The Wachowski siblings will forever be known for redefining science fiction with the first Matrix movie (and somewhat the less than satisfying sequels). However, some of their recent movies have been so ambitious that it sets their fans up for disappointment. This happens to many revolutionary directors. After all George Lucas gave us the original Star Wars films, but he also gave us the Star Wars prequels. Ridley Scott gave us Alien, but he also gave us Prometheus. The Wachowski’s have been trying bold new science fiction ideas that have fallen flat. Cloud Atlas is an example of a great idea that was not well received. Honestly Cloud Atlas was a beautiful, we made (and well edited) film, that doesn’t get its due credit. Hopefully they can get back to the basics with their upcoming Sense8 TV show for Netflix. This is an original film, so let’s give them credit for being original in a world filled with nothing but sequels and remakes. But with Jupiter Ascending, they clearly dropped the ball.
The film is about normal everyday immigrant Jupiter Jones. Jupiter wakes up everyday hating her life, but how full and boring it is. She spends her days waking up early to go to work cleaning up houses in Chicago as a maid and is completely boring. On the other side of the galaxy, there is the House of Abrasax, a royal family that own planets for the purpose of “harvesting” them (and killing millions of the planets inhabitants) to produce a youth serum that is the rarest commodity in the universe, and therefore the biggest industry. Slowly it is revealed that Jupiter is a genetic match for the matriarch of the family who has died. Within the galactic culture, if someone has the same genes as a royal, they are the reincarnation of that royal. Basically Jupiter is the reincarnation of the queen of earth.
This doesn’t sit well with the 3 siblings of the House of Abrasax. They each want Earth because of the economic value of the planet and the financial gain they will have when it will be harvested/destroyed. Each of the siblings needs Jupiter to sign over rights to earth, so they each try to get to her. Each of the siblings deploys their own resources to get Jupiter.
Enter Caine Wise (played by Channing Tatum), a “genetic splice” half-albino and with both wolf and human DNA who goes to track her on earth. He is an ex-military warrior, who serves as her protector during the events of the film. Throughout the film, he has these “space boots,” and a laser shield which he uses on multiple occasions to help Jupiter get out of different perils. He is assisted (sometimes) by Stinger Apini (played by Sean Bean) who served in the military with Caine, and is now exiled to earth.
As Jupiter is finally kidnapped and sent across the galaxy, it’s up to Caine to save the day. During that time, Jupiter is courted by each of the siblings. Through that exposition, she learns that she is the queen of earth. One sibling Kalique Abrasax tries to court her through friendship. The other Titus Abrasax tries to court her through marriage (even though she’s supposed to be his mother reincarnated). The third will stop at nothing to kill her to gain his inheritance back. It becomes a race to save Jupiter from these three siblings. By the end of the film, Jupiter understands her importance in the universe, the audience gets their climactic battle, and then the Earth is saved.
Once again, this is an original idea. The movie worked very well in the concept of “world building.” Jupiter is essentially the audience. She is thrown into a world where humans exist throughout the galaxy. This is also a world where humans are “spliced” with other animals and exhibit characteristics of those animals. In addition to Channing Tatum’s “wolf boy,” there are characters spliced with deer, bees, and many others. The bad guy’s armies consist of talking dragons, and there are also E.T. type aliens also. At first this seems “weird,” but after both Jupiter and the audience get past that fact, it works for the movie.
The idea that humans are not only on Earth is another interesting topic. This worked very well in the Stargate television series: the idea that humans have been “seeded” throughout the galaxy is always an interesting concept. This movie takes the idea, and spins it on its head. Humans were created, only to be recycled after 10,000 years to become a youth serum commodity that the super rich can enjoy.
As always the Wachowskis are on top of their game when it comes to special effects. The CGI and action is impressive, and it’s a beautifully shot film. The final climax of the film redeems some of its shortfalls because it works well. The dragon army and cyborgs are believable, so the special effects budget was worth the effort.
What Didn’t Work:
Once complaint is that the movie will have a moment or two of pretty good action, and then the story comes to a grinding halt, so that Jupiter (the audience) can get a massive exposition dump. In a movie with such spectacle, to then spend 20 minutes of talking can suck the life out of the film. This would have been better served if the audience was treated to some sort of flashback to explain the importance of the industry (perhaps to show a world that was destroyed and then harvested for the serum) as well as the genetic reincarnation, as opposed to explaining it in a boring fashion.
Bees can detect royalty. That’s probably one of the worst explanations as to why Jupiter was queen. So would the Queen of England not get stung by bees?!? It just made no sense to include that in the movie.
It’s hard to believe that Eddie Redmayne might get the Oscar for Best Actor this year for The Theory of Everything after seeing this movie. He plays the eldest sibling Balem Abrasax. One moment his character speaks in whispers (where you can’t understand him in a Godfather style) and without a beat screams at the top of his lungs. Not since Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element has an actor needed to dial it down in regards to chewing up the scenery. There were times where audience members actually jumped when he screamed at the top of his lungs out of nowhere, when the scene didn’t call for it. It made some audience members actually chuckle.
Speaking of funny: there was no comedy in the film. This film was in bad need of a balance of serious to funny. It needed a moment or two to lighten it up, and there was no comedy at all. The moments where it tried a joke or two, it fell flat. Jupiter’s family bickering at the dinner table did not work in the movie at all.
For all the world building the movie tried to do, it did little for character development. There’s probably going to be a Director’s Cut on the DVD/Blu Ray release that’ll have an hour of additional footage, it almost has to. The movie feels like there are chunks missing. For example, the first sibling that Jupiter meets completely disappears from the movie without ever resolving that conflict, as well as the second sibling. Speaking of the second sibling, it got real weird when he wanted to marry his reincarnated mother for the purpose of securing the rights of work in a real Game of Thrones incenstual way.
Jupiter was miscast. Mila Kunis is probably a great actress, but she seemed to be phoning it in. The movie might have worked better if there was a difference and stronger actress in the role. For what it’s worth, Channing Tatum did a pretty good job playing the Han Solo character, as did Sean bean. However Jupiter pretty much just played the “damsel in distress” role. Even when it was her time to act like “the queen” and embrace her role in the universe, it fell flat.
Overall, this was a valiant effort on the part of the Wachowskis. But this is a movie that can wait for Redbox or when it shows up on cable tv.
Mila Kunis: Jupiter Jones
Channing Tatum: Caine Wise
Sean Bean: Stinger Apini
Eddie Redmayne: Balem Abrasax
Douglas Booth: Titus Abrasax
Tuppence Middleton: Kalique Abrasax