Movie review: Jupiter Ascending is just Fabulous

Jupiter Ascending was, in a word, Fabulous. In two words it was Absolutely Fabulous.

My slightly longer review is that I think I understand why reviewers aren’t liking it much: because they don’t understand that it is the film version of a Space Opera roleplaying campaign.  I don’t know WHY they were expecting something else, let alone WHAT that was.  But when you consider other space opera includes Star Trek, Flash Gordon, Star Wars and even The Fifth Element (which is also fabulous but quite nonsensical most of the time) – none of this has great dialogue, all have over the top characters and action scenes, and most are episodic in various ways.

Here are my thoughts and comments from a few different blogs and sites over the past two months, put together in one spot and (hopefully) a little more coherent.  I saw it with Dave and we both came out of it wondering why people keep complaining about the crazy plot. It was obviously a movie that was supposed to be lighthearted and funny and not take itself too seriously. The actors were in on the joke, but it seems a lot of the critics didn’t get it. Maybe they were wanting a dark and gritty Matrix clone. But it is Space Opera! Not Cyberpunk.

The is The Wachowskis Do Space Opera. And they did it brilliantly. I loved that Jupiter decided to save the earth instead of her family. I love that she spent the whole movie hitting on Cane while he tried to be restrained. I loved that – unlike most sci fi movies – the female lead was fully dressed the whole time. In the gamut from Barbarella to Lilu Dallas, I can’t really recall a time when that happened before.  And the romance was great – tbh I find space opera is all romance, whether of a regency or a planetary kind. I’m good with that, it is one of the reasons I love the genre.

I can only guess that most of the reviewers who keep going on about the cra-cra plot aren’t that familiar with space opera, including the various roleplaying games and computer roleplaying games. It was there by the truckload, and tbh one of the best renditions I have seen.  I just don’t get what other people were expecting from a space opera movie no matter who made it.

Jupiter Ascending had slabs of background that ‘owe inspiration to’ a vast and awesome collection of space opera literature and roleplaying sources:

The seeding of human life on other planets? The Sianetic Harbingers and Ka’ta’viri from Spacemaster Imperium (by I.C.E.), and probably a lot of sci books I haven’t read. The splicing of humans with animal genes? Straight out of the Skyrealms of Jorune – and of course the elephant headed pilot was gene spliced. What is so hard to understand about that when it has been discussed multiple times already? The royal house and competing houses in intergalactic space? Spacemaster Imperium again, and also Dune, and also Fading Suns.

The harvesting of sentient life to prolong the lives of others was something I first read in Joan Vinge’s amazing book ‘The Snow Queen’ and it was something that came up again in a slightly different format in the Mass Effect crpgs. And of course it is one of the main hooks in The Matrix, although for slightly different purposes.

I loved the homages to other sci-fi and fantasy movies too – as Chicago was being destroyed, I said to D that they needed Agents Smith and Jones to clean up the mess (MIB). And then Cane talks about the memory wiping tool. The initial aliens who do the probing and testing are made to look like Greys, a type of alien that pops up everywhere in movies and tv (eg The X Files & MIB). The cornfield scene was reminiscent of Signs, and even the chase around the palace with Cane when Jupiter first arrived reminded me of The Wizard of Oz. And later, the flying lizard things in silhouette looked almost like winged monkeys. The whole movie had a kind of episodic / Saturday matinee pulp movie feel to it, which worked for me – and D said he thought it was like Flash Gordon. There were other references and homages I can’t think of right now, and probably still more I missed because I haven’t seen / read them. Oh! and Mielville’s Perdito Street Station was pillaged right along with elements of my beloved Snow Queen (Joan Vinge version).

The Wachowskis obviously love their sci fi stuff, they are both known to be fairly active gamers (both tabletop and computer gaming), and have even designed some computer games. They know their tropes, and pulled them all out for Jupiter Ascending – and then subverted a lot of them. I did wonder if Lana’s personal experiences over the past few years had much influence on the depiction of the heroine. Especially as Jupiter said several times ‘I’m still me’. (D said I was being too meta, but so what? :p).

And hell yeah I thought there was chemistry between Jupe and Cane. Just because it wasn’t the main plot doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. My heart has long been with Sean Bean, but I thought National Treasure Tatum* did a good job.

Yes, there were plot holes, and corny dialogue (but the dog line – didn’t you SEE their faces. He kind of grimaced at her and left, and then she pulled this ‘wtf did I just say?’ face. It was SUPPOSED to be awkward and funny).  But overall I think that it was great fun and definitely worth seeing on a big screen. Those cityscapes were gorgeous, and so was all the space pirating. Well, I guess technically they weren’t pirates.

One of the things that struck me when I saw it the first time was, as I mentioned early, that Mila K stays fully clothed for the whole movie. Not something that happens to female characters in any sci-fi / space opera / fantasy setting, let alone reversing the trend to have the male characters as the ones disrobing. And she also spends the whole movie making moves on Cane, with him kind of backing away. A female who is sexually assertive and does not get punished for it is extremely rare in ANY movie.

The whole transforming living creatures into a magic elixir to prolong the life of the elites was comprehensively covered in The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge, so while I didn’t consciously say ‘hey this is an anti capitalist movie’ the way the reviewer from Threat Quality did, I had a pretty good idea of where it was all going.

One of the best reviews I have read – and which has inspired me to look even closer at the movie and it’s attributes and sources, is this fantastic article Is Jupiter Ascending the Best Space Opera of All Time and Also the Best Movie.  The author has some really interesting and insightful commentary, including the subversion of gender roles, the de-sexualising of female characters, the narrative structure being like a regency romance (yay!), how freaking awesome Sean Bean is when talking about the nobility of bees, and how True Believers are holding out for the Five Hour Directors Cut.  And it contains gems such as this:

‘But I don’t think it’s very common that we get a movie whose premise is that all human life is part of a system of ruthless exploitation that explicitly connects genocide to the accumulation of capital…

It’s kind of funny, because the Wachowskis made The Matrix, which was about human beings getting used as a resource by an exploitative ruling class, but everyone sort of thought it was a metaphor about machines and AI and like that, so I like to imagine that they were just sitting down and said, “Hey, how can we make it real clear this time? I know! The ruling class is genocidal space vampires.” “Should we give them, like, good attributes or something?” “No.”‘

Smart B*tches, Trashy Books were a little ungenerous but incredibly entertaining in their review. It should have been at least a three glitterbomb rating.  (And yeah – they don’t get space opera either!)

* title assigned by Smart Bitches

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