Jupiter Ascending – final review

I saw Jupiter Ascending again in theaters, this time up close on the ULTRA screen.  Sitting up close makes it a bad movie.  You lose the big picture.  I sort of got to experience the movie how others might see it: a big blurry mess.

On second viewing, I see how the movie made a big mistake, and how the confusion I talked about in my previous post was created. A movie is a story, and this story lacked something called a “narrative imperative”, meaning the core of the story lacks a means from moving naturally from one scene to the next. Normally this is accomplished by the imperatives and motivations of the main character and her story, but in the case of Jupiter Ascending, she has no story. She has no ambitions. She’s Cinderella without a ball to go to. This is normal for a character piece, where the story *is* the character, and doesn’t need to go anywhere. But in an action movie, that’s bad. You need a story that moves.

The writers realize this and so invent a three ancillary characters to push the story along. In Jupiter’s case, there is the bounty hunters, the space cops (Aegis), and the Mercenary, Stinger. These three characters function to get Jupiter to meet all three Abrasax family members. So far so good. The problem starts when the writers made these ancillary characters more interesting than the main character, Jupiter. Jupiter doesn’t have a backstory. She doesn’t look interesting. All these ancillary characters looked phenomenal, blue-haired Anime girl, personal invisible hovercrafts, blue-skinned guys, cool sonic guns, the Aegis with its aliens and chain of command, and Stinger, ex-marshal who lost his wings. So right away you get the sense they are important when they’re really not.

Still not a deal-breaker. Every character is explainable, you just need an introduction. The more interesting or complex the character, the longer the introduction. They introduced Stinger the proper way, name, emotions or motivation, even a title. Stinger was the retired ex-commanding officer. Audiences got that.

But the other two characters, the blue-skinned bounty hunters and the Aegis, the writers completely failed in their introduction. There were no names, no sense of backstory, and no motivations. They tried, but it was in exposition and way earlier in the movie. There was no easy way to link what they were talking about with the actual characters once you see them. Even if you did, there was no emotional reason to care. The introduction failed.

So when the characters started affecting the plot, you get confused. Something feels wrong. They all tried to kidnap Jupiter, and they all first appeared at the same time. So we’ve got several very detailed, interesting characters who were not properly introduced, all manipulating the action and the plot all at the same time. To further complicate things, they all were betraying the person who originally hired them. It was minor, but to audiences who were desperately trying to figure out what these characters’ motivations were, the added complication was just too much. It was unnecessary. It was too ambitious.

I see more clearly that the movie was more of a character piece, not a story. The character, however, was NOT the main character, Jupiter. The character was the world. The fantastic, futuristic, gorgeous world, and the people who ran it, mainly the Abrasax family. I thought at first maybe the movie was about the three members of the Abrasax family, since each one was very unique, but upon thought I see that they were all the same. They all wanted the same thing. They all wanted Earth, they all wanted Jupiter, and they all wanted to screw up each other. So I think they were all just three parts of one single character.

Jupiter was just the vessel from which the characters were displayed. The writers couldn’t just *show* you the world. So they invented a character, Jupiter, to go from place to place and have things happen to her and by doing so show you the world. To get Jupiter from place to place they invented the 3 ancillary characters, one for each member of the Abrasax family, namely Stinger, The Aegis, and the unnamed bounty hunters. And then they made those ancillary characters too interesting and botched their introductions.

It would have been such an easy fix, too. All they needed was for Jupiter to ask “Who are these people giving us a ride?” while they were first on board the ship and *then* Caine should have explained that they were Aegis, basically space cops, upholding the laws and protecting the royalty. Not while they were walking around on Earth.

Same with the bounty hunters. All they needed was Jupiter (or Caine, asking Stinger, or vice versa) to say “Who are these people with guns surrounding the house?”
“Oh they seem to be bounty hunters, trying to kidnap you and sell or trade you off for profit. I ran into them earlier outside the fertility clinic. Somehow they found out there was untitled royalty on Earth and are after you. Or maybe someone hired them. Stay away from them.”

That’s all it took to do a proper introduction. Instead they neglected it, because they thought they were unimportant. Sorry writers, its not whether *you* think they are important, its whether the *audience* thinks they are important. You made them look cool and had all these cool gadgets and details so the audience thought they were important.

In the final estimation, a movie is just a story. Jupiter Ascending did not have much of a story. Aliens coming to conquer the earth, blah blah, it’s that movie Independence Day all over again. Stories have been built on less. It still could have been good. But then the rest of the story should have been how to save earth. It needed to hint how that was going to happen, foreshadows and conflict, how the characters motivations change and adapt to the exigencies created by this imperative. Instead the story strayed. It became just a vessel for the Wachowskis to show off this fantabulous world they created with its wacky elephant pilots and tri-sexual (men, women, robots) bureaucracy and reptile-humans that descended from the dinosaurs of earth and amazing technology and oh yeah its insane royalty.

Only at the very very end did they move the focus away from Milo Kunis and all the visuals to the heart of the matter – The Story. Saving her family, saving earth. She throws down and shatters the document signing away her claim to the earth, and only at *that* moment, only then did the story really begin. They should have done that scene, that showdown between her and the bad guy, earlier. They could have done it again at the end if they wanted. But until that choice, that struggle, that motivation, and the imperative that runs a story, becomes clear, there is no story.

Final Grade: B+

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