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Jupiter Ascending

Entry updated 18 May 2022. Tagged: Film.

Film (2015). Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures/Dune Entertainment. Directed and written by Andy (now Lilly) Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Cast includes Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Mila Kunis, Tuppence Middleton, Eddie Redmayne, Channing Tatum. 127 minutes. Colour.

As well as an abundance of pleasurable visuals, and a sense that some of the shout-outs to both written and filmed sf are meant to draw a smile, there are moments in Jupiter Ascending when its makers seem to be aware of the dangers of applying pornotopic 3D CGI enablements to PG-13-compliant content (for further comments on the effects of the intersection of CGI and PG-13, see Terminator Genisys) to inflict affectless mayhem upon fake worlds. Possibly in an attempt to dodge the moral issues involved when CGI depictions of wholesale catastrophe are conveyed with no human casualties to be seen, in Jupiter Ascending the centre of Chicago may be wrecked in a battle between various augmented mercenaries with Powered Armour, but as the city is empty except for combatants, no one can be seen panicking or killed; and next morning the nearly infinitely high Technology of the galaxy-wide corporate cabal that rules Earth is used to restore the Loop to its previous state. No harm done.

Sadly – and so intrusively that even though this is a Young Adult film it might be fair to assume Satirical intent – the Wachowski have paid nudzhing obedience to American "family values" throughout the story that shapes Jupiter Ascending, a surrender to cultural Clichés that may explain its backboneless conclusion. The prelude is ominous. A young woman who will turn out to be the female lead Jupiter Jones (Kunis) can be heard in voiceover describing the death of her father at the hands of thugs in an unspecified Russian location just as her mother is about to give birth to her (we are to presume that the accompanying visuals reflect reality, not recovered prenatal memories); she goes on to describe escaping as a child to America with her mother and growing up in Chicago to become a janitor, a job she resents slothfully, perhaps from some obscure sense of wounded entitlement.

Entitlements soon arrive in spades, however, though not Sex, as she remains a virgin throughout in a film which turns out to be all about breeding. We soon learn that Jupiter has grown up in her working-class family ignorant of the fact that she is genetically more or less identical – though seemingly not exactly a Clone – of the recently deceased matriarch of the Abrasax family, one of several enormously powerful clans which dominate the galaxy; and that as this matriarch's virtual clone young Cinderella is heir to the family estates, which include Earth. The presumption here – unspoken to maintain family values – must be that the Abrasax family screws like Zeus, and has been doing so for millennia, in order for genetic jill-in-the-box events like this to occur. But viewers are not given much time to think about such matters, because as soon as the voiceover ceases they are immediately immersed into high-baroque Space Opera. Weaponized Alien warriors sent by Balem (Redmayne), deadliest of the Abraxas siblings, now attempt to kill Jupiter (it is here that Chicago is destroyed and fixed back together), only for her to be rescued by a similarly weaponized, Genetically Engineered, Spock-eared man-wolf splice, Caine Wise (Tatum) (which is to say Smart Doggie!), who has been sent by Titus Abrasax (Booth), Balem's sibling, apparently also to kill her; but who takes her side, exhibiting from this point canine fidelity. He soon tells her she owns the planet.

Any echoes of Cordwainer Smith's Norstrilia (1975) – whose boy protagonist in any case does not so much inherit as buy Old Earth – are very soon darkened when Jupiter discovers that the Abrasax family has for aeons been creating species like Homo sapiens, through gene-splicing exercises and other manipulations hard to describe as Uplift, in order that, after they have bred until their worlds are full of them, they can be "harvested". The Drug derived from billions of meat creature corpses is then used to maintain the Abraxas clan's Immortality.

Unfortunately this resounding (if unlikely) story is occluded by an incessant battery of 3D "action", and by a need to attempt to differentiate the dead matriarch's three Antihero children – Balem, Kalique Abrasax (Middleton) and Titus – each one of whom is vying for power in a galaxy apparently run by a huge number of similar families. Balem himself, who claims harvest rights over Earth, has the most to lose from the advent of young Jupiter; and after his siblings have failed to suborn her, or to trick her into crippling wedlock, he engages in some seductive Oedipal foolery that Jupiter is far from understanding, only coming close to success when he threatens to impose premature harvest on her abducted family. As Jupiter has incessantly been telling everyone "I just want to go home" – her glittery moony face more reminiscent of the robot child in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2000) than Judy Garland – it seems almost unsurprising that she almost signs away her rights to Earth in exchange for her family's safety. That this exercise in family values would cause the genocide of the human species makes her face pucker befuddledly; but it is only a belated realization that they would die anyway in the course of harvest – and the sudden irruption of Caine, who rescues her in a shout-out to the marriage scene in The Graduate (1967) – that stops her in time.

There are snatched pleasures. Deep-space-baroque high-kinesis Starships proliferate, with abrupt immense Sense of Wonder changes of scale evocative of the early Star Wars universe. The Planetary Romance venues occupied by the decadent siblings grandiosely evoke as many VFX precedents as possible, including David Lynch's Dune (1984), a film similarly focused on interstellar control of an enormously scarce Drug. Caine's power boots allow him to fly, combat-ready, through vast bling-infested cathedral abysses, leaving Silver Surfer contrails in his wake (see Marvel Comics; 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer [2007]); his buddy and sparring partner Stinger Apini (Bean), a man-bee splice with a sharp tongue, engagingly violates megatext (Sean Bean is an Iconic actor who almost always dies, though he gets through The Martian [2015] intact) by surviving, though his sting is battered. The Abraxas siblings are given over-the-top performances embodying images of Decadence out of the Hollywood toolkit. Tatum's ears prick at crisis points, though sadly he cannot sweat. Kunis as the supine Jupiter gives a performance as thick as she is written. At the very end, though, she is allowed a moment of genuine emotion. She kisses the dog. [JC]


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