The original Jem cartoon from the 80s is beloved for a reason—and it offers a lot of great material for a modern musical superhero movie. So the movie version could have been great. Instead, the Jem movie left all the best parts of the cartoon on the table.
And even if you ignore the wasted potential of a Jem movie, Jem and the Holograms is an awful sit. It’s not fun-bad, it’s painful-bad. Here’s our spoiler-filled breakdown of 1) How the Jem movie failed to capture the TV show, and 2) Why the movie itself makes no goddamn sense.
Jem is an absurd cartoon, just like its sibling shows Transformers and G.I. Joe. As unpleasant as the recent movies based on those have been, at least the titles fit. At least those movies did reach for the over-the-top nature of those properties. Watch the Jem cartoon theme song up there, and understand that none of that made it to the movie.
There is no way to describe the basic plot of the Jem cartoon. It starts with the death of Jerrica and Kimber Benton’s father, leaving the elder Jerrica an inheritance of a music company, an orphanage, and a secret base filled with instruments and run by a supercomputer which can project completely interactive holograms. Yes. I know.
The secret base and supercomputer are used by Jerrica to create Jem, an alter ego projected over Jerrica by her earrings and run by Synergy, the computer. The rest of the band is made up of her sister Kimber and their foster sisters Aja and Shana. Yes, no one figures out who Jem is, even though the band is made up of her family. Partly, that’s because Synergy projects holograms of Jem and Jerrica standing next to each other. Partly, it’s because this is actually a cartoon.
Here’s what Jem and the Holgrams kept: the names.
That’s it. No supercomputer. No holograms (unless you count the sad dadgram at the end. We’ll get to that.)
Jem and the Holograms should have been an origin story for a superhero who happens to use her powers for rock. It has all the elements: dead father, inheritance, enemies, secret identities that everyone should immediately see through, amazing technology. This should not have been harder to accomplish now—at a time when everyone can rattle off the beats in a superhero origin tale with almost no prompting—than it was in the 1980s.
If you watch the Jem cartoon now, the first episodes of the show play pretty much the same as Iron Man. You’ve got Jerrica inheriting her father’s company and creating a secret identity to change the direction of it, and a corrupt executive trying to sabotage her. You’ve even got the close friends who know what she’s doing! If the movie had embraced this spirit, it would have at least been watchable.
And what sets Jem apart from being basically an 80s version of Hannah Montana is its weird use of technology. Jem had portable holograms that people could interact with. That’s technology more advanced than Star Trek’s! At one point, Jem’s nemeses get a time machine, and use it to get rid of Jem and her band. Those are the kind of plots the people behind the movie had at their fingertips. With today’s CGI, we should have had a gleeful explosion of technology bristling in every scene. We should have seen Jem flickering through a billion looks through amazing projected holograms. Instead, she just tries on some wigs.
Jem’s other real strength was just how great its baddies were. Jerrica’s dad left half of his music company to her, and half to Eric Raymond. So Eric creates the bad-girl band, the Misfits, to get enough success to oust Jerrica. Jem and the Holograms are Jerrica’s return volley. And then, at some point, there’s a third band—a boy-fronted band, called the Stingers.
The rivalry between these groups provide most of the entertainment of the original show. And it means that the three songs per half-hour aren’t all from one group. Plus, the Misfits are actually much more fun than Jem. They rock harder, and don’t wear pastels. Take one guess who’s missing from the movie.
The only point Jem and the Holograms actually feels like a Jem movie is during the post-credits scene, when a discredited Erica Raymond (Juliete Lewis, who is so much better in this role than this movie deserves) visits the Misfits to ask their help in destroying Jem. Why wasn’t this the WHOLE MOVIE? When you see Kesha as Pizzazz (the leader of the Misfits), saying the words from the show’s theme song, it crystalizes how not fucking Jem the movie has been so far. Jem and the Holograms wastes two hours and then teases us with a much better sequel that will never happen, because of how dismally this one performed.
And finally, I can’t believe I’m saying this about an 80s cartoon, but the character development of Jem and the Holograms is missing from the movie. One of the themes of the TV show is that there’s a love triangle between Jem, Jerrica, and the designated love interest, Rio. Yeah, one person occupies two prongs of the same love triangle. As dumb as that occasionally gets in the cartoon, it’s a genuinely interesting concept that the movie could have done cool things with.
Plus there are two genuinely complex characters, Kimber and Stormer. Kimber’s life does pretty thoroughly suck. I get that she’s Jerrica’s younger sister, but for their father to leave Kimber nothing is cold. At least in the show, Kimber does show some jealousy over all the attention that Jem gets. Movie Kimber seems unphased that their father has left her sister a ton of special father-daughter stuff, and all she merits is a brief mention in his message to Jem. Show Kimber leaves the band for a bit, until she’s convinced that she is actually appreciated.
