Jupiter Ascending is like a winding mountain road. You look at it over a few miles and see that there are a lot of twists and turns, some ramps where a car might conceivably jump a gap, even a loop-de-loop. And there, at the start, there’s a European super-car with Vin Diesel getting into it! He revs the engine. He turns on the radio and wouldn’t you know it, your favorite song is playing. With a squeal of tires, Vin Diesel takes off, only to jump out of the car as it flies through the guardrail, tumbling down the mountainside in super-slow-motion. You watch as the glass explodes from it, as the chassis deforms with every twisting tumble, until finally it explodes into a fiery wreck, the sparks like a meteor shower, the flames like a nebula.
And that’s all well and good, you think, but wouldn’t it be more impressive if that car had actually ran the obstacle course?
And that’s how I feel about Jupiter Ascending. It’s basically the same movie as The Matrix, only not as good, and we already have The Matrix sequels for that.
-For some reason, they put the obligatory love story front and center, even though I could only think was that Caine, our hero, admitted to attacking ‘an Entitled’ for no reason, which apparently turns Jupiter on. You’re expecting him to say something like “that Entitled ordered me to fire on civilians!” or “that Entitled sent my friends to die!”, but no, apparently Caine assaulted someone just because he has no self-control and Jupiter is totally into men who are randomly violent. Uhhhhhh…
-Like I said, same movie as The Matrix, only where that revealed the ‘humanity as cattle’ theme at the end of the first act, this waits until the movie is mostly over to go into that (even though it’s super obvious, making you wonder if Jupiter has ever seen a sci-fi movie before). It doesn’t work nearly as well. I guess here they want Jupiter to kinda be seduced by the allure of being ultra-wealthy before rejecting the system, but she never really seems to feel one way or the other about this wish-fulfillment. Or anything. In fact, her suddenly owning the entire world seems like it comes as a major hassle to her, not anything interesting or any sort of opportunity.
-Really, pretty much the entire movie is a series of ‘people explaining things to Jupiter,’ ‘bad guys chase Jupiter,’ ‘if bad guys have succeeded in catching Jupiter, good guys have to save Jupiter.’ Which, again, similar to the plot of The Matrix, but there, Morpheus/Caine got captured, so our supposed hero Neo/Jupiter had to step up and save him. And he only did it once. Morpheus didn’t immediately get captured again so we could get an instant replay on the clear and obvious climax we had just seen.
-Yes, the third act of the movie has the bad guys kidnapping Jupiter and trying to force her into signing over the Earth to them, then her getting rescued by Caine—then another
group of bad guys kidnap Jupiter and try to force her into blah blah blah. It’s really odd, because you’re thinking “okay, I guess that winds up the movieeeeeeee, oh we’re dealing with this entirely new set of problems, ‘kay.”
-Instead of like in The Matrix, where there was one antagonist who represented all of the nogoodniks, here it’s like in the Matrix sequels, with three different baddies all feuding with each other. And I could think was, really? Do we need three? Two could’ve done it, instead of Jupiter the kidnapping victim being passed around by all three of the Abraxases like a joint. The film’s big bad guy is, I guess, Eddie Redmayne, and people really seemed to like his performance, but he disappears for a huge long stretch while Jupiter has to deal with the two other siblings. It’s just bad writing.
-Jupiter is really shockingly passive for a modern-day female protagonist. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s actually a little refreshing that she never learns to fight and has to strap on a skintight leather catsuit and shoot laser pistols because she’s a Strong Female Character—but she never does anything else either. You know, she doesn’t inspire people, she doesn’t come up with clever plans, she isn’t a doctor who cures some disease… In The 100, for instance, Clarke very rarely has to shoot it out with bad guys or have a swordfight, but she still makes hard choices and plays politics and comes up with plans on a weekly basis. Jupiter does none of that
. I see no way in which this character passed the Sexy Lamp Test. Again, it’s like if in The Matrix, Neo never learned kung-fu and instead he just kept having to get rescued by Morpheus.
-Okay, let’s just go and compare this to The Matrix again. Matrix ends with Neo, fully a hero, reveling in his newfound power and saying now he’s going to take his fight to the Machines. Ascending ends with the equivalent of Neo going back to work as an office drone, happy with his place in the system, not doing anything to fight against the Machines even though they’re still oppressing his people and he has all this power, but hey—who cares, he’s got a cute girlfriend now. And maybe that’s supposed to be a really subversive ending about what an asshole Jupiter is. I don’t know, it doesn’t play that way to me, especially since the Abraxases are infinitely worse than the Machines, destroying whole civilizations on a regular basis just so they don’t get liver spots. I thought this would be a movie about Jupiter expanding her mind and becoming aware of injustice and suffering around her. Instead, it takes on the worst part of The Wizard of Oz, the end where she says “screw all those hopes and dreams, I just wanna stay home and happily accept my lot in life!” Did we really need an update of that?
-Can we please stop casting Channing Tatum as a stoic action hero? It never works. When he’s basically playing Bruce Campbell—yeah, I said it!—and doing comedy, that works fine. He was even alright making quips in White House Down. But can anyone take him seriously?
