Sunday, March 8, 2015

Female Filmmaker Project: Jupiter Ascending (Lana and Andy Wachowski, 2015)

*Two things of note before I begin this entry. I am including Jupiter Ascending in the female filmmaker project despite one half the directing crew being male. I find it important to take a look at films made by a diverse group of women and Lana Wachowski is the only Transgender Woman filmmaker on my original list. If you know of more women who are trans making movies please let me know. The second thing to note is this entry will have a lack of screencaptures, because the film is still in cinemas. 

Science Fiction has a big problem with it's treatment of women. Often times Women are either completely ignored or simply play a love interest. You'd be hard pressed to find a science fiction film before Alien where women were the focal point. Alien is an amazing film, and should be praised for being such, but it should also be noted the kind of effect it had on the writing of women in science fiction pictures left a lot to be desired. Alien created a ripple effect with the emergence of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley that gave many blossoming writers a blueprint to write women in their space pictures. This isn't necessarily a problem in and of itself, but the majority of these writers left out a lot of the intuition, empathy, backstory, and human emotion that made audiences of all genders connect with Ripley. Instead what became a current trend was coined as the strong female character, and it became all encompassing as the idea of women's places in these movies was strictly linked to their ability to kick ass. Women like that should exist, but not at the expense of every other type of woman who may be written in science fiction or even action pictures.

Along comes Jupiter Ascending. A science fiction film so expressly for women that it's baffling just how poorly it went over with audiences and critics. It's a transgressive picture in just how expressly it levels it's themes in women's interests, and wears it's encompassing dorkiness on it's sleeve. You see, this picture has more in common with Dune and Young Adult Literature than it does any science fiction totem. The Wachowskis did not go out of their way to make a film about a male power fantasy or state violence, but instead focused on one girl who wishes for something more in life. In that way it also has more in common with fairy tales than your typical dystopian science fiction parable. The film doesn't ignore science fiction in the least, but it's just as much young adult and fairy tale as it is space opera.

The Earth along with other planets are being harvested by the elite. Their residents are gathered and their essence drained to create a youth serum so the privileged may stay perfect forever. After the death of the matriarch of the House of Abrasax passes away her riches must be given away to her family. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a resident on Earth who bears a strikingly real resemblance to this ruler mother so she becomes the rightful owner of Earth. Because she is such an important figure to the hierarchy of this universe she is a target for those who wish to kill her to become next in line of possession of this planet. Jupiter doesn't know anything of her claimed royalty until she comes into contact with a protector, a fallen angel of sorts, named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum). She eventually comes to know about her possession of the earth, and the problems that come in the bureaucracy of the rich, and the evil that comes at the price of that level of class privilege.

What makes Jupiter Jones such a fascinating hero is the fact that she doesn't pick up a gun or a sword to defend herself, and she firmly doesn't kick any ass until the final moments. It is her complete empathy towards the denizens of earth that colour her heroism, and that is completely refreshing. She is not a character with an intensely depressing backstory, and she doesn't brood or struggle with the difficulties of having bought into levels of violence. Her father died at the hands of thieves when she was still a fetus, and the last thing she seems to want to do is fight. Many have claimed that this makes her a damsel in distress, but that would negate the fact that her strength doesn't lie in the physical, but her heart.

This doesn't negate the films problems. Eddie Redmayne is astoundingly awful, and cannot grasp his character whatsoever. The action is often messy when it opens up it's scope outside of close quarters combat, and many plot threads are just dropped without much of an interest in fleshing them out (whether this is a budgetary or scripting issue is another issue). The Wachowskis try their best to wrangle in a world that is honestly too big for this one picture. It makes the film jumbled, but not in a way that necessarily detracts from the stronger aspects, but it does render some of its impact mute. One would wonder if some of these ideas and this would be better suited to a trilogy. All these smaller problems are minimal in the grand scope of just how imaginative this picture is though, and those action sequences while struggling on occasion still have that trademark Wachowski flair. The usage of slo-mo is so overdone in cinema, but there is joy in seeing those who made it popular come back to it. Seeing Channing Tatum skirt through fire as vehicles explode behind him is elegant. Elegant is in fact the word that I think of most when recalling this picture's final moments, and seeing Tatum fly off on his newly minted wings with Jupiter gives me joy and hope that few of these pictures do. It's an unabashed happy ending, and with the increasing cynicism of big budget filmmaking I'm more than okay with flying off into the sunset with the Wachowskis being as dorky as possible.

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