I’ll start this post by saying I had a whole entry written up about being spoon-fed stories, and how tired I am of baby-stepped storytelling. I figured I *expletive deleted* too much, so I slept on it and decided to ruminate on the subject.
I found the best way for me to distill and digest my thoughts would be to read (or watch) something that doesn’t spoon-feed me a story. So I turned to a movie I’ve wanted to see for a long time: Jupiter Ascending. Given the Wachowskis don’t play by the rules when it comes to telling a story, I figured I couldn’t los anything by watching.
It galvanized my thought process on the matter, and allowed me to step into a place to properly compare and dissect. The movie also got so little attention once released, and I heard so little about it, I figured it’d be a great, beautiful, luscious movie. I wasn’t wrong.
Spoilers contained within. Do not read if you want to watch and enjoy it as new.
The Wachowski siblings are best known for their breakaway movie The Matrix. I won’t go into how they’ve spent the rest of their careers trying to catch up to the success of that movie, and no matter what they put out, they can’t seem to capture the imaginations of the general populace. All-star casts, great storytelling, and a huge budget still can’t seem to collect the interest of the average person. Why?
Because the general populace wants spoon-feeding. Of late, the greatest successes come with repetition of a common theme, a safe, controlled environment, and only slight deviations in the status quo.
Lana said it best herself in one of the “extras” of the movie: “We switched almost overnight from a culture that championed originality… [to one that] actually crave[s] familiarity. Originality was always the primary draw.”
“They’re not interested in anything that doesn’t break new ground. Not just cinematically, but personally.”
This movie seems (of course) to be a complex fairy tale, a space opera, a drama. But when you cut away all the bits and pieces, this is a direct re-envisioning of the first Twilight movie, taken to extreme. It has a caste system, a group of “mundanes,” and a much larger group of races beyond. It starts with the observer meeting a genetically enhanced wolf/person hybrid, a hunter, searching for an “everyman” character the observer relates most to. This “everyman” is thrown, mostly against her will, into a universe hidden behind the fabric of daily life. The observer learns about a great civilization elsewhere in the universe, and the powerful overlords that are immortal only insomuch that they can harvest people. In fact, the character Jupiter actually asked “So are you vampires or something?”
Hopefully all the similarities aren’t lost on the average reader. Werewolves. Vampires. Other creatures. It tells a story with all the basic societal foci of a microcosmic high school, only placed on the political stage of the universe. I love this movie because it makes earth into the high school, as if we’re all adolescents, and Jupiter is the first person accepted into college: the Wachowskis seemed to find the kernel of truth in the dissection of Twilight and expanded it to its creative end. So many people archetypes, so much time spent world(s)building, creating peripherals, and details, you know there was more material thrown out than material kept. This is what I seek in movies. This is what I seek in novels.
It would be impossible for me to know all the inspirations for such a movie, whether they came from another movie or a popular book or whatnot. Throughout, on the periphery, I found strong inspiration in historical “tribe” coloration, totems, archetypes, and even the landscapes of Dinotopia.
So. After reading several reviews about how the movie is “too much yet not enough” and “exposition-clogged” and “more at home on your xbox,” and “so full of plot holes it isn’t worth even talking about” (Who in the hell writes that, by the way? There is such a glaring issue that you don’t want to talk about it?), I found little discussion as to specifics (except Redmayne’s oddly-placed temper tantrums) and much ado about deviation from the expected movie experience. Also, someone mentioned how heavy-handed Redmayne’s character was about capitalism. Uh, durr? Have you listened to a single successful capitalist talking about his family’s legacy? Yeah, heavy-handed. It’s where he collected his power. Why would a powerful man shy away from his source of power?
Too much exposition. Too many fight scenes. Transitions too fast, or forced.
I think too many of these critics have got their hands on “how to critique a movie” literature. “There is ONE WAY to write a good movie, and this ain’t it.” Speaking only from a storytelling perspective, this movie is very balanced for me. There’s a lot to learn, there’s a lot of action, and there’s a lot of movement. Strong amount of disposition up front with equally filling action scenes. Fleshed-out characters compelled to handle situations in ways they know best fighting against other fleshed-out characters. They could have found a way to dispense with the information in a more dramatic fashion, perhaps, but how they presented the movie felt strong and well done. It is, in a word, dynamic.
Now, from a strict filmography point of view, the relationship between Jupiter and Caine seems dulled and uninteresting; she comes on strong and they don’t get enough screen time to develop. Not enough down time to experience each other. The action sequences seem vibrant and exciting, but most things happen too quick for me to follow properly, thus causing a disconnect to the movie. Mila doesn’t quite pull off a strong damsel (but she did a great job of acting like a Russian maid), although Channing certainly kept my interest as a character. Perhaps the movie needed more close-up shots of Mila staring at Channing. Some of the political intrigue seemed cut cleaner than an overcooked pizza (three slices, three factions, three separations of power, all needing to communicate with Jupiter, with zero outside influences).
If I looked real hard, I could find lots of issues. Of course, if I looked hard at any story, I’d find a plethora of things “not to my liking.” But that isn’t the point. This movie highlights creativity on a level I find lacking everywhere. I want challenge. I want effort. I want risk. I want miles and miles of story that I don’t get to read behind the characters. I want diversity and a vibrant nature to things. Purpose. Rotten Tomatoes: 26%.
Another great scifi movie that came out recently was the latest Star Wars, and while it was cinematically sound, well balanced in pace, and its storytelling distilled to a tap, I found it wholly dull and lacking in creativity. Why? There was none. Zero. It was a movie thoroughly chewed up with old VHS copies of episodes 4, 5, and 6 and spat out with new (albeit well performed) faces. People say it’s a “hand-off” movie to reboot the franchise. I don’t watch movies to see interim pandering to a new generation. I don’t watch movies to get a brand (Star Wars) shoved down my throat. I am a consumer, yes, but this ain’t Pepsi. Creativity. Can’t. Be. Bottled. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%.
Since when did we decide to distill everything to a simple story? In art, we do not do this as a whole. In food prep and cooking, we do not do this as a whole. In writing, we do. In movies, we do. Why? Where has the risk gone?
The movie Twilight got a higher rating by nearly double on the RT website.
(Note: I’m not knocking either Twilight or Episode VII. I personally feel Jupiter Ascending is a strongly-made movie, and I have a bias toward seeing never-before-seen elements on the screen. Subsequently, I weigh this creativity with much more emphasis than I do “simple” or “easy to understand” elements of a movie.)
Sadly I feel some of our moviemaking pioneers are being lost in the hubbub of cookie-cutter movies. If Steven Spielberg were to make his debut today, he’d have a hard time making any traction whatsoever. Who knows how many great writers/directors are out there, with truly groundbreaking work, who will never see their endeavors in the hands of average people?
In short, I thoroughly loved the movie. Redmayne’s strangeness and a single forced romance scene aside, this movie is worth watching. Worth owning. Worth sharing.
Let me know how you feel about it.