Monday, January 23, 2017

Jupiter Ascending review

I kinda wanted this movie to be good. Maybe it was because of how it rare it is these days to get something that isn't a sequel, remake, or comic book adaptation. Or perhaps it's because the few snippets I saw gave me a subtle 80's sci-fi vibe without actually crutching on nostalgia. Or it could just be because I like epic, visually-stunning sci-fi movies.

But there were a couple of problems: the two leads. I don't think much of Channing Tatum or Mila Kunis. No offence intended, I just don't usually see anything from them that impresses me. So the knowledge that these two were going to be starring together did not fill me with hope.

Well, I finally got to watch the movie. Since we've already brought up the cast, let's start with the acting: this movie was easily the worst performance I've seen from either of the two stars. Of course the writing and directing are factors, but I just didn't find either character to be particularly likeable or relateable, and I felt absolutely no chemistry between them at all. Like, none. The most lasting impression I have of the two of them is a strange detached emotionlessness.

I didn't really feel that the rest of the cast was particularly good or bad either way. Sean Bean was alright, Eddie Redmayne was... well, he didn't hold back, I'll give him that, but I can't say it was a good performance. Or at least, he didn't really make a very scary villain. I actually thought Douglas Booth was very good, easily my favourite performance in this film.

The story is a bit of a mixed bag. I think some of the concepts that the story is based on are quite interesting - more so than I had been expecting in fact - but much of the actually plot is quite weak. There's some rather terrible clichés here, first and perhaps foremost is one of the worst cases of "the chosen one" I've ever seen. Overall I feel the story was a bit of a let-down.

Luckily the action is good. Nothing ground-breaking, but the "worst" parts are perfectly serviceable, and the best are very cool and visually stunning. Channing Tatum handles action just fine; coupled with some interesting visual designs and spectacular special effects, this movie is great to watch on a big screen.

Speaking of the special effects, they are brilliant. Some of the alien vehicles were really cool, parts constantly shifting as they cut through the air. The aliens always felt like they were actually there, even when physically interacting with the actors. There were a couple of creature designs that worked very well, with the "grey" aliens being particularly disturbing. Some of the alien environments were quite stunning; probably some of my favourite parts of the movie, I only wish it had spent more time exploring such vistas and less time on cramped spaceships and boring old Earth.

Overall I'm going to give it a 6/10. Your eyes will enjoy this film, though your brain probably won't.


I really liked the plot about Earth being essentially a farm. It's an interesting concept; the desire for life is one of the most fundamental forces that drive all living things, just how far would you go to hold off death? If it's natural to kill and consume animals to live, then is it really evil to kill other humans to extend your own life? It's a moral debate that the movie touched upon, I actually wish it had spent a bit more time exploring it.

What's more, the setup actually solves a lot of problems that tend to occur in typical sci-fi. How come the universe is full of humanoid creatures? Because it turns out they all come from the same source; they are in fact all human. Why would anyone bother threatening our planet, really? What could we possibly have that any space-faring race needs and couldn't get somewhere closer to home with less resistance? Well, as it turns out, us. Not to be used as slaves or anything, but because we are, well, livestock. It's... kind of elegant actually.

It's a shame it's let down by a Chosen One, a Special who, for some reason, can control bees. Seriously, what's up with the bees? You're telling me bees can not only instantly analyse a person's entire DNA sequence without even touching them, they can also compare it to "royalty"? What does "royalty" mean in this context, is it a special "royal" gene or do they somehow have records of all the DNA profiles royalty has even had (and if so where the hell do they store what amounts to thousands of times more DNA than a bee's cell is supposed to contain)? Bleh, nevermind, it's far too stupid to be worth even thinking about.

Having said that, I actually thought the "genetic reincarnation" thing was a rather interesting concept. I can think of a few reasons why it probably doesn't actually hold up in the real world, but conceptually speaking, in the vastness of a space full of human-occupied planets, who's to say that the exact genetic sequence cannot occur more than once by pure coincidence? Unfortunately while I think it's an interesting little idea, I don't think it's strong enough to anchor the movie around. What's more, I don't really think it fits the rest of the setting. We have no indication that the population of the galaxy at large are particularly inclined to spirituality or superstition, that would lead them to care if someone else happened to show up with their exact DNA. Far from it; these people are so pragmatic that they will not only farm humans like themselves just to reap their... whatever it is that they actually take from them, they will even make a business out of it. I dunno, they just didn't strike me as a society that would put much faith in any sort of reincarnation. Not saying it didn't make sense or anything, only that it felt a bit contradictory.