Stormer is one of the Misfits and might every well be the most complicated character in the show. She’s the creative force behind the band, likes harmless mischief, and is pushed around by the rest of the band. Her brother is the love interest of one of the Holograms. Stormer will even team up with the Holograms when she thinks that Pizzazz has stepped over the line. She’s got complicated loyalties and motives, and she is completely missing from Jem and the Holograms.
The TV show was bright, fun, filled with science fiction, and surprisingly complex. The movie is none of those things.
Even if you remove the original Jem from the equation, Jem and the Holograms is an abysmal movie. You cannot rescue this movie by saying that it was killed by fan expectation. This movie was rushed from the start, and it feels like it. The plotholes in each individual subplot are so big, the end up colliding and turn the movie into one big black hole of suck.
So consider this your mini-spoiler FAQ. Because a) this movie doesn’t deserve a full one and b) I don’t want to force Rob to see this, it’s that bad.
What is Jem and the Holograms about?
It’s about a girl named Jerrica who gets internet famous under the pseudonym of Jem and then brings her whole family (one sister, two foster daughters of their aunt) to Los Angeles to act as her band. Meanwhile, a major record label and its owners try to make her a solo star and profit off of her everything.
Okay, that sounds pretty standard.
It’s also about the secret scavenger hunt Jem’s dead dad set up for her, involving scattering pieces of his great technological invention around Los Angeles.
Despite having two daughters—Jem and Kimber—Mr. Benton clearly has a favorite. He spent his last few weeks on this Earth creating an unholy cross between BB-8 and Echo from Earth to Echo called 51N3RG.Y that only activates once it’s in Los Angeles. Jem has to go find the two missing pieces of this robot, by sneaking into deserted (and potentially dangerous) docks, among other places. Each piece is accompanied by messages straight out of a hallmark card. But she can’t find the last piece!
What kind of scavenger hunt is only two items?
Where’s the last piece?
Well, the second piece had “Use your gifts” written on it. And it’s also a clue—despite the other pieces just being GPS coordinates displayed by 51N3RG.Y—since the last pieces are the earrings Jem’s dad left him.
So she plugs the earrings into the robot and—
Oh no, see, when Jem and her family got to L.A. the evil music executive said the earrings weren’t cool enough for her new image. So she took them, put them in an ornate silver box, and then put that box in a safe that only she can open.
She doesn’t just tell Jem to take the earrings off? Does she know that the earrings are the key to activating a next-generation hologram-projecting robot? Is the whole band thing is a ruse to get the tech?
No, no and no.
Then Jem just asks for her earrings back, right?
OF COURSE NOT. She and her love interest, the evil executive’s son, break in the music company’s offices to get them. With help from her sisters.
They break in?
Yes, even though he works for the company too, and Jem is ostensibly an artist with that label, who should be able to at least enter the building just fine. In fact, they are able to leave the building after they nearly get caught by the bad guys, because Jerrica puts on her Jem wig and security just lets her pass.
I don’t understand.
It’s so that the son can open the safe—the password is his mother’s own name, by the way—and find his father’s will, which allows him to take over the company from his mother the day “he feels ready” to do so.
Not when he is ready, just when he feels ready? That seems dangerously vague.
I know. A lot of badly-thought-out inheritances in this movie.
So she puts the earrings in the robot, and that’s when she gets the cool hologram tech?
No. She gets a hologram of her dad telling him she’s really his greatest creation and that she’s awesome.
She shares the hologram with her sister, right?
No, Jem watches it with her love interest. All Kimber merits is a brief mention in passing, in the video.
Is Kimber jealous of this blatant favoritism?
Nah. Kimber seems pretty much okay with it. The only thing that gets any of them angry is when the music executive forces Jem to sign up as a solo artist, to get the money to save her aunt’s house. The whole band storms off for five minutes. They come back after one song break.
Are the songs any good?
Eh, they’re fine. They’re clichéd, but at least one of them is a earwormy enough that it’ll get stuck in your head. Plus, star Aubrey Peeples can sing. At the same time, she’s more believable in Nashville, where she plays a reality star who deferred Harvard to pursue a singing career, ended up a beard to a closeted country music singer, and attempted suicide.
How much product placement is there?
All. This movie is entirely product placement. Ironically, this is the part that is the truest to the original cartoon, which was just a way to sell toys. But the main thing being sold by this movie is the internet. As a concept.
This movie’s tagline should be, “Everyone talks about the problems with the internet. But no one really talks about all the good it does for the community.” Jem and the Holograms very earnestly believes in the power of the internet to connect people and raise them up. It reinforces this message by using YouTube videos for the majority of the soundtrack. It also uses Google Earth for all the transitions between scenes. And Jem eventually decides agains revealing her identity to the world, because of all the people on Instagram and Vine who believe in her.
Basically, the movie is told from the perspective of Google.
Do people really need to be sold on the internet?
No one in this movie’s target demographic! It’s a weird message.
What’s the best part of the movie?
That no one saw it. I’m really proud of America for seeing a naked cash grab that was poorly made on almost every level, and actually refusing to go. Kudos.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.