It took some time, but the Wachowskis (formerly the Wachowski brothers) have come out with their latest film since Speed Racer (that is, if you’re not counting their collaborative endeavor with Tom Tykwer for Cloud Atlas) in the form of Jupiter Ascending, a hardcore sci-fi romp that takes the audience on a tour across the galaxy. I’ve been following the production of this movie since it was announced because the Wachowskis have always managed to entertain me with their sense of visual splendor with an unconventional sense of storytelling. Point is, they’re two of the most ambitious directors in Hollywood today and I had hoped that Jupiter Ascending would be another film to fill that niche that the two have carved out for themselves. Unfortunately, it seems that this time they failed. Hard.
The plot of the story, for lack of a better word, is a mess. Jupiter Jones (played by Mila Kunis) is an immigrant from Russia who works as a housekeeper in Chicago. She is bored with her life as she is stuck doing menial tasks when she feels that she was destined for a better life. That better life comes when a genetically engineered hunter named Caine (played by Channing Tatum) rescues her from an alien abduction and reveals that Jupiter’s genetic identity is a reincarnation of a powerful alien ruler. Earth, it seems, was a world seeded by an industry for the purpose of harvesting all human lives once they achieve a certain state so that the aliens can harvest their essence to make them live long lives. However, the heirs to one of these alien corporations are warring with one another for each other’s claim as they all want more shares of the profits so that they can outlast their siblings. Caine now has to protect Jupiter from these squabbling heirs as she tries to grasp just how important she really is in the galactic scope of things.
If I lost you during that brief synopsis, I can’t necessarily say that I blame you. It’s even harder to digest while watching the damned movie. The plot, while it starts of relatively strong (after some atrocious dialogue in the beginning) starts meandering after a third of the way in. At this point, Jupiter is being kidnapped from heir to heir and she spends a portion of the movie meeting these alien rulers and trying to survive in their presence. No really, the main character gets kidnapped over three times in this movie, and that’s not even the worst part. In every time that Jupiter is in danger, Channing Tatum is always the one to rescue her at the last moment and he does this at least five times in this movie! Twice I can buy, three times is pushing it, but five times? Are you kidding?
The point I’m trying to get across is that this movie needed a second writer. Desperately. Jupiter Ascending, after going through a few action scenes, seems to think that the audience gives a damn about intergalactic politics when in reality, we just wanted to see things getting blown up or fantastical shootouts that the trailers promised. It’s the fact that we don’t care about all this crap that’s going on within this crafted movie that it has failed us as the audience. For comparison, reviewer Chris Stuckmann put it best when he said that this movie was a lot like The Phantom Menace with its asinine focus on politics and whatnot. You know what? He was completely right.
There are a few redeeming qualities about this film, though. The most obvious is the action scenes. The Wachowskis have a natural flair for directing action that is very stylish and somewhat revolutionary at the time (The Matrix, Speed Racer) and Jupiter Ascending is no different. In the first act, there is a thrilling chase scene between alien forces in spacecraft and Channing Tatum on anti-gravity boots that is thrilling without being too overbearing.
The rest of the CGI, while iffy in some departments, is pretty consistent throughout. The art direction is mesmerizing and the intricately crafted universe the Wachowskis have created seems full of life and is brimming with potential. I think this film would have sufficed as a TV show or it could have been trimmed down so that more sequels would be desired to flesh out the world some more (which is looking unlikely at the moment).
It kind of seems that the Wachowskis went off-the-rails in the style of the film, thinking that whatever sounded cool in their heads would be put on the screen. Case in point, you have Channing Tatum in a really cool fight scene versus a giant, winged dinosaur hybrid that wears a trench coat! That sounds stupid on paper but on the screen, it’s awesome. I just wish we had more moments like that instead of the plodding and plotting.
I’d have to say that the real hero of Jupiter Ascending is Michael Giacchino’s score, though. Giacchino is a hit-or-miss composer as of late but with this film, he really knocked it out of the park by providing an operatic and symphonic score that just fills the void with wonderful music. It’s the kind of score that always gets me pumped and excited so I’d have to give Giacchino props for that.
On the other hand, no one is going to be winning any Academy Awards for acting in this film. Not one person. Mila Kunis is serviceable at best as Jupiter, but when she has to spew wretched dialogue from her mouth, the audience just chooses to dissociate themselves from her. This film definitely fails the Bechtel test because Jupiter is not a strong female character as she is clueless and constantly has to be saved throughout the film. Hell, Channing Tatum is the one doing pretty much all the work in the movie.
Speaking of which, one Reddit user managed to conjure up this descriptive summary of Channing Tatum’s character is: “a genetically-engineered spliced bounty hunter who is an ex-military sky marshal skyjacker lycan (despite having no werewolf features) who had his wings and rank removed when he bit the throat of an aristocrat, but he has anti-gravity boots and an energy shield and this gadget that lets him walk through walls.” They have a word for this sort of thing: BLOATED. I don’t know what the Wachowskis were thinking when they were writing this character but when I said that there needed to be another screenwriter, it would be so that they could do some trimming and make this whole film a bit less nonsensical to the viewer. At least Tatum does his best at acting out this overstuffed character but he and Kunis share no chemistry whatsoever. That’s not really the fault of the actors but the atrocious script they have to live by, especially when their forced romance pushes its way into the narrative for no other reason than: “Channing Tatum is hot.”
What a mess.
Fans of Game of Thrones (among other things) will be interested to see Sean Bean in this film and, surprise, surprise, he doesn’t die this time. That’s a relatively minor spoiler and it doesn’t really affect the overall plot much, but after this, you’re not going to see this film, are you? That’s right, so anything I reveal here probably won’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.
But what has to be the most appalling and unintentionally funny actor in this flick has to be Eddie Redmayne (Oscar nominee for The Theory of Everything) as the main antagonist, Balem. This guy…I have no idea what the hell he was trying to accomplish but his is the most egregious over-acting in a film I’ve seen in recent years. This guy has either two volumes of speaking: a breathy whisper, or unintelligible screaming. Nothing in between. He’s just so goofy with his chosen acting style (although the direction might have been part of the problem) that I couldn’t take him seriously whenever he appeared on the screen. Seriously, I had to stifle my laughter at some parts when I should have been a little more tense.
Apart from a few great action scenes, Jupiter Ascending surprised me with how bad it was. My expectations were low entering this film and somehow I still was disappointed. As much as I hate bashing on a science-fiction film, I don’t really think I can recommend this movie to anyone in good conscience unless they happen to be a big fan of either Kunis or Tatum, or that they are willing to submit themselves to boring talking scenes in exchange for a few brilliant action sequences. That choice I’ll leave up to you.
You’re probably just going to waste your money on Fifty Shades of Grey when it comes out next week, anyway.
Final Score: 33/100