The Watchowskis are a pair of directors I genuinely really want to like. And sometimes they let me; The Matrix is an undisputed classic, Bound is a really solid (and highly underrated) thriller and Cloud Atlas topped my best of the year in 2012 for a reason. Seriously, if you haven’t seen Cloud Atlas, you NEED to…where was I? Oh yeah, Watchowskis.
But if I’m being fair, they make it hard for me to like them…pretty regularly. The Matrix sequels are uniformly disasters and Speed Racer just does not work on any way a movie is supposed to (and I have friends who will defend both to me, so don’t even try, I’ve heard it). Still, I always hope they’ll impress me, so when they come out with their first non-sequel/non-adaptation film since 1999, I certainly feel like I should give it a shot.
The plot is devoted to Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) a poor Russian immigrant living in Chicago. One day she is attacked by a group of aliens, and is rescued by another alien named Caine (Channing Tatum). Caine eventually reveals that she is the genetic reincarnation of…well basically the Queen of Space.
See in her previous incarnation she was the head of a giant company, devoted to seeding planets with human populations, only to harvest them into a youth prolonging drug when their population grows too large. Also, it turns out she owns the Earth, which is on the verge of being harvested, and Jupiter has to claim her inheritance to prevent the Earth from being destroyed by her previous incarnation’s three feuding children (Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton).
Jupiter Ascending is one of those movies that’s actively difficult to review. Not because I can’t nail down my opinion on it, but because I wish my opinion was different. There are a lot of good, or interesting, elements in Jupiter Ascending, but as a movie, with characters I’m supposed to relate to and a story I’m supposed to get involved in, it is basically a complete disaster.
The issue that really drags the movie down is the story. A lot of the other issues could be forgiven or overlooked, but the problems with the story completely kill it. You might notice from my plot description that the basic bones of the plot sound a lot like The Matrix (humanity is being kept in the dark by a sci-fi force that intends to harvest them for resources, which can only be stopped by a predestined chosen one).
Thing is, despite all the philosophical messiness in The Matrix, the basic story was pretty tightly put together. Jupiter Ascending‘s plot, on the other hand, is a mess. It jumps from place to place and action setpiece to action setpiece, but never grabs on to a narrative throughline that might get me invested. Without anything to get me invested, the film feels thin and rushed.
Perfect example; The entire second and third acts consist of Jupiter being taken someplace by one of her genetic ancestors children, being nearly tricked into a bad deal that would cause her to lose her right to Earth and being rescued by Caine at the last minute. Thing is, that happens three times. In a row. With basically nothing to break them up. That kind of repetition can only be driving towards some point, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you what it is.
It doesn’t help that the film is all over the map, tonally and visually. There’s a segment right towards the middle that seems like a combination jab at bureaucracy and shout out to Brazil, which is reasonably entertaining but doesn’t really fit with anything else in the film. The alien designs range from normal humans, humans with animal features, Roswell aliens to dragon people, without much rhyme or reason.
The characters aren’t much better. Jupiter is barely a presence in the film, as she spends her entire time being dragged around, tricked or otherwise completely out of control of everything that happens. Caine’s backstory reads like the kind of thing a teenager would come up with (how can you be half-albino?) although at least Tatum is working to try and sell it.
Secondary characters go up and down. Sean Bean’s character has a reasonably sober motivation and backstory, although that could just be because I love Sean Bean. Eddie Redmayne as the lead villain on the other hand is terrible, alternating between whispering so softly I legitimately have trouble hearing him and screaming at the top of his lungs. I’ve not seen his Oscar nominated performance, but here he is so bad that he drags down every scene he’s in.
Without much in the way of coherent story or characters to get invested in, all the movie can fall back on is its action scenes, and it’s good at that, if nothing else. Most of the action scenes are pretty clean and well shot, even if they crib too much from too many sources. The problem is, I think the action scenes are what the entire rest of the movie has been sacrificed for, as I guarantee you that huge chunks of the movie got cut out during its 6 month delay.
Some people have been touting this movie as alternate programming to 50 Shades of Grey. And while I’ve no doubt that it’s a better movie than 50 Shades (although people touting Jupiter as a strong character are flat out wrong) I can’t really recommend it for that, when you could just stay home. Or find a theater that’s still playing Birdman.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’s very surprised that Sean Bean lived through this movie.
– pretty good action scenes
– good cgi
– Sean Bean is cool
– bad screenplay
– weak characters
– inconsistent tone and visual design
– Eddie Redmayne if terrible