jupiter-ascending-income-inequality

Strangers on a train heading to nowhere. A dying man’s attempt to save  friend’s terminally ill child takes him far above the earth. And now a woman burdened with the news she’s intergalactic royalty faces an uncertain future.

On the surface, ‘Snowpiercer,’ ‘Elysium‘ and the new Wachowskis’ epic ‘Jupiter Ascending’ have nothing in common.

It doesn’t take a magnifying glass to see similarities beyond their disparate plot points. Each tackles the divide between the rich and poor, the haves and have nots or, in the case of ‘Jupiter Ascending,’ the folks who will look forever young and the poor saps who help them get that way.

We’re living at a time when income inequality is front and center, both on the political front as well as the pop culture space. Class divisions seem even more profound given the perks being wealthy afford us. Close your eyes and imagine a home where the children all have tablets, the parents access every home utility via an app and the dog bears a chip to help his owners track him down should he flee.

Now, consider a different family portrait where the parents struggle to pay the rent, dinner is a cold Big Mac and a cheap TV antenna offers a modest escape.

Pundits can wrassle over the big picture behind these disparities. In science fiction terms, the divide is inspiring filmmakers with mixed results.

‘Elysium,’ the first of the three films to hit theaters, managed to bungle both the class warfare rhetoric as well as the thriller aspects. Matt Damon never gives a dull performance, but he can’t save a story with cardboard villains and a third act packed with weak resolutions. The rich are presented as wholly devoid of decency, while the poor are noble in their squalor.

‘Snowpiercer’s’”class warfare storytelling is equally obtuse. The soapbox practically pops off the screen like a 3D gimmick. Yet it’s bravura filmmaking all the same. Tilda Swinton’s hissable villain bullies past screen archetypes, and director Bong Joon-ho whips up some inventive action sequences and bleak dystopian visuals.

‘Jupiter Ascending,’ infamously bumped from its 2014 release date to Feb. 6, manages to thread the ideological needle better than its predecessors. Credit could go to the fact that there’s so much storytelling compressed into the film’s two hour-plus running time. Let’s give the ‘Matrix’ team some credit. Science fiction parables often work best when they slyly run in the background, which is how it works in their latest sci-fi epic.

The film serves up a royal class which thinks nothing of robbing the greatest resource from those it deems beneath them. The film doesn’t stop for overt speeches or make the class rhetoric jarring. Instead, the focus is on Jupiter (Mila Kunis) and her quest to regain control of her life. And, hopefully, save mankind in the process, from being one large Fountain of Youth.

These films won’t be the last statement on class divisions. For now, audiences can examine the subject in three very different ways.

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Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, film critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He also blogs about fatherhood at Daddylibrium.com.