Jupiter Ascending is a film out of time and place. Had it been released twenty or thirty years ago, there’s a good chance that it would have been well regarded, or, at the very least, been considered somewhat original. If this were 1995, I would tell you that the latest Wachowski outing is totally worth watching. I would also probably say that Jupiter Ascending is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a rollicking good time–one that needs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible.
But it’s not 1995, it’s 2015, and Jupiter Ascending has the misfortune of being released six years after J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek, ten years after the sixth Star Wars film hit the silver screen, 18 years after Men in Black exploited everyday conspiracy theories, and 20 years after Luc Besson gave us The Fifth Element. While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and throw Soylent Green and a serving of Battlestar Galactica into the mix. Not only have we seen all of this done before, we’ve seen it done better. Much, much better.
And it’s a shame. A whopping $175 million shame. Why? Because for all it’s missteps–of which there are just too many to actually keep track of–Jupiter Ascending is a visually stunning film. Everything about the special effects–the vast alien landscapes, the CGI-enhanced characters, even the make-up design–look marvelous. Scenes where characters fly, and then subsequently fall, over a Chicago cityscape will take your breath away. For best effect, shell out the extra bucks and see it in 3D.
As for the plot, well, it’s a convoluted mess–a grab bag of ideas that never adds up to anything more than a series of moments strung together. The core story focuses on Jupiter Jones, a poor housecleaner who discovers that she is actually the reincarnation of a galactic Queen. She is also the rightful heir to–get this–the Planet Earth. Unfortunately, this fairy-tale realization is hampered by the fact that her cosmic family, a trio of royal Abrasax siblings whose wealth would make Donald Trump cringe in jealousy, have ulterior motives.
First, there’s Balem (Eddie Redmayne), the Abrasax sibling who currently “owns” Earth. He has to protect what’s currently his, so he sends a group of little grey men to assassinate Jupiter. This plan is complicated by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), an ex-soldier dog/man hybrid sent by Balem’s brother, Titus (Douglas Booth), who wants to somehow obtain ownership of Earth. And then there’s the third Abrasax sibling, Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), who hires her own group of bounty hunters to capture Jupiter.
The characters don’t fare much better. Jupiter is a pretty bland lead, and her Cinderella/Snow White qualities never really add up to much more than forced empathy. Tatum’s Caine is equally boring, never rising to more than the archetypical strong, silent type. As for the Abrasax siblings, they’re obnoxious, entitled brats, and their royal labels are laughable. What makes them royalty, anyway? They’re just rich capitalists looking to make a quick buck, and politics don’t really exist in the universe Jupiter Ascending attempts to build. If there was a point to any of this, it was lost on me. Throw in a Sean Bean-esque character (played by none other than Sean Bean) and you’ve got a heaping pile of “been there, done that.”
But I digress. Amid all of this insanity–and believe me, it rises to considerably bat-shit levels–there are pockets of quiet moments that reveal the true nature of the universe, and this is where Jupiter Ascending actually shines a little. The Wachowski’s pulled a similar feat with The Matrix in 1999, where the overall mystery arguably overshadowed all of the (awesome) kung-fu action. And the relationship between Jupiter and Caine is reminiscent of what Neo had with Trinity–a little complicated, and initially very compelling.
But therein lies another big issue: not only are the Wachowski’s ripping off every sci-fi film imaginable with Jupiter Ascending, they’re copying themselves as well. It’s enough to make one question their credibility as decent storytellers. Yeah, they knocked it out of the park with the first Matrix movie, but destroyed that particular legacy with the awful sequels. Speed Racer was a sham, and the best parts of Cloud Atlas were directed by Tom Tykwer. Even M. Night Shyamalan has a better track record than this.
Still, I’m not done with the Wachowski’s because for all its faults, Jupiter Ascending never bored me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a bad movie, but it’s a very specific type of bad movie–of the “so bad it’s good” variety, if you will. And I honestly believe that’s what Andy and Lana Wachowski were going for. It’s a bold move, going for goof over gravitas. If nothing else, it’s proof that blockbuster cinema has come a long way in the 21st century, and sometimes it’s okay to not “make ’em like they used to.” Jupiter Ascending is not meant to be taken seriously, and had it been a comedy ala Guardians of the Galaxy, it may have been a roaring success. Alas, jokes are far and few between, and what we’re left with is pure camp in the vein of Flash Gordon. Take that for what it’s worth.
Either way, my level of enjoyment is directly related to the fact that I grew up loving pulpy nonsense like this, and as such, I cannot in my right mind recommend Jupiter Ascending to anyone in the same way I can’t recommend Super Mario Bros., Highlander, or Masters of the Universe. It’s not good, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a fun with it, despite your better judgement.