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.


  1. Before a bit of timely googling, I didn’t know that ‘space opera’ referred to a subgenre of science fiction, and I thought that this movie might actually be an opera. If that was the case I’d immediately head down to The Hague’s biggest movie theater without even looking at a schedule just in the hope that it might be playing. But since there isn’t any(?) music, I’m not sure. After all, you do have a reputation for being an extraordinarily generous movie critic. If you went to see an actual rotten tomato in a movie theater you would probably give it a good review. On the other hand, you do make a pretty compelling case. I think the best I can do is say that if it was playing at UNM’s midweek movie series for $2, I would gladly go see it with you, but that I couldn't promise that I’d stay after my popcorn was gone.

  2. Ha! Most space operas don't have much music, although there is The Fifth Element (that opera scene) and Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks (one of the main characters is a furry alien composer with five arms). I think the "opera" refers to the epic nature of the story and drama involved. Jupiter Ascending is definitely worth $2 at UNM or any second-run theater, although I do appreciate the techno-geekery of IMAX, especially for a visually beautiful movie like this. I also think part of the problem is that most critics aren't big science fiction fans (some things that sound ridiculous to the average person might be reasonable if you're used to weird science fiction literature).

    I am a generous critic, but I find life far more pleasant that way (like Epicurus said, a person who is able to enjoy simple things will enjoy more pleasures in life). That said, I never said Jupiter Ascending is a terrific movie or one of my favorites, just that it has more redeeming qualities than most others seem to be seeing. As a space opera fan, my hope is that if a mediocre original space opera makes some money, maybe a studio will see fit to make a really good one. I could just wait for the next Star Wars movie or other things that are probably inevitable like another Guardians of the Galaxy movie, seven more Avengers sequels, a Buck Rogers remake, or a reboot of the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, but I'd like to see more new ideas in science fiction movies.

  3. Jupiter Ascending does, of course, have a score, but I didn't find it particularly memorable.

  4. Yes, my being a movie snob does probably make me less happy. Although I do enjoy snarkily saying that I don't like The Matrix. But I agree, and I wish more good science fiction movies were made--and maybe supporting the almost or even not good ones is one way to make that happen. Ok, it's now on my $7 euro matinee list!

  5. Another review along these lines from The Mary Sue:

  6. Another great review, this time focusing mostly on gender issues:

    1. That link is supposed to be:

  7. I'm actually going to watch this movie now.