Plus, even though it was a novel way of making Jupiter Jones (such a stupid name) a Chosen One, the fact is she's still a Chosen One. I mean, if the Lego Movie was mature enough to get past the whole "The Special One" nonsense, why can't "grown up" Hollywood manage it? Have I mentioned that I'm sick to death of Chosen Ones?

Funnily enough, that might not even have been the worst cliché in the movie. Personally, I give that honor to the "stop the wedding!" nonsense. Apart from being a terrible trope to begin with, this is absolutely not the right movie for that crap. Especially since the romance sub-plot was so poorly handled to begin with. Jupiter basically spent the whole movie with her life in constant danger; I don't think she had five minutes without someone kidnapping her or trying to kill her, and yet she decides now is the time to try to put the moves on an alien who has never once smiled at her (and who she herself never once smiled at)? No offense, but I kinda feel like she's got other things to worry about.

I guess that what grated on me the most, though, is how big of a helpless victim Jupiter was the whole time. She just had no agency; she made no decisions, she did nothing to drive the plot, she just did what she was told for pretty much the entire movie. She's talked into selling her eggs, she's dragged around, kidnapped multiple times, rescued multiple times, agrees to take ownership of Earth, agrees to marry some guy she's just met and has to be saved from the wedding, agrees to go alone with the big bad guy to his lair of doom... the one and only time she actually made a decision for herself is right at the very end when she decided not to hand over Earth. I mean, thank God she didn't need to be rescued from that (I mean, she needed to be rescued, but at least it wasn't "quickly, we have to get there before she dooms the Earth" the same way as the whole "quickly, we have to get there before she gets married" thing). It was just too little too late though. She is just such a weak character; a complete victim at every step of the way. It actually surprised me; while I don't particularly like Mila Kunis, I at least know that she's good at playing assertive characters, so I wasn't expecting her to be so passive here.

BTW, what makes Earth so special that it's the "shining jewel of the Abrasax inheritance"? I guess they spliced human DNA with primate DNA to get Earthlings? I don't think it's explicitly stated, but it does fit. It would explain the missing link and all that, right? But if she has primate DNA in her, how is she an exact genetic match for a human who does not have primate DNA? And why do Earthlings look exactly like the "standard" human, when we see several with slightly different features (mainly ears, for some reason)? Or maybe Earthlings are "pure" human, because Earth is hospitable enough that they didn't need to change anything? Maybe that's what makes it so special?

Jupiter's dad died for a telescope? When he had a child on the way? Seriously? What a colossal idiot. Sorry, I got no sympathy for that level of stupidity.

If Caine's tiny little wristband shield-projector can protect him from the attacks from the Greys in their attack ships, then why didn't his own ship have some kind of shielding? Did he need to drop it to use the super-slow tractor beam? Why? Clearly they can control the shape of an energy shield, as evidenced by the one on his arm. Plus I'm pretty sure they got right up to the Aegis ship at the end, even though it had it's shields up.

I quite liked the Aegis captain, though I question why she was acting like the head of Jupiter's security rather than like a police officer. I mean, wouldn't it make more sense to, I don't know, "take her back to head-quarters and sort things out"? I guess Aegis captains are very independent. Good for them. Still, I can't help but wonder if Jupiter now owes them money or something, after how much time and effort they spent helping her. Plus they're going to need to repair that ship. Jupiter doesn't have any money. Can she, like, sell just a few humans, just to pay the bills? You know, for the good of the planet as a whole? Or how about, like, taxes? If the Aegis are police then that means they're funded by by taxes, right? How is she going to pay for that?

So is Caine going to stay on earth? Maybe the Aegis assigned him there to protect her? Why would they do that if Jupiter doesn't pay taxes?

What happens to Balem's holdings? Are they split amongst his siblings? Does Jupiter get a share? Legally she's his mother, so how does intergalactic inheritance law deal with that? Perhaps that's how she's paying the Aegis? Or does the Aegis just seize everything as "evidence" then, you know, just keep it/auction it off?

Speaking of, I kinda figure she probably should have married Titus... then Caine could have just shot him. The Aegis knew that Titus was planning to kill her, so Caine would have gotten off scot-free, right? And she would then own Titus' holdings, apparently including several other planets that need protecting. Think how many lives would have been saved if he'd been just a few seconds slower in saving her...

How come no-one ever took away Caine's boots when they took him prisoner, even though they can apparently melt metal?