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Feb
08

Shiny and flimsy, but not a complete flop. 

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Jupiter Ascending launches enough big ideas to make it the next Matrix trilogy. You just have to make it through the first half of the movie. *Spoiler-free thoughts*

The sci-fi/fantasy genre is more accessible than ever. With all the good, however, comes a lot of bad. Knowing how over-the-top and gimmicky the trailers for Jupiter Ascending have been, the best thing going for the film is how low expectations are.

At first, it’s just another cellophane bag of corn starch and cheesy air that the vending machine at Warner Bros. has been storing, waiting for audiences to snap out of their Oscar mindset and crave mindless summer blockbusters once more.

But not completely.

The science fiction in Jupiter Ascending is simplified; not mindless. This movie isn’t a bad bag of chips. Like a good bag of chips, it’s better when the burden of consuming it is shared. The intentions are good. It’s entertaining. It creates good conversation. And like the basis of all good science fiction, it challenges us to think about the world we live in. Jupiter Ascending just happens to do it using Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum.

Maybe that’s the state of mainstream science fiction. Maybe the masterminds behind The Matrix need to cast teen idols in their space opera about the industrialization of life in the universe to — above all else — make the concept easier to digest.

The risk pays off.

As the story unfolds, all casting really does seem like a good choice. Almost like certain scenes were written with the actors in mind. Grounding the audience with eye-candy rather than intense actors is what makes the story accessible. There’s an obvious Cinderella angle that Mila Kunis plays, successfully making her character the only one that really develops. She is Jupiter. And she is ascending. That’s not to say that the fairytale set-up goes without a strong villain.

Speaking almost in whispers, the main villain steals scenes by choosing his words carefully, ruthlessly cutting other characters down by being quietly powerful. The technique evokes fear in a strangely unique way.

The fun part is that when he snaps, he really snaps.

Along with the royal space villainy comes alien species, planets and galactic dynasties that are all named in easily forgettable ways. The most memorable thing about Jupiter Ascending, of course, are the visual effects in the action scenes.

The Matrix achieved amazing fight choreography and innovation in its action sequences. Instead of bending physics and creating “bullet-time”, Jupiter Ascending has a genetically spliced bounty hunter that is half man, half wolf who is able to skate through the air on anti-gravity boots. Though, not as slick as the slow-motion dodging of bullets, the anti-gravity accessory lends to incredibly beautiful movement through enemy lasers, in realtime.

Whether it’s through the streets of Chicago or the passageways of some distant civilization, the anti-gravity skating never gets old. It’s always cool to see it used in different environments that demand the hero to use his resourcefulness to save the day. These highs are especially great because they last much longer than the lows of the romance that gets thrown in.

Even though the actors pull off the intimate scenes, the romance isn’t naturally established. In fact, it’s never really needed. It only seems to fit among the fairytale foundation that the sci-fi spectacle rests on for some reason. Checking romance off on a list of things that make movies popular is nice, but the contrast between lovey-dovey moments and saving the planet Earth doesn’t help the overall tone of the movie. The underlying love story isn’t given enough time to develop. There’s so much action going on that it seems almost impossible to give the main characters time to develop a real connection. It’s true that people bond in times of need, but so much of Jupiter Ascending is dedicated to progressing the plot that only Jupiter herself can develop; sky-skating wolf man can’t.

Like Neo in The Matrix, Jupiter learns to gain control of the world around her. Seeing this is one of the movie’s highlights. There’s nothing cooler than a badass “princess” type facing off against the main villain alone. She’s, of course, nowhere nearly as strong as she would be if the story wasn’t weighed down by delusions of fairytale lore, but having her grow, in any way, is definitely better than her being the damsel in distress the whole time.

By splicing together Cinderella, The Matrix and a bit of the space opera that is Star Wars, Jupiter Ascending starts off in an awkwardly clunky place. But with a focus on incredible action and surprisingly big plot ideas, it ultimately breaks free and shines with as much potential as the sci-fi movies it borrows from.

It just happens to do so with Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum.

If you can get past the casting to embrace the movie’s intentions, it’s place in sci-fi geekdom, then you’re in for one hell of an anti-gravity skating ride.

 

 

 

 

 

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