We finally saw Jupiter Ascending a couple of weekends ago, in the lair, rented rather than in a theatre. I wish I’d got myself out to see it large, but, well, life and all that.
It’s better than it’s given credit for. And I thought I had a long post to write about this, but I keep not writing that post, so I’m going to write a shorter one and see what happens.
Jupiter Ascending is, in large-brush-strokes, David Lynch’s Dune, but with the “Chosen One” trope excised and replaced with “Hidden Princess.” It’s a bold decision to make, because audiences aren’t used to Hidden Princess in live-action anymore, and they’re not used to it in nominally-SF movies at all.
That’s what it is, though. You’ve got all the bits. You have ultra-rare critical-to-galatic-society unique-brutal-production-method High-Protein Liquid MacGuffin. You have old-school Dune-style space-opera politics-as-secret-warfare over the usual space-opera things, with betrayals! Everywhere! You have overflowing decadence, commentaries on exploitive economics, and massive disparities of wealth and power on an intergalactic scale, and set design Lynch would’ve killed to possess. And it’s a whole family of disturbing predilections and obsessions, as in, again, Dune.
You even have Eddie Redmayne channeling Sting’s shouty Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, only with a little more of a lid on it.
But not much of one
Meanwhile, instead of Chosen One tropes and fantasies, you get a huge bundle of Hidden Princess – the lost royal child, the family of commoners who know actual love vs. the royality who doesn’t, all of it.
Plus you get the bundle of heterosexual schoolgirl fantasy stuff that tends to go along with that trope. So… you’re found by a guy who is part wolf and has a tragic backstory you can’t be bothered to explain coherently because it doesn’t really matter because it’s different for you because it’s you (of course) and he has wings and he’s utterly devoted to you and has a great ass – did Tina Belcher write this part?
That’s just one example. And sure, it’s silly, just like a lot of the Chosen One tropes – Harry “Lightning Scar” Potter, I’m looking in your direction. But we take those tropes for granted, and run with them because they’re so common, they’re shorthand, and given meaning depending up on how well they’re done or not done. We don’t even call them “silly,” half the time; we call them “mythic” if we don’t just gloss over them entirely.
And when push comes to shove, that’s what I think did in Jupiter Ascending with critics; familiarity with “Chosen One” tropes, and the expectations thereof, but a lack of current familiarity with “Hidden Princess” in anything like this context.
Many, many people complained that the story made no sense, or was confusing. It’s not. It lacks narrative discipline, sure, but the primary flow is deeply linear – pedantically so at times. It only fails to make linear sense if you either try to force it into the Chosen One paradigm against all the actual storytelling on screen, or if you ignore everything women characters do as unimportant. (Every reviewer who referred to Black Widow as “eye candy not doing anything much” in the first Avengers film, I’m looking in your directions.)
But also explains why it did eventually find an audience. A subset of the viewing audience did pick up on the Hidden Princess tropes, and once you get that, it makes all kinds of sense.
Particularly once you realise it’s Hidden Princess Dune. Then, suddenly, it’s pretty neat.
I should schedule a critical-viewing double-feature at the Lair: Lynch’s Dune and the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending. Seeing them in that close a proximity sounds neat to me, as a cinematic exercise. Maybe in the fall, once summer touring season is done.