Thursday, 5 February 2015

Jupiter Ascending

Saw Jupiter Ascending last night. As expected, it is a sci-fi action adventure, and as such it delivers a smooth, fast-paced and gripping conflict.   I went to the movie expecting nothing else, and I wasn't dissappointed on that score.  The action and the special effects (CG) are seamless and impressive.  Moreover, the characters are interesting and the galactic world and technologies they postulate are fascinating.  As someone said last night, that's a world in which all sorts of interesting stories could be set.  It's a pity that the plot doesn't match the quality.   Also, at times it was confusing and many times the dialog was hard to understand.  I'm not talking about the Russian (I assume), but the English.  Whether it was the theatre's speakers being poor, or the background noise, or the explosions, I had to whisper to my partner "What did they say?" several times and so did she.

I won't critisize the physical improbabilities.  (How Jupiter's shoulders weren't dislocated during the fight in Chicago, for example.) This is a modern action movie.  That means that such improbabilities are par for the course, and in this case were well integrated into the action.  Unlike in many other movies, they did not stand out and wreck the experience.

One more kudo I have to give the story.  The writer resisted the temptation to make Jupiter a kick-ass fighter.   She has no training, no hardness, no technical (weapons, human vulnerablities, etc) knowledge.  So while she becomes a player, her characterization is honest and never becomes ridiculous.  For that, I applaud.

It is interesting however, to note how many times Jupiter falls and has to be saved by Caine.  That's one trope that got a little tedious.

Spoilers below:

Actually, the plot reminded me of a much better The Last Starfighter.  While TLS was corny and the special effects poor, Jupiter Ascending was much much better.  However, the idea that a person could leave earth, take part in a galactic battle and come back with no one else the wiser isn't a new concept.   Even so, the characters and the setting aren't contrived; it hangs together well.

Nonetheless, I have three particular critisisms of the movie.  Firstly, the destruction of Chicago is repaired and Caine explains that memories will be wiped.  Yet, with that much collateral damage, there have to be casualties, many deaths.  Tens of thousands of people will have witnessed that.   Papers, documents, computers and all the digital ephemera (and physical: family photos, movie tickets, ...) will have to be replaced.  The idea that all that can be covered up in 24 hours is laughable, and is also a tedious cliche.

The Abrasax family makes the Borgias look like the textbook of humility, cooperation, powerlessness and poverty, but when Jupiter goes to the beaurocracy to get her inheritance proved, she is treated like a nobody. I have to assume that was put in to create a light-hearted break from all the violence.  However, a beaurocratic infinite loop is such a cliche that it does the movie a dis-service.  More importantly, it destroys the power (political, economic and social) of the Abrasax family that has been established in the early sequences of the movie.  One could argue that Jupiter isn't yet a member of the Abrasax's, but she is claiming membership and an enourmous inheritance.  Yet, that doesn't even cause an eyebrow to be raised.  It's like this is an every-day event.  Even the man who eventually gives her the mark, he treats her with familial condescension.   She now has the power to destroy his career, if not his life, and from what he says, the family has a reputation including ruthless power and petty vindiciveness.  And which is confirmed 5 seconds later.  So why?   The movie doesn't give an explanation.  I'm fine with un-answered questions, but for me, this is such an glaring contradiction that it needs to be explained.

My last objection is the ending.  Jupiter returns to Earth, which she now owns, to live her "normal" life.  Presumably the writers wanted a traditional cute "happy ending".  However, she is now a pivitol player in one of the most important (if not the most important) families in the galactic civilization.   That creates a power vacuum that is guaranteed to cause even more conflict, assassiniations (of her, if no one else), corporate takovers ...  Even if she establishes a committee of trusted people, she is vulnerable.   Only one of her "family" has died, so there are two left, not to mention any cousins, children, etc.  To hold power and keep the earth and herself safe, she needs to exercise that power, live that power, be that power.   The galactic culture is clearly a place where bounty-hunters, assassins, agents, double-agents, private armies, etc abound, and hiding on Earth isn't a practical option.  She needs a 24/7 team of bodyguards, at the very least.

So in summary, Jupiter Ascending is a gripping action-packed adventure with a fascinating world, characters, technology and culture, but the plot has annoying cliches and holes.

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