James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

You don’t treat your cousin like a chicken!”

Jupiter Ascending

By Lana Wachowski & Andy Wachowski 

5 Sep, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews

0 comments

Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

I will admit I was not impressed when I saw trailers for 2015’s Jupiter Ascending. Still, reaction to the film was varied enough that I decided togive it a chance. (Only on DVD, which may have been a mistake. Moreon that later.) 

WhatI found was a movie that kept me entertained for a couple of hours, amovie that reminded me very strongly of a particular Hugo-winningnovel (or two) … but also a movie that broke one of the fundamentalrules of movie story-telling.

JupiterJones (Mila Kunis) is an illegal alien who makes a meagre livingcleaning other people’s toilets. Jupiter Jones is also a spaceprincess who, if only she knew how to assert her rights, owns theentire planet Earth and everything on it. 

Thefirst fact keeps Jones relegated to low pay and subject to constantrisk of deportation. The second puts her life at risk.

Whilefew on Earth are aware of this fact, we are all property, a cropseeded and built up over thousands of years for the benefit of theAbraxas Clan. We are the stuff from which immortality serum is made.I am sad to report that we are but raw material and will not survivethe harvesting process. On the plus side, we’re still a fewgenerations from being ripe. 

Earth’shumans are by no means the only humans in existence. There arecountless worlds out there with their own human populations, allseeded from the same homeworld (which is not Earth — take that,palaeontologists and the overwhelming evidence of the fossil record1!). If that mind-boggling fact were not enough, welearn that genetic engineering has allowed the creation of a vastnumber of human/animal hybrids. Just in case the viewer misses thepoint, the hybrids tend to be named after the animal part of theirheritage: Sean Bean’s half-bee half-man is named Stinger. 

Subtletyis not a primary goal for this movie.

Aspreposterously unlikely as it is for two unrelated people to haveexactly the same genes, Jupiter is genetically identical with thelate matriarch of the Abraxas Clan. Thanks to a ludicrously contrivedgalactic legal system, that means that Jupiter is considered thematriarch reborn and thus entitled to all of her property. This makesher valuable to/a threat to the matriarch’s three children, Belem(Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (DouglasBooth).

Jupiterhas no idea of her significance to the Abraxas Clan until Titus’shalf-man, half-dog agent Caine (Channing Tatum) rescues Jupiter fromassassination at the hands of Belem’s covert agents. Even then, shehas no idea which of her growing ranks of allies she can truly trustand which of them are merely feigning sympathy for their own ends. 

Andon Jupiter’s ability to tell friend from foe (while mastering analien legal system on the fly) rests not just her life and the livesof her family, but the lives of everyone on Earth.

~oOo~

Anote about big screen versus DVD: this is another movie with sceneslit so dimly I found it hard to make out what was going on, even whenI watched the movie in a pitch dark room. While I will admit that mylousy eyesight might play some role in this, it is my impressionthere is something about how films are encoded in DVD that makesscenes darker on the small screen. Informed comment invited. 

Nowfor the broken rule of movie story-telling. If you cast Sean Bean,you are morally obligated to kill off his character.

JupiterAscendingviolates this principle. I am as shocked and horrified as you are. 

Similarly,while the film’s costuming of its various POC actors leans towardsthe … let’s say unchallenging … the Wachowski siblings (who wroteand directed the film) don’t show any tendency to treat their(visibly) minority cast members as designated cannon fodder. That isalso in contravention of standard Hollywood practice. 

WhileI was watching the film, I was haunted by the sense that I had seenor read something that also drew on the idea of an interstellarhegemony that depended on lethally processing an intelligent race foran immortality serum, some work that also depended on theprotagonist’s genetic identity with a powerful matriarch. I did eventually work out what memory was niggling at me:

Onreflection, I realized that there’s another well-known book about anheir to a powerful family whose wealth depends on an immortalityserum, a book whose setting also features vast, shadowyinstrumentalities that exploit half-human, half-beast slaves … abook in which the heir proves to own the Earth itself:

Iwould not be surprised if one or both of the Wachowskis own the Vingenovel, but I would be a bit surprised if they had the CordwainerSmith book. But that’s irrelevant, really, as I don’t think thismovie is derivative of either book. It just arrived at a similarplace thanks to parallel world-building choices and a sharedconviction: it is wrong for the great and powerful to treat thosearound them as resources. Or, to quote Jupiter’s uncle Vassily(Jeremy Swift):

You don’t treat your cousin like a chicken!”

Ofcourse, Jupiter’s uncle is wrong. People do. They just shouldn’t. 

JupiterAscendingis not burdened with such luxuries as character development, but itdoes have a plenitude of chase scenes, plots, betrayals, and severalhours of Mila Kunis falling off tall structures. And explosions! Somany explosions.

Italso has a hunky, brooding wolf-man flying around on anti-gravityroller skates, which is not something you will see in most films. 

Ihave seen this movie denounced as a fourteen-year-old girl’s spacefantasy filmed on a nearly two-hundred-million dollar budget. Well, Ican see how people would think that. But even if I grant the point,the result is firmly within the mainstream of science fiction,sharing themes and ideas with several Hugo-winning works. In anycase, the film is a pleasant change from the usual SF movie fare: afourteen-year-old boy’sspace fantasies filmed on a nearly two-hundred-million dollar budget.

Jupiter Ascending was written,produced, and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and should be available from wherever people get DVDs these days.

1: This seems as a good a time as any to mention that Stinger’s belief that the dinosaurs were around a billion years ago falls somewhat outside the scientific consensus.