Before we begin, I feel it is important to disclose that I am somewhat of a Wachowskis’ apologist. The Matrix trilogy still is and will most likely forever remain being my absolute favourite trilogy in film history, and as a result I tend to favour their endeavours or at the very least actively try to find the elements that work in their films. The reason why I do this is because the Wachowskis always deliver something distinctive. Their films might be convoluted and regularly fall victim to over-indulgence, but there is a degree of freshness compounded by a knack for incredible visuals that I find compelling and interesting. Having said all that, Jupiter Ascending poses an even greater challenge that their previous films and I can already see most people shaking their heads at this one.
Our story begins with a young cleaning lady named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis). Her father died before she was born and while she has always been told that she is special, in reality she has felt anything but. During a medical exam, Jupiter is almost killed by aliens before being rescue by a half-human-half-lycan-alien named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum). His mission is to retrieve Jupiter for Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth), a member of the Abrasax dynasty that currently controls various planets in the universe. Jupiter is taken off-world where she discovers the current intergalactic politics at play, but it is her claim on the planet Earth that makes her a target for villain Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne). Action ensues.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way, Jupiter Ascending from a plot-perspective is a hot mess even though I grant points to the Wachowskis for delivering a film with an original idea. This is a rare nowadays and it has its merits. However, just because it is an original idea does not mean it is necessarily good or, for that matter, cohesive. You’ll spend most of the time scratching your head or looking at the screen with a resounding feeling of confusion. There were moments where certain characters would deliver exposition and I genuinely did not understand a single thing they said. As it is customary in this types of science-fiction films, every world, family and politic has its own name and they are both strange and hard to retain. Even if you do try to pay attention to the backstory, most of it feels inconsequential. Jupiter Ascending spends a lot of time jumping from one planet to the next presenting us with more and more aspects of this new universe, which granted look cool, but it’s all information that distracts. It’s information whose inclusion only serves to set things up for a potential sequel that will most likely not happen. It feels unnecessary and the avalanche of information, which is always deliver at rapid speeds, can be overwhelming.
The audience confusion is mirrored by the cast of the film, especially its protagonist. Mila Kunis looks to be at a lost most of the time. From the moment her character leaves Earth, starts visiting the other planets and meeting their residents things get really strange. You can tell that Kunis is trying to construct her character and ground the proceedings, but she is unfortunately drown by both the spectacle and utter incomprehensibility of it all. A lot of green-screen was utilized in this film and her unfamiliarity with it is palpable. She also looks like she is going through the motions most of the time and as such her character never feels like an actual person. Kunis’ Jupiter isn’t so much a person as she is an entity reacting to the plot. She goes wherever the plot needs her to go even if those directions paint Jupiter as a dumb and gullible character. Why should we care about someone who is essentially a mindless proxy for the plot? Worse of all, Jupiter is your stereotypical damsel in distress for 90% of the film. It is only in the end that she becomes resourceful and finally shows us that she does in fact possess an active brain. I'll admit that I was pleasantly surprised with that rupture of expectations as with the choice to have her face off against the villain solo. But all those things came in too late and without any scenes that showed that change occurring within the character. Which make it seems like she made those choice just because the plot thought it would be cool.
When your protagonist is a one-dimensional character, it is no surprise that the rest of the cast would follow suit. They are all stereotypes from Channing Tatum’s lone silent hero to Eddie Redmayne's soft-spoken perpetually constipated snobby villain to Sean Bean’s father figure slash exposition spitter. None of the characters feel like actual people and it is essentially impossible to care about any of them. Now, just because their characters are as compelling as a plastic spoon does not mean that there aren’t enjoyable things to take away from their performances. If there was ever any doubt that Channing Tatum can do action, then those doubts will be put to rest after this film. Tatum is an effective and believable action actor. His character is essentially Space-Jason-Bourne and it’s fun to see him literally come out of everything unscathed. Eddie Redmayne gives a hilarious performance as the villain. The performance is so overtly generic that it must’ve been purposeful. He does everything an evil white villain is supposed to do from whispering commands to sudden moments of screaming rage to always looking on the verge of tears. Redmayne is honestly one of the main reasons why you should watch this mess. I have nothing to say about Sean Bean except that I’m glad he doesn’t die here.
Lastly, let’s talk about what works in Jupiter Ascending. Visually this film is awesome. The production design is cool and seeing those incredible ships flying through space is always exhilarating. The set and ship designs remind me a lot of Final Fantasy, and a lot of times I would simply stare at the backgrounds or ships over the characters. It is an aesthetically pleasing film. Likewise, the special effects are incredible and ripe for an Oscar nomination. The Wachowskis might have trouble in most areas of the film, but when it comes to assembling action sequences they truly are on a whole other level. Unfortunately the really great action reaches its apex too early. In the first act of the film, while we’re still on Earth, there is this long and elaborate action sequence through the various buildings of Chicago. It is exciting, intense and my mouth was physically open through most of it. That’s the type of action scenes that you rarely see. Brilliantly choreographed, majestically designed and delivered in such an incredible way that so far I consider it to be the best action sequence of 2015. But this amazing scene happens within 30 minutes of the film and after that nothing comes close to it. There are some cool action scenes later on but none of them capture the spectacle and level of immediacy that initial one carried. Nevertheless, the film still manages to deliver the goods in terms of special effects and you will not be disappointed by that department in the slightest.
As a huge fan of the Wachowskis even I have to admit that I can't really defend Jupiter Ascending. This film is a fucking a mess. It feels like an amalgamation of too many contradicting ideas and genres, and almost all of it falls flat. The attempts at comedy were ridiculous in their utter obviousness. Every joke or humorous circumstance would literally collapse onto itself you'd have to laugh at how stupid it is, because the alternative would be to scream in rage. The genuinely funny parts of this film were the scenes involving the inexplicable love between the leads. And when I say funny I mean unintentionally funny. Those scenes were cringe-worthy and the nonexistent chemistry made it all the more frustrating. Kunis and Tatum looked physically uncomfortable with each other, each doing something totally foreign to the other. As it stands, this is a film more concerned with world-building than character-building, and as such it puts the characters through the most predictable and uninspired circumstances, which effectively undermine all the effort placed on the visuals. Yes, things are pretty to look at and the design is awesome but without any characters that we can connect with there is very little incentive to care about what happens. Having said all that, the one action scene in the beginning is worth your time, you can totally walk out of the film after.