Some lives will always matter more than others

Some lives will always matter more than others

When we think about the subject of myth and legend, we think about adventure, heroism, megalomania, and insanity. We think about people trying to control entire worlds, and plotting to ruin their rivals lives by seducing their own family members (like I said: insanity). In short, we think about grandiosity where the practicalities of a situation are unimportant.

So when filmmakers like The Wachowskis set out to make a myth and legend like JUPITER ASCENDING, they turn out to be at their best when they focus on its adventure, heroism, megalomania and insanity.

Unfortunately, they continually take time out to discuss the practicalities.

The titular Jupiter is a maid in Chicago (Mila Kunis). One evening in the midst of trying to make some extra money, she is attack by alien beings posing as humans. Before they can do her irreparable harm, she is saved by another extraterrestrial named Caine (Channing Tatum).

Caine lays out to Jupiter the truth of the universe; that we are not alone. Not only are we not the centre of the universe, we don’t even have the numbers or the language to understand just how insignificant we are. The truth is that everything is far bigger and far older than we realize, and that whole swaths of it are the property of alien royalty. Everything we know and do is in the service of an alien dynasty that sell and trade a commodity far more valuable and sought-after than land, water, fire, or fuel.

What has brought Caine and Jupiter together is The Abrasax dynasty. The matriarch has recently died, and the three surviving siblings – Kalique, Titus, and Balem (Tuppance Middleton, Douglas Booth, and Eddie Redmayne) are squabbling over the fate of Earth. Kalique really has no desire or need for it, but the boys seem determined to make it their own. Balem especially wants it, and has foreseen the threat that Jupiter poses to his plans.

It’s this threat that leads to bounty hunters being sent to Earth to kidnap her, and causes the rogue agent Caine and others of his ilk to look to protect her. However, once she is taken off-world, Jupiter is shown just what and who she really is.

This raises the stakes for everybody, and makes all involved – Jupiter included – fight that much harder for control.

 

mila kunis in jupiter ascending

 

When JUPITER ASCENDING is at it’s best, it’s going batshit insane. It’s destroying half of Chicago in an alien battle, and then rebuilding the city in the blink of an eye to destroy all evidence. It’s filling a grand colonnade with simulated beings because a royal wedding is occurring and such events require hordes of guests (even if such guests aren’t actually around). It has a character trying to marry the reincarnation of his own mother…because, hey – why not?

This is a film that drops us down into the storms of Jupiter, and elevates us through the rings of Saturn. It swirls us around with no regard for the laws of physics, and allows us to imagine ourselves as the warrior fighting to get our good name back, and the princess trying to show that she’s more than just a pretty face.

There’s an interesting idea interwoven into JUPITER ASCENDING about human beings place as a commodity. At first blush, all of these alien beings living extravagant lives might seem absurd. It may seem especially absurd when we consider that they are basing both their fortune and their luxury on the very lives of other people. But how is that any different from what we see here on earth with the way “The 1%” live? They use just as many to live as well as they do, they waste just as much in the name of luxury and comfort. Sure they are trading in fuel, or finance, or material goods…but are they not also making their bones on the backs of living, breathing people?

We’ve seen movies play where factions war with each other over gasoline, or spices, or land. Seeing them war over human lives seems to raise the stakes to a very interesting level.

As interesting as all of these ideas and sequences are, the film can’t keep up the bravado. It feels the need to lower its voice repeatedly and add footnotes to its epic yarn, and that is actually where it wanes. Whenever Jupiter starts asking for explanations, or whenever one of these extraterrestrials starts spelling out details, it loses us. It doesn’t trust its own mythology and feels like it needs to play tour guide in the middle of its own epic quest. It gets away from being a far-flung epic about warriors and princesses and turns into an extension of our world. It never should be. Even if Jupiter is an Earthling, this shouldn’t be a story about or for Earthlings.

The film wants us to realize that we aren’t the centre of the universe, so why should it bother catering to us as if we are?

JUPITER ASCENDING is a film that wants to bellow its song from the highest balcony. Unfortunately when it gets up there, it develops a case of vertigo and feels the need to get back down. Had it stayed up there though – had it been the viking princess singing aria from the top of a very tall tower – it could have humbled us mere mortals into a state of awe. Our imaginations would have run away with these ideas of bottled youth and intergalactic dynasties. Instead, when the film loses its confidence returns level ground, we feel bigger than it, smarter than it, and all illusions are dispensed.

Opera is all about grandeur, and as grand as I believe JUPITER ASCENDING to be, there’s no denying that it could have been grander still.

Matineescore: ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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