Review: Jupiter Ascending
By Floyd Rock
Since their mega hit The Matrix the Wachowskis have had a rough relationship with the movie going public. The two Matrix sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, though financial successes never reached the iconic status of the first film and left many viewers more puzzled than satisfied with the series’ conclusion. Their follow up, the ambitious live action adaptation of the cartoon Speed Racer was a commercial flop and mostly dismissed critically, though has been gathering a cult following over the years. Next they teamed with German director Tom Tykwer for another ambitious project, the adaptation of the novel Cloud Atlas, though resonating with a handful of critics still failed to perform at the box office. Their latest project is an original science fiction movie of their own making and yet another commercial bust in their body of work. Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter Jones a Russian immigrant working in Chicago with her family to clean the homes and apartments of the wealthy. Unbeknownst to her and the rest of humanity the planet Earth is part of a large interplanetary collection owned by a galactic dynasty, the House of Abrasax, for harvesting, a process in which they incubate entire civilizations for the production of an age defying serum. After the death of the head of the House of Abrasax, Seraphi Abrasax, her children vie for their inheritance with Earth being one of the most valuable pieces. When Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne) sends agents to kill Jupiter she’s saved by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) a former soldier sent by Balem’s brother Titus (Douglas Booth). Jupiter not only learns of the vast intergalactic society of which Earth is only a small oblivious part but she also discovers that she is the exact DNA duplicate of the Abrasax children’s deceased mother and therefor, for some reason, the rightful owner of the planet Earth.
Just from a brief synopsis of Jupiter Ascending’s opening it’s evident that the movie is too convoluted for its own well-being and unlike their most popular film, The Matrix, the Wachowskis open their latest movie entirely the wrong way. Who could forget The Matrix’s mysterious exciting opening? Before revealing its protagonist the film opens with cops cornering a woman in a small apartment. Though warned that she’s dangerous one of the officers in charge informs a man in a suit, presumably of some government agency, that they have it under control. The suit tells the officer that his men are most likely already dead and this is followed by an action sequence that bends the laws of physics and defies expectations. This is not only an exciting opening but also an intriguing one that informs the viewer that the world in which the film takes place is like our own but different, there’s something more and we will soon find out what that is. Jupiter Ascending opens with Jupiter’s expository narration about her parents’ past, about how she cleans toilets, and the movie tries its hand at a joke or two which fall flat. Even the critically panned Speed Racer opens with an exciting race that also defines its futuristic fantasy world, so what gives? The Wachowskis, as surprising as it sounds, could learn a thing or two from themselves. It isn’t like they haven’t already stolen enough from their own movie with the similarity between Earth’s unknowing existence as a cellular harvesting ground and the machines harvesting human bodies for energy while trapped in a digital guise of the real world in their Matrix series.
After about thirty minutes comes the first decent section of the movie, a chase sequences through various parts of Chicago as Caine rescues Jupiter from her would be assassins. Though the sequence may go on a little long it proves that at least there’s some life in the picture. Unfortunately it’s also the highlight of the movie’s action choreography which will feature a few uneventful skirmishes between Caine and a few enemies he’ll encounter later and a perfunctory spaceship rescue mission with Caine and a former comrade (Sean Bean) until the movie ends with its excessive CG supplemented finale as Channing Tatum fights computer generated winged lizard men and Mila Kunis flees from Eddie Redmayne in what one would assume is Balem’s best sequined cape. Looking at the film and judging from the quality of its computer effects a lot of money must have gone into Jupiter Ascending so any shortcomings, and there are many, must either be by choice or by compromise.
The problem with Jupiter Ascending may not just be poor choices but also indecisiveness. From escapist fantasy and fable inspiration like The Wizard of Oz and Cinderella to science fiction action and intergalactic genocide the movie is just a mess of concepts. It plays more like a brainstorming session for a franchise than a singular focused film. Even about halfway through the movie, when it should be developing characters, its romance between its leads, building upon its conflict, and the urgency to save Earth’s inhabitants from slaughter it indulges itself in a little convoluted comedic bureaucracy akin to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Brazil only, of course, not nearly as clever or funny. Whether it’s from a lack of ability or effort the movie is never able to bring its scattered ideas together and its attempts to keep commercial appeal, simplistic exposition of politics and world building or attempts at humor, further hinder any time that could be devoted to developing Jupiter and Caine as characters worth investing any of our time. I’ll defend Speed Racer and admire Cloud Atlas to a degree but it’s difficult to find anything commendable about Jupiter Ascending outside of its special effects. It’s a congested mess and this time the Wachowskis only have themselves to blame.