A lot of people are going to tell you that Jupiter Ascending, the new movie by the Wachowskis that debuted this weekend, is stupid and not very good. You should ignore those people and listen to me instead! Sure, it’s not a brain-buster of a movie. You will probably not walk away from it with a new insight into humanity or various cultures or even the mechanics of interplanetary travel. But, good god, is it fun.
Let me give you the quick sell:
Mila Kunis is a SECRET SPACE PRINCESS, the Earth is nothing more than a valuable asset in an interplanetary dynasty’s stock portfolio, and Channing Tatum is an elf-eared human wolf who SPEEDSKATES THROUGH THE AIR. It’s a story about a bunch of aristocrats fighting with each other to make a lot of money, and about a woman who wants to save her mother and immediate family and maybe, okay, fine, she’s in it to save the Earth and everything on it, too.
Are there unanswered questions? Weirdly cut sequences? The usual complaints about cast diversity? (One point where a musical flourish was unexpectedly way too similar to circus music?) Dialogue that gets a little hokey?
Of course. It’s Hollywood, and those flaws are almost always there. But, this is also a gigantic, expensive, fully realized, totally original space opera that is completely centered on a female protagonist and family dynamics that hinge on maternal relationships and also Channing Tatum is our new collective beauty-and-the-beast husband. (Deal with it, Tatum-haters. The man is a gift.) There are laser gun shooting battles, hilariously fast repairs, memory wipes, hovering racerbikes, gorgeous sets and costumes, and a great cast. It’s a blast. I walked out of the theater wanting to walk right back in again. Honestly, the only reason I didn’t is because I bought tickets to see it again during the week instead.
Jupiter Ascending is old school sci-fi/fantasy in the best possible way, jumping from modern-day Chicago to gritty space fleet interiors to fantastical art nouveau planets with solarpunk aesthetics. Somehow it all mixes together into something that feels organic and franchise-worthy, like the first Star Wars got Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells pregnant and now we all get to enjoy their cinematic babies. Plus, it holds together well as a story, especially in the moment. What quibbles I had were quickly abandoned as the movie sped on to the next sequence. Its charm was so all-encompassing that I was rooting for the characters throughout, even the bad guys. The cast is fantastic (Man, Eddie Redmayne just pours everything he is into every role, doesn’t he? I could watch sixteen hours of his quivering smooth-faced golden robber baron.) and the worlds are full of tiny details that work together to make the universe of the movie feel real(ish).
And those unanswered questions? Instead of being frustrating, they were intriguing. I want to know more about how these worlds operate, how the various factions get along, how the administration of Earth works, why Channing Tatum has elf ears, when Mila Kunis is going to get to bone him as she was trying to do throughout the movie, what happens to the dynasty when their plans fall apart… I want at least two more movies of this, and a novel series, and comic books. Maybe even a TV series ten or fifteen years down the line! I want fandom to embrace the movie and start churning out fanfic, and I want all of it now.
There’s one thing I haven’t seen much of in reviews and reactions that should get a special mention. The Wachowskis are masters of coherent action. I’d forgotten what a joy it is to watch one of their fight scenes. They rarely allow the camera break the plane of movement (something other action directors like Nolan and Bay can’t manage in their best works) so that momentum isn’t lost or wasted, and even the fastest and most ludicrous battles don’t descend into whirling CGI chaos. They manage to keep the characters central to the frame and the fight, without flinging the viewer off into stomach-churning confusion.
And one more thing: there’s a scene early in the movie where Mila Kunis’s Jupiter Jones is rendered vulnerable in a way that’s usually specific to female characters, but it didn’t feel exploitative. I was worried for her, and horrified, but not once there or in the rest of the movie did I actively fear what would be done to her. When was the last time I said that about an action movie?