JUPITER ASCENDING feels like the Wachowskis remade THE MATRIX in space for the Young Adult Market. Especially for girls. This is not a bad thing. It's just a thing. Not my kind of thing, necessarily, but I don't mind that I saw it. It's bright and shiny, with some fantastically intricate chase sequences, state-of-the-art special effects, the whole gleaming shebang. Watch it on a big screen, if you do. Just don't expect anything radically new, unless you happen to be a pre-teen under ten. It could rock you a little, considering.
In a recent interview with Hitfix.com, the Wachowskis raised a very good point that illustrates their ambition in regards to this film. Aside from sequels and remakes and prequels and video-game and novel adaptations, why hasn't there been, other than AVATAR, any original world-building in American cinema? 9-11, rhat's why, according to these two sibling writer-directors. People want what's familiar, and it takes a whole lot of mental energy to invest in something cinematic that's novel and ntricate.
It's a notion I hadn't thought of before, and I almost buy it, but I don't think JUPITER ASCENDING necessarily is that 'new thing' that we need. Mostly because, as slickly entertaining and eye-popping as it is, it also feels like a highlight-reel or medley of SF hits of the past. You have a crew right out of STAR TREK, and cityscapes and creatures cribbed from THE PHANTOM MENACE, and plot twists that harken to THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and British-accented space-officials from the deck of the Death Star, and intergalactic family dynamics that echo feuds found in Marvel's THOR films, and a central story of an unsuspecting heroine's awakening to her own dynamic importance that feels like it's lifted right out of the heart of THE MATRIX. (Also made by the Wachowskis.) So what we get is not necessarily something new in the leat; in fact, it's familiar enough to feel pretty safe.
Yet, perhaps I'm being too harsh. Similar to THE HUNGER GAMES, this could be a benign gateway drug for young girls just getting into SF. It might serve to instigate discussion of the genre's brighter lights. The Eighties, after all, gave us TRON and THE LAST STARFIGHTER, and FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR and STAR WARS, and probably a dozen other films I"m forgetting that featured young males in the lead diligently derring-do. All of these recent SF/Fantasy films navigating a teenage heroine at the centre of the narratives who must wield great responsibility to unearth their trule role is kind of a twist on a tradtionally male realm of enchantment. That they're nothing new for us all doesn't necessarily mean there's nothing new in them for some.
JUPITER ASCENDING has a scale and ambition, visually, that makes it worth watching, with amiable performancess (and the requistie great-baddie scene-chewing), and there's some intriguing notions of Earth history in connection to other-worldly black-markets that make the story unfold with varying degrees of suspense and amusement. For a science-fiction fan above the age of, say, twenty-two, there's probably not much here other than its effects that will cause you to geek out in astonished glee, but for a girl who's just starting to like exactly this kind of stuff, it might make her chatter all the way home in the backseat of the car as she looks up at the moon that races right alongside her night's ride.