2015, PG-13, 127 mins.
2015, PG-13, 127 mins.
Channing Tatum as Caine / Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones / Eddie Redmayne as Balem / Tuppence Middleton as Kalique Abrasax / Sean Bean as Stinger / Douglas Booth as Titus / Jo Osmond as Droid / Vanessa Kirby as Katharine Dunlevy / Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Famulus
Written and directed by The Wachowskis
The Wachowskis, based on their past directorial resumes, are far too talented and fearlessly bold to make a film as terrible and wrongheaded as JUPITER ASCENDING.
Yet, their newest
sci-fi offering is an ungodly misfire of galactic proportions,
which finally saw the light of day in theaters this past week after a
fairly lengthy release delay (the makers cited more time being needed for
visual effects work, but I suspect otherwise).
There is no doubt that on a level of delivering pulse-pounding
action spectacle and imaginative world building, the Wachowskis are on
solid ground here. Alas,
JUPITER ASCENDING is one of the most narratively incompressible,
befuddling, convoluted, and unintentionally silly space operas to emerge in a
long time. It’s arguably
most lavish and incredible looking bad films that I’ve ever seen.
just about everything that the sibling directors have created, from as far
back as their rookie indie thriller BOUND to, yes, THE MATRIX TRILOGY.
I was one of the few supporters of SPEED
RACER and thought that CLOUD ATLAS
was a misunderstood masterpiece. JUPITER
ASCENDING represents the brother and sister filmmaking tandem’s attempts
to return original sci-fi and big budget fantasy that helped launch their
careers into the upper stratosphere with THE MATRIX. You can certainly see their attention to the smallest of
details in conjuring up JUPITER ASCENDING's galaxy spanning vistas,
making the film’s sheer, unbridled ambition stand out.
Yet, the plot here is so incoherent in terms of particulars –
even when characters engage in endless expository heavy dialogue scenes
that explain and explain…and explain… all the particulars of the
storyline – that it leads to more frustrated head scratching than full
immersion. It becomes so damn difficult to decipher how characters relate
to one another, what their respective motivations are, and more
importantly, whether or not I should care at all about them.
Even though the
plot is an unmitigated disaster as a jumbled mess, I will try my best to
distil it down: People of Earth, it seems, are not the only humanoid life
in the galaxy. In fact, life
on our planet – as well as on an incalculable number of other planets across the cosmos – have been seeded by aliens, or more
specifically, alien royal families. These
extra-terrestrial monarchs – that look human, by the way, and speak
English, often with English accents, but never mind – harvest the most
evolved state of creatures on the planets they seed (once they have
achieved evolutionary perfection) to help produce a special serum that
allows these royals to live forever (it’s like Solyent Green, but less
edible and more of the anti-aging variety).
The most powerful clan in the galaxy, the House Abrasax, were
responsible for destroying the dinosaurs on Earth and then planted their
genetic material on our planet to make humans and, in turn, later harvested
them for their vile cosmetic purposes (eat your heart out, Botox!).
Of course, no one on Earth is aware of this at all.
Okay, still with
me? Good, because I’m not
sure I am even still with me.
Back on Earth we
are introduced – in the film’s opening scenes – to Jupiter Jones, a
Russian immigrant that was named after one familiar planet by her deceased
astrologer father. Jupiter works as a lowly maid scrubbing toilets for the rich
in the U.S. to help her poor family pay the bills.
Her life has literally gone down the crapper. Alas, what she doesn’t know is that she has been targeted
by the House Abrasax for termination.
It appears that when the matriarch of Abrasax died her children –
Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas
Booth) - begin squabbling over the inheritance, and they all see Jupiter as integral
to their plans. Whereas Balem
sends his goon squad to Chicago to kill Jupiter, Titus hires a – ahem!
– half-wolf/half-man genetically engineered warrior (or in SPACEBALLS
lingo…a Mawg) to help protect Jupiter from Balem’s assassins.
And then Jupiter learns, along the way, that she may be the genetic
reincarnation the House Abrasax mother…and…and…I’ve just gone
There is so much
bloody explaining in JUPITER ASCENDING.
Multiple characters talk about their cultures, their histories,
their relationships to one another, and how Earth relates to them and back
and forth and…sigh…you are left needing to feverously jot everything
down in shorthand just to keep up and make sense of it.
Nearly the first half of the film desperately and pathetically
tries to introduce, establish, and then clarify what House Abrasax wants
to do with Jupiter and how she holds all of the power.
I have no inherent problem with labyrinthine-like narratives, but
the Wachowskis handle the limitless density of their inherent material
without much grace, tact, or apparent game plan. The film’s story feels
like it’s being made up as it goes, even after we are forced to endure
scene after scene of characters relaying how an alien dynasty want to
force Jupiter to sign over the property deed to Earth so they can kill
her, harvest her energy, and make themselves indefinitely young
looking…or something…I dunno.
The casting in
the film is another humdinger of a problem.
Firstly, Mila Kunis – an endlessly likeable actress – is rarely
convincing as an action hero here, nor does she feel remotely plausible as
a downtrodden and impoverished maid.
When the script feebly tries to assert her character as some sort
of kick-ass heroine, it then takes an egregious 180-degree turn and
reverts her back to a damsel-in-distress. Tatum fares no better, replete with prosthetic Spock-like
ears, a blonde goatee, and about as much charm as a corpse. He emotes as little as possible in the film and exudes very
little, if any, tangible chemistry with Kunis, outside of exchanging
longing, puppy dog-like (sorry) glances.
Then there’s Redmayne, who gave probably the performance of 2014
as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY
OF EVERYTHING, playing JUPITER ASCENDING’s baddie with
shrill-like whispers akin to someone that had his tonsils ripped out.
When he’s not frustratingly murmuring his lines nine times out of
ten, he freakishly screams out like a drama queen on an obnoxious reality
Balem never once comes off as a legitimately frightening
protagonist because of Redmayne’s hilariously
schizophrenic performance; it's the stuff that Razzies are made for
The saving grace
of JUPITER ASCENDING? Yeah,
it’s pretty. The Wachowskis gathered together much of their MATRIX
production team (including visual effects designer John Gaeta and
production designer Hugh Bateup) to craft a stupendous looking and richly
detailed space odyssey to rival the best of them (the costumes and at
direction are superlatively Oscar calibre).
Some of the film’s action sequences are momentarily breathtaking,
such as an extended aerial dogfight, so to speak, involving Caine (with
Jupiter in tow) zipping through the Chicago skyline, evading alien
pursuers, while utilizing specialized anti-gravity hover boots that make
him skate on air (nifty). The
overall attention to crafting the film’s otherworldly cultures,
costumes, alien races, creatures, and so forth rivals anything George
Lucas ever did in his prime.
STAR WARS before it, JUPITER ASCENDING tries to borrow from and homogenize
many divergent elements from past sci-fi and fantasy classics to create
its own mythology. The
Wachowskis don’t shy away from liberally borrowing from movies as far
ranging as DUNE, FLASH GORDON, and BRAZIL (Terry Gilliam even makes a
cameo) in some instances (that, and a lot of STAR WARS, of course).
Yet, the manner that they marry together these ingredients along
with a plot that’s so unfocused, so meandering, so confusing, and so
carelessly overstuffed all but derails the film as a whole.
I don’t think that I’ve seen a more bafflingly ill conceived,
big budget studio space fantasy than this film.
And by the way,
JUPITER ASCENDING is also the
only sci-fi flick ever to have someone – in deadpanned stoicism –
proclaim to the title character, “Bees are genetically designed to