Monday, March 9, 2015

We Agree: Jupiter Ascending

2015, The Wachowskis (Speed Racer) -- cinema

"Remember when I said I couldn't quite define what kind of Space Opera I enjoy, if Guardians of the Galaxy was not it?  Well, this is it. This is my kind of Space Opera," I said, basically, to Kent as we exited the movie.

Yes, we still do occasionally see movies together.

And I hate to do it, but I am going to have to start with a comparison to my other favourite Space Opera, Star Wars. What I remember the most from originally seeing Star Wars, was that there was a big big world (which was far far away) behind the simple story in A New Hope. It was alluded to in barely scratched minimums, in references and comments by characters and then never expanded upon again, in the names of things, in backgrounds and locations. Combined with the awe striking visuals and 11 year old me was overwhelmed, filled to the brim with possibilities and stories happening off screen. This is what I felt when I watched Jupiter Ascending. Its big, and likely too big for most people. I cannot help but think of much of the current commentary on Jupiter as mirroring Pauline Kael's review of A New Hope.

'“Star Wars” is like getting a box of Cracker Jack which is all prizes. '

While she was intimating that it was all candy, no substance, I think it was also an unintentional praising of how much of the movie was a sugar rush. This is what Space Opera should be, to me, a big world, a big universe, full of unanswered questions and fleeting details. The story has to weave around the world, through it, sometimes being lost to the background. It should be overwhelming, it should be high inducing.

Even said, Jupiter Ascending starts with a quiet, small, bittersweet sequence, meeting the Jones family Max & Aleksa, star crossed lovers torn apart by violence. Jupiter is born crossing the Atlantic, hidden in containers of illegal immigrants. She is of no country, no real homeland.

I love the name Jupiter Jones. It smacks of 70s super heroines and space action movies. Its prophetic and grand and electric. Jupiter hates her life, scrubbing toilets for people with more money than she ever can have. Her family is just her family, a little bit condescending, a little bit manipulative but caring in their own dysfunctional way.

And then, boom, we meet Mr. Caine with his pew-pew laser guns and space skates, squaring off against Grays (you know, greys), evil aliens out to do Jupiter harm. We jump right into the action, dragging Jupiter out of her boring, monotonous world into one with aliens, spaceships and laser guns! Once safe, Caine tells her that there is a bounty on her head and he has been hired by a member of a royal family to save her. He soon finds out it is because she is also royalty.

Royalty? No, not ruling family royalty but just genetic royalty. This is a family so wealthy, so powerful, they are basically considered the rulers of the universe. There are still laws, and still rules they have to follow, but you know how it is when you have more money than God. But bureaucracy seems to trump even that. Mr. Caine and Stinger (Sean Bean in a familiar, yet non-lethal role) discover that Jupiter is the genetic descendant of this Abrasax (which I kept on hearing as a mispronunciation of abraxas) family, in fact, their matriarch. In a world where they extend their lives for tens of eons, genetic reincarnation is a possible thing and has cultural and legal impacts. Hers in particular? She owns Earth.

The rest of the movie is about keeping Jupiter out of the hands of the Abrasax family while attempting to validate her claim on Earth, which will not only give her some more control over her life but also protect the planet. From what, you ask? From harvesting. The word, when applied to an entire planet, is icky to an n-th degree, even if you don't know what it inevitably means. That is big, almost too big for Jupiter, so in the pop culture outre connection, it ends up coming down to not focusing on saving the world, but just saving her family.

The plot is pretty basic, but that is what is needed. Its because everything else is so so big! We connect to her namesake, being used as a refinery, protected by gravity repelling generators so everyone and everything is crushed by the gases. Crushed by gases? Such a simple sentence but so science fiction illuminating! And the supporting cast is almost entirely made up of uplifted species, not just weird alien ones. There are dogs and lizards and mice and Terry Gilliam. OK, the last is not as uplifted, but so exquisitely added --- Terry Gilliam in a Terry Gilliam sequence. Brilliant!

I was overwhelmed. Enthralled. Absorbed. And also a little lost in Mila Kunis's anime eyes.

Kent agrees here.