-I get it, guys, I want to enjoy a movie that ends with Channing Tatum fighting a space dinosaur too. But! I would enjoy it much more if we’d established that that space dinosaur was Bolin’s big number two man, his fixer, his right hand, not just one more in a long line of henchmen—not even the only dragon. So instead of thinking “yes, Caine beat Bolin’s best man!” I’m just “okay, how is that different from the fifty other people working for Bolin that he beat up? It’s not a climax just because he had a little more trouble with this one. What is this, Taken 2?”
Now, I know Tumblr needs something to insist people see instead of Fifty Shades of Grey, but instead of it being Jupiter Ascending, which is a lost cause and has about as much chance of crossing over with John Carter as it does getting a sequel, how about we throw our support behind Kingsman: The Secret Service? I thought it was really well-done, great action, great writing,
and I say this as someone who makes an ‘eww, gross!’ face at Mark Millar as much as the next person.
(In fact, if you go to Latino Review, there’s an interview with the film’s director where he’s shockingly upfront about how much of a hack Millar is and how Jane Goldman, is responsible for turning Millar’s high-concept shit into actual stories human beings enjoy.)
What are some areas where you [and Millar] differ creatively? So, if you wanna talk about how a woman co-directed Jupiter Ascending (~so diverse~), I’ll counter that a woman co-wrote Kingsman and did a much better job. -I’m going to shock you now: Kingsman is actually a lot more feminist than Jupiter. The female lead, Roxy, has basically the same creds as Mako Mori. She’s in training to be a spy, just like our hero Eggsy, they befriend and support each other, but never develop a romance. They’re just bros who kick ass together. She’s also super cute and has no apparent qualms about seducing another woman, fyi. -The villain’s henchgirl, Gazelle, is afforded the honor of getting the final mano-e-mano fight with Eggsy. You might expect for it to come down to a ‘good girl vs. bad girl’ fight between her and Roxy, while Eggsy goes after real bad guy Samuel L. Jackson. Nope, SLJ is a total wimp and Gazelle does all the heavy lifting. You could also count her as being a badass disabled character, but I guess ‘the evil villain with the hook hand’ isn’t anything too new. Still, it’s probably better representation than Jupiter Ascending, where it’s like ‘uhh, the police captain and one of the three villains’ twenty henchmen are black women. Diversity!’ -Now, due to our present dumb culture wars, I’ve heard people complain that the movie is denying climate change. Which is just mindboggling stupid to me. Good guy Colin Firth—who is excellent, by the way, as basically Roger Moore’s James Bond in a Daniel Craig world—outright says that climate change is happening. It’s just that SLJ’s character’s attempts to stop it are extremist and evil. Guys, it’s the same plot that Hugo Drax had in Moonraker or Karl Stromberg had in The Spy Who Loved Me: save the planet by wiping out most of humanity, then ruling over the survivors. I don’t think we need to politicize saying that mass murder is wrong. -I’ve also seen people demanding Social Justice! over the very end, where Eggsy saves the world and then has sex with a cute, grateful girl. Okay, fine—to me, it’s the movie being upfront about being a guy movie and giving the hero a sexy reward, which is a lot less offensive than suddenly turning Roxy into a love interest or the thing the Bond movies seem to be on now, which is to go ‘oh, oh, we care about women’s issues, look, this girl was forced into prostitution, how terrible,’ and then she has sex with Bond anyway and gets killed to show how evil the bad guy is. Kingsman just takes the old stalwart of Roger Moore getting the girl and parodies the cliché by turning it up to 11, with ‘Bond’ knowing the girl for five minutes instead of ten and being more explicit about what’s happening. But at the end of the day, it’s still two pretty people deciding to have meaningless nookie because they didn’t die. I’m pretty sure a fandom with ‘sex pollen’ in their vocabulary doesn’t have room to complain. -Now, I don’t mean to say the movie is perfect. There are a few too many winky nods to James Bond, where you lose points for subverting a cliché by pointing out ‘look, I’m totally subverting this cliché!’ And it’s funnier if you just let the audience pick up on it. Like how instead of crying blood or having a cyanide capsule collapse his face, SLJ’s villain deformity is just… having a lisp. That’s clever! And there’s also a bit where the villain tests out his doomsday plot on the Westboro Baptist Church. And it’s short enough that I don’t really mind, but the satire there falls flat for me—it’s just the preacher being an io9 commenter saying ‘I’m a religious fundamentalist! I hate science!’ and the punchline is Colin Firth saying ‘wonk wonk, I’m a gay atheist jew with a black boyfriend on socialized welfare’ or something like that. Which is fine, because it’s over with so quickly, but if you’re going to take a shot at as easy a target as the WBC, I feel like you need to be even more clever about it, otherwise you’re just going “and what’s the deal with airline peanuts!?” (c.f. the recent Parks & Rec episode about meninism.)
Matthew Vaughn: I believe in a thing called three-dimensional characters. [Laughs] He believes in the quick one-liner. I always say, if he was around in the 80s, he’d be in Hollywood making a fortune saying, ‘This is Jaws, set in space.’ That’s where [co-screenwriter] Jane Goldman comes in as well, to say, ‘This is great idea. It’s got so many facets to it but we’ve got to get that heart and that drama to underpin these crazy ideas.’