If you’re anything like me, then you love Speed Racer with all of your heart. Eviscerated upon release, it has come to be seen as the Wachowskis’ true masterpiece by a growing segment of those who are referred to in hushed tones as “film people.” They’ll tell you it’s actually beautiful and earnest, a pure expression of the potential of cinema without a cynical bone in its body. I am one of those film people, and I am here to tell you that it’s happening again.
Jupiter Ascending is not the quite cinematic revelation that Speed Racer was, buts its more conventional aesthetic choices are balanced with its nostalgic commitment to genre and a greater thematic richness. A space opera in the most literal of senses, it is a melodramatic love story, a wondrous tour through decadent costume and set design, and a pointed takedown of the underlying amorality of capitalism.
Summarising Jupiter Ascending is more than a little difficult, the plot initially laying the groundwork for a chosen-one teen drama, before instead shifting into the action-packed proceedings of intergalactic corporate legalese. Warring members of one of the universe’s largest family businesses fight over the deeds to the Earth, and somehow at the heart of all this is Mila Kunis’ Jupiter Jones, a poor girl still cleaning toilets every day. She is the film’s emotional heart, swept up into the drama through nothing but chance, shepherded from plot point to plot point, a cog in a machine that cares not one iota for her agency or personhood. The convoluted story and Jupiter’s passive nature are reminiscent of recurring complaints levied at your Twilights, your Divergents etc., but here the film elevates them from narrative flaws to integral thematic components. Jupiter Ascending doesn’t inherit the problems of its genre, it confronts them.
All that makes Jupiter Ascending seem like a dry affair, but the reality couldn’t be further than the truth. It’s dripping in camp, from Eddie Redmayne’s villainous drawl to the time it decides to just turn into Brazil for about five minutes. The film’s true strength is the lost art of sincerity, it embraces the inherent stupidity of its space opera universe and still commits to every single beat. Much like Lucy last year, it is smart and stupid in equal measure, celebrating its pulpy nature and never undercutting either it or its thematic ideas in order to bolster the other. I likeGuardians of the Galaxy as much as the next guy, but if the only way we’re going to get space bombast in the future is to couch it in a self-effacing layer of snarky detachment, then we’re living in a sad world indeed.
Ultimately, these are not the words I truly want to write about Jupiter Ascending. Those words would be full of spoilers, a parsing of the films specific themes and ambitions, a celebration of every campy line read and overwrought piece of set design. It is a film that demands its audience to meet it half way, and if you do, there is so much worth talking about on the side. For a film that also features Bees genetically engineered to recognise space royalty, I cannot think of a greater compliment.
Be on the right side of history, this time. Go see Jupiter Ascending, then we’ll have the right conversation.