Film Review – Jupiter Ascending
Jupiter Ascending (2015) is a spectacular mess. It’s big and ambitious, but also ridiculous and damn near incomprehensible. There’s no denying that Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (who wrote and directed) have a unique vision as a duo, but their latest has them spiraling out of control. They throw in so much so quickly, never taking a moment to settle down for us to grasp whatever it is they’re saying. At its worst, all the spectacle doesn’t hide the thin premise – the story of “The One” person who holds the key to all life on Earth. It’s been years since The Wachowskis made The Matrix (1999), but in all that time it appears they’ve regressed instead of evolved. They’re telling the same story but with more special effects and less subtlety.
That may be your thing. Subtlety is not a requirement of a good movie. If you like yours loud and dumb, then by all means have a good time. I found it silly beyond measure. Even when all the dialogue was expositional (which happens often), The Wachowskis ramp up the pace too quickly, throwing around sci-fi and fantasy jargon without establishing the world(s) they’re creating. It’s like walking into a classroom that’s already halfway done through the lesson. Magical places look like spare parts from the Star Wars prequels, alien life forms appear and disappear without explanation, and certain aspects seem made up on the spot. Bees can sense when a person has “royal blood”, and dinosaurs walk around and talk like humans.
Granted, what I described sounds kind of awesome. I can accept all those preposterous elements if the plot were not so wildly convoluted and the characters not so one note. Boiled down, this is about a girl named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) who – along with her mother – emigrated from Russia to America and now makes a living cleaning hotel toilets. Through a bizarre series of events, Jupiter is whisked away into an intergalactic standoff between three siblings: Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth), and Kalique Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton). You see, Jupiter has the exact genetic make up of their mother (a kind of “reincarnation”) and because of that, has jurisdictional rights to Earth. All three want control of the planet for a particular resource needed for their survival, but which also means calamity for humans. So with all the fancy mumbo jumbo going on, what we have is a bureaucratic struggle for land deeds, exciting!
It’s amazing how the charm got sucked out of actors who are usually very charming. Mila Kunis does her best, but she’s restricted to looking around dumbfounded, or going along absentmindedly. Channing Tatum, who plays a part-human-part-wolf-part-albino-part-angel-ex military bounty hunter named Caine Wise (no, seriously) is tasked to retrieve Jupiter. Tatum wears heavy eyeliner and wolf ears, but make no mistake: he’s your tough outer shell with a soft heart hero. Tatum has developed not just as a movie star but also in his ability to delve into a character. Yet his flat, boring performance here strips him of that skill set. The romantic chemistry between Jupiter and Caine is about as hot as frozen peas, punctuated by Jupiter’s admittance of being “attracted to dogs”.
What is up with Eddie Redmayne? This is an actor who was recently nominated for an Academy Award, but here turns in a shockingly bad performance as the main villain. Incorporating a voice that sounds like he’s whispering from the back of his throat, Redmayne is barely understandable during the few scenes that he’s in. Balem is whiny and acts like a spoiled child. During outbursts I could have sworn he was yelling and stomping his foot at the same time. He’s assigned as the central antagonist, but he doesn’t really do anything, and his motivations are murky at best. He doesn’t strike fear into others as he does awkwardness.
There are things to like. Visually, this is an imaginative universe where anything is possible. The way different colors, shapes, and species clash against each other reminded me of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997). But the most disappointing thing is – despite the creativity shown – this is another version of the “damsel in distress” story. We’re lead to believe that Jupiter is special and has all this power at her fingertips, but the real person who makes a difference is Caine. He comes to her rescue at least four different times, using special boots that allow him to skate in the air, while she sits around watching in amazement. I don’t need Jupiter to wield a gun and blast enemies like a badass, but she never takes control of her own fate. She doesn’t take matters into her own hands, she’s manipulated into making a bad decision and then waits until Caine comes to her rescue.
I admire the Wachowski’s choice to throw in ideas like religion into the mix, but Jupiter Ascending is so cluttered that those themes get lost in the whirlwind. The stock characterizations – especially with Jupiter constantly in need of saving – make this feel outdated, even with the pretty pictures. This is a film that tried hard to hit a home run but whiffed in epic fashion.