Sunday, February 8, 2015

Movie Review: Jupiter Ascending

This movie is awesome. It's a bizarre amalgamation of genre tropes, put to use in the service of a surprisingly effective (though not at all subtle) theme. The action sequences are fantastic, and the designs are breathtaking.

What is Jupiter Ascending? The short answer is Occupy Babylon 5. The long answer is, well....

It's a very political movie. Theme is critical to how the setting and characters are constructed. Babylon 5 had a very similar tone, if nothing else. This is, first and foremost, space opera, which is why there are also several parallels to Star Wars. At least one bounty hunter bears an uncanny resemblance to a similar character in The Clone Wars. I'm pretty sure most of the other bounty hunters were taken from the 80's live-action Masters of the Universe movie. The technology is largely Japanese SF. I've never actually seen any Gundam, but the designs certainly look similar to me. Well, most of the designs. At least one of the ships is right out of Battlestar Galactica.

But the movie also includes scenes, characters, and tropes reminiscent of the Riddick movies, Underworld, The Fifth Element, Dune, Blade Runner, and Brazil. Oh, and Futurama. Star Trek, Princess Bride, Aladdin, The Lord of the Rings, and Tron. I'm probably missing dozens more.

Mila Kunis actually feels pretty straightforward: she's essentially playing a modern-day Cinderella. I mean, maybe there's a little hint of Sailor Moon in the premise, but she doesn't have super-powers or a talking cat. She does, however, have Channing Tatum, who plays a fusion of Riddick, Legolas, Brian Boitano, Bigby Wolf, and Silverbolt from Transformers: Beast Wars. Together, they fight a hybrid race of vampires from Underworld and the Necromongers from Chronicles of Riddick, who are aided by Nazi draconians (the ones from Krynn, not Doctor Who), and a bunch of space-goblins.

Oh, the good guys also have Sean Bean, who's playing the exact same role he always gets handed.

The amazing thing is all of that slides together surprisingly well. Kunis's role isn't just there for plot: her Cinderella credentials are integral to the movie's politics. Same goes for the villains' over-the-top vampiric nature. There was a great deal of thought behind this.

You wouldn't know that judging by the reviews, though. Jupiter Ascending is at 22% on Rotten Tomatoes right now. While 22 sounds low, it's not as low as 18, which is the number of millions of dollars it's expected to pull in this weekend. Wikipedia says the movie was budgeted at $176 million. I'll let you do the math.

If you're having flashbacks to Speed Racer, you're not alone. To be fair, Jupiter Ascending isn't as good a movie as Speed Racer, but then again few things are. Speed Racer was damn near flawless (okay, maybe pull out the monkey poop jokes, but after that, you're pretty much set), while Jupiter Ascending had a few issues, some of them pretty serious. The biggest problem revolved around the plot. It's hard to deny the film was bloated. There were two minor villains who could have been combined with the primary bad guy or cut. It felt like the Wachowskis were building up the world for sequels, which - let's be honest here - probably won't wind up happening. Likewise, given the role Jupiter's family played, they probably should have been likable characters.

It's definitely got its flaws, and anyone who isn't on board with the many genres is going to suffer whiplash. But it's one of the cooler, crazier space operas out there. If you've got Chronicles of Riddick and The Fifth Element in your DVD collection, you'll almost certainly love this quirky space adventure/live-action Disney princess mash-up.

I should mention I saw it in 2D, a decision I currently regret. The space battles were extremely cool, and I think the added depth would have made them even more so. I'm tentatively planning on going back and checking it out in IMAX if I can find the time.