seduction and forced marriage, whew! Unfortunately, his clumsiness at the beginning (“You couldn’t be persuaded to part with it, could you?”) doesn’t foreshadow his very neat manipulation of Jupiter later. It left me wondering how he’d survived his siblings at all. And wow, that Oedipal subtext.
Also, did we really have to focus so much on Eddie Redmayne’s mouth? For God’s sake, can we stop having villains with poufy lips and mild speech impediments? It’s not scary or funny, and I’m sick of it. Redmayne turned in a very good, subtly unhinged performance, but he didn’t have a lot to work with. (His flying monkeys were totes incredible, though. Points for that.) Points for Mila Kunis really trying, even though no socialite is going to ask her housekeeper for dress advice and the backbreaking work of housecleaning would kind of preclude the high-powered makeup they slathered on poor Mila, who doesn’t need it. Don’t gild that lily, Hollywood.
I liked Caine Wise, I liked his motivations. I liked Sean Bean’s Stinger, although that was a little heavy-handed. Tatum and Bean are so much goddamn fun to watch; I almost want them to go off and have adventures like I wanted Tyrion and Bronn to have books and books and a full series of their own.
One thing, though. You have them spliced with bees and wolves. Then you give them wings. Stinger I can see as a flying creature, but Caine? Come on. IT’S ENOUGH THAT HE SURFS, OKAY? You pack so many different animals in there, you’re going to have a puddle of genetic goo at the end. Did we really need wings, too? (Although that shield tattooed onto Caine’s arm? BRILL.) Did we really have to make Toto a complete Gary Stu of a flying monkey as well?
The interplanetary bureaucracy scenes were fantastic–I expect no less, from anything Terry Gilliam is involved in. I wanted more of the Aegis, and if the Abrasaxes are just one powerful family, where are the others? We don’t even hear about them, except for Caine tearing the throat out of one. (Which, you know, I can hardly blame him.)
There could have been a very subtle and stunning comment on Stalin’s Russia, then the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, and the problems of capitalism. It could have been done so well, and the Wachowskis were the directors to do it, to dazzle viewers and make them think. Unfortunately, they seemed to get so caught up in shoehorning this wonderful idea into Oz fanfic that a number of chances to create something truly incredible were tossed overboard. I feel like the story they could have told was, well, betrayed and chopped into pieces.
Still, I loved watching it, and will watch it again, especially to see the threads I could pick up and turn into stories of my own. Tatum and Kunis work really well together, and I can watch flying skateboards all day, as we all well remember. I’ll continue to buy Wachowski movies–I wonder if they had to tack that milksop ending on to get funding? I wouldn’t think so, but after seeing them shy away from the implications of their wonderful worlds before, well. I do enjoy their ability to let characters say things that are either mistaken or just-plain-lies, and leave the audience figuring out motivations. It’s refreshing after a bunch of “WHO NEEDS SUBTLETY? WE’LL HIT YOU OVER THE HEAD!” movies. I wish they were allowed–or would take–more free rein with that.
TL;DR: I enjoyed Jupiter immensely. I just wished for more substance.