Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Writers: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
No one can accuse the Wachowski brothers of being unambitious, but their films tend to be hit or miss. Just about everyone loves The Matrix and V for Vendetta, but the Matrix sequels and Speed Racer are universally despised. Cloud Atlas has proven to be divisive (personally I thought it was a great film). The Wachowskis are essentially two filmmakers who appear to want the best of two worlds. They want to make intelligent and insightful thought-provoking films, but they also want to make entertaining and exciting action films. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don’t. Jupiter Ascending is one of their misses.
The plot centres on Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian immigrant who was born under the stars as her family made their journey to America. Before his death her father, an enthusiastic astrologer, expressed a wish that his daughter be named after the greatest and most beautiful planet in the solar system. As she was being born there were signs written in the stars above, prophesying the greatness that awaits her.
Meanwhile, deep in space, we are introduced to the House of Abrasex whose matriarch has died. Her three children Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas Booth) are fighting each other over her inheritance. They speak to each other in fanciful dialogue, consisting almost entirely of exposition, about politics and planets and other things we don’t care about until the subject of the Earth comes up. The Earth is apparently a key factor in whatever business it is they are discussing and becomes a matter of great interest to them.
Cut to a few years later where Jupiter and her mother are caretakers who make their living cleaning the houses of rich families. She often expresses how much she hates her life (and I mean often) and constantly wishes that she could be elsewhere. Beyond that her personality is non-existent. In order to raise some money for a telescope like the one her father had, Jupiter agrees to sell her eggs to a clinic. During the procedure the doctors and nurses turn out to be agents of Balem who have been sent to kill her. A mysterious figure bursts into the room, guns blazing, and saves Jupiter’s life. This alien warrior, Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) reveals to Jupiter the existence of extra-terrestrial life and informs her of the great destiny that awaits her. That’s probably as far as I can go without venturing into spoiler territory but I should probably say that the story that follows does not prove to be particularly exciting or interesting.
Jupiter Ascending is effectively style over substance. The visual effects are absolutely superb. The worlds they display are beautiful, creative and stunning. Rather than a sci-fi film, Jupiter Ascending is more of a fantasy set in space (like Star Wars) and so the sets and costumes are grand and epic like you would expect in a fantasy. The action scenes are somewhat entertaining but they often become so muddled and unclear that it is very easy to lose track of what is actually happening. Also, despite being a visual spectacle, this film failed to make any effective use of the 3D technology. Like so many other filmmakers, the Wachowskis don’t seem to realise the possibilities that come with making a 3D film and simply made their visuals jump at the screen a bit.
However the areas in which this film really falls short is in story and character. Jupiter is an uninspired protagonist who barely does anything throughout the film beyond serving as a damsel in distress. Caine is a typical impassive warrior whose role is to constantly rescue Jupiter from danger (seriously, every single action scene consists of him rushing in to save her). He is also obviously there to serve as a love interest to Jupiter despite not sharing any chemistry with her, leading to some very forced and awkward dialogue between them. None of this is a criticism against the actors, I’m sure they did their best, but against the bad writing and directing that they had to work with. Eddie Redmayne, someone who I know is a good actor, gives an unintentionally funny performance as the film’s main villain Balem. The way he alternates from underacting with a silly sounding voice to overacting with an even sillier sounding voice is hilarious. To give a performance that ridiculous could only have been accomplished through truly bad direction.
Jupiter Ascending tries to tell a Star Wars-like story about a young, ingenuous protagonist who stumbles her way into a grand galactic adventure in which she discovers that she has an important destiny to fulfil. However this film does not have any of the characters, the thrills or the heart that made Star Wars such a great trilogy. What the Wachowskis made instead was a film that, while visually stunning, is completely lacking in compelling characters, an interesting plot, and emotion.