Sunday, February 8, 2015
Jupiter Ascending: A Defense
The Wachowskis' latest effort, Jupiter Ascending, has gotten mostly bad reviews (23% on Rotten Tomatoes). Still, I've been excited about this movie ever since spring 2014 when it was supposed to be released in summer 2014. A full-fledged space opera with a big budget for special effects that's not based on a comic book or existing franchise with the Wachowskis at the helm? Sign me up!
Then I read somewhere that Warner Brothers was pushing back the release date, maybe to avoid summer embarrassment. And then the reviews started coming in. All of this lowered my expectations, but my hope was undimmed.
I finally saw it yesterday. I didn't think it was as terrible as everyone was saying. In fact, there's a lot to be said for it. I liked the few positive reviews I've read ("Go See Jupiter Ascending Even If It's Stupid" and "Oh, No, I Really Liked Jupiter Ascending"). Still, I wanted to add my own defense.
1. It's a really, really cool looking space opera with neat space ships and tech, wormholes, crazy costumes, weird aliens, and plenty of beautiful space scenery. There's even something that looks like an Orbital from Iain M. Banks's Culture series. See here for some shots from the movie. I saw it in IMAX, and I thought it was beautiful.
2. Is the plot kind of silly? Yes. Do the Wachowskis have some kind of messiah fetish? Perhaps. But I really didn't think the plot was as bad as critics made it out to be. Part of the problem may be that mainstream critics tend not to like the weirder side of science fiction, while my opinion is basically: the weirder the better. Without getting into too many spoilers, I did wonder why a society with such advanced genetic technology would need to wait for an Earthling with a particular genetic pattern. Maybe it was a religious thing. Mila Kunis spends a lot of the movie looking as confused as we are, but hey, we've got to be introduced to a galactic civilization in two hours, so it's not all going to make sense. When in doubt about Jupiter Ascending, see #1 above.
3. The movie is entertaining. There's a lot of action with all that cool looking stuff. Do you want to see Channing Tatum with pointy ears fighting a lizard man on a gas mining station on Jupiter? Of course you do!
4. There is an homage to Terry Gilliam that I thought was a lot of fun, and a Terry Gilliam cameo.
5. This movie is an original space opera (albeit with plenty of familiar science fiction tropes). With a giant budget. Made in this era when science fiction fans are fed nothing but endless comic book movies and reboots. We need more of this sort of thing.
6. Is it philosophical? Aside from a pretty obvious critique of capitalism (perhaps ironically made in a movie that cost $175 million), I was wondering about moral progress more generally. Are we doomed to injustice and exploitation even if we achieve an extremely high level of technology? If you really want to think about that issue, read Banks's Culture series. As much as I could appreciate Jupiter Ascending, I have to admit there's not as much going on here as there is in the Wachowskis' other little film, The Matrix. Again, when in doubt, see #1 above.
7. Most of all, you should go see Jupiter Ascending SOON! If the critics and box office results are any indication, perhaps the greatest philosophical lesson to be learned has to do with impermanence. Sadly, this probably won't be in theaters long.