Review: “Jupiter Ascending” Has A Story Crushed By Its Own Plot
Title: Jupiter Ascending
Director: Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski
Screenwriter: Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski
Principal Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Tuppence Middleton
There are a few warning signs that can tip you off whether or not a movie is going to be terrible. Sometimes it’s when the film isn’t screened for critics (for example: I never saw Taken 3). There is also when the movie is getting released, as I have talked about a few different occasions now. Basically the idea is that a huge blockbuster is supposed to be in the late spring and summer. Studios are beginning to realize that this dead zone is a great time to release smaller movies that can dominate the box office for weeks (see: The Lego Movie last year). A red flag is when a movie gets pushed back from its original summer release as Jupiter Ascending was. I’ve been pulling for this movie from day one because I love the Wachowski siblings and I absolutely loved Cloud Atlas, but I’ve been worried about it since the production was pushed back.
Jupiter Ascending might be one of the more beautiful films I’ve ever seen on a purely visual level, but a story riddled with plot holes and lack of character development prevents it from being anything other than a spectacle.
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is not exactly living the high life. She spends a majority of her days cleaning apartments with her mother and generally resenting her life. When Jupiter goes into a fertility clinic to sell her eggs for extra cash, an attempt is made on her life. She is saved by Caine (Channing Tatum) who reveals that the world isn’t as small as humans might have thought. Thanks to genetic reincarnation Jupiter is a member of the Abrasax family, the highest elite in the universe, who own most of the planets in the galaxy. However, not all of the Abrasax family is happy to see another family member that could inherit many planets, including the resource rich Earth. Balem (Eddie Redmayne) is determined to find Jupiter and prevent her from taking the inheritance that he thinks is rightfully his.
The story is more than a little complicated as they try to explain this universe and how there are various aliens running around that no one knows about. The story is pretty basic actually; Jupiter can inherit the Earth and Balem doesn’t want that to happen. However, this fairly basic story gets extremely muddled in a very valiant attempt at world building and plot details. There is a lot to explain and the movie just keeps piling on various different forms of history and people to the point that it becomes extremely overwhelming. In the midst of explaining everything and everyone and how they relate to each other, the movie seems to forget that characters need to develop to make them mean anything to your audience. The most under developed character is Balem, whose ambition makes sense but we never really get a sense of his madness or why he’s so determined to keep the Earth from Jupiter. He also kicks off the plot, and we never really figure out what’s going on in his head.
The lack of character development is all around, though. There are three Abrasax siblings and I would say we spend a total of twenty minutes total screen time with all of them. Caine is also given the short stick. He doesn’t have much of a personality aside from a growly badass (literally, he’s genetically spliced with a wolf or something). The reason that he was suspended from the military is brushed aside and never elaborated on. Jupiter seems to fall for him nearly right away. She mentions that she “always falls for the wrong man”, but we never see any evidence of that. Jupiter seems to spend a lot of the movie falling since there were at least three different sequences involving her falling from very high places and needing Caine to swoop in and rescue her. Jupiter had the potential to be a great character, but she seems more focused on Caine than anything else in the movie.
They break the “show don’t tell” rule over and over again, which is a shame because the visuals are the best part of the movie. We don’t spend as much time as I would like in space and on various planets, but the moments we get are awesome. I must also give a lot of credit to the costume designer who seems like they just had a ball designing all of these crazy outfits. A red and white dress that Jupiter wears is beautiful and iconic in a way that made me wish the movie was better. There is 3D but it wasn’t too overbearing and didn’t give me a headache.
The pacing feels very off as well. I can think of at least two different times when I thought that this was supposed to be the climax and then it just kept going. As I watched I kept being reminded of Speed Racer from back in 2008, and considering it came from the same directors and writers shouldn’t surprise anyone. The two things that people tend to remember about Speed Racerare: 1. The visuals and 2. The lack of any irony or self awareness. This is something that Jupiter Ascending does as well. There wasn’t a single moment throughout the entire movie that it seemed to acknowledge how incredibly ridiculous and everyone is playing everything so straight.
I mean it when I say that there isn’t a hint of winking irony or self awareness throughout the entire feature. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, and I almost kept waiting for it to happen. When the credits roll and I saw yet another crazy thing happen, I just wanted to throw my hands into the air and go “okay movie, you were 100% serious business despite the human-dog genetic mutation thing. Okay, sure, whatever you say”. The only thing it did was cause some serious unintentional laughs, and I’m still wondering if this whole thing was a joke and no one is acknowledging it or if the Wachowski’s are really that good at forsaking winking irony for artistic grandeur no matter what the cost.
Jupiter Ascending has the building blocks to be a great movie, but with a plot that crushes the story the beautiful aesthetics just can’t make up for it. If you’re a fan of the Wachowski’s previous work, and Speed Racer in particular, it’s worth a look but everyone else should adjust their expectations.