Jupiter Ascending Spectacularly Collapses Under its Own Weight
Directed/Written by: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski
Starring: Sean Bean, James D’Arcy, Tim Pigott-Smith, Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Doona Bae,Tuppence Middleton
Running time: 127 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity
The story is a mess. The plot is at times convoluted and overly elaborate, while most of the characters seem underdeveloped. What this film had going for it is an impressive array of visually impressive effects, and character design. However, good aesthetics does not a good film make. The film’s biggest weakness appears to be an over reliance on the visual effects carrying a portion of the exposition. To put it another way, it is the cinematic equivalent to sleight of hand. The Wachowskis seem to bank of the audience being so taken with the eye candy they will overlook the startling deficient exposition. The result is a beautiful film, that is a lot of fun to watch, but muddled, convoluted, and a disjointed mess. Or, to put this yet another way, I walked out of the theatre asking “what the hell did I just watch?” The answer to my own question is a $175 million spectacular hot mess of a film.
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) hates her life, the daughter of an illegal immigrant, born in a shipping container; she lives day-to-day cleaning other people’s houses. A galaxy away the aristocratic Abrasax clan, headed by rival siblings Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth), and Kalique (Tuppence Middelton), has heard rumor of a genetic recurrence of their queen and mother on Earth. This recurrence is Jupiter Jones. Unbeknownst to her, she is being hunted by Balem, Titus, and Kalique before she can discover who she is, and make her rightful claim to the Earth. One of these hunters, Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) finds Jupiter and upon discovering her true identity vows to protect her. To help keep her safe he seeks out Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), who has been exiled to Earth. Together they aim to keep Jupiter safe, and aid her in claiming her inheritance, before the Abrasax clan can eliminate her.
The first problem this film faces is the problem of too many antagonists. None of these villains were fully established an individuals, with individual motivations. They just show up, and try to capture or kill, or marry Jupiter Jones, and we have to sit through an extended action sequence to find out why, if we find out why. It is the universe against Jupiter Jones, and we only have the vaguest notion of why. The film fails adequately set up the backstory before launching into the action. With a big, flashy, fast-paced film, such as this, it is not an enjoyable experience to play catch up just to follow the basic plot. I can guarantee theatres will be filled with whispers of “who is that?” “What is happening?” “Did I miss something?” The feeling of not knowing what is going on is exhausting, and does not enhance the viewing experience.
The second problem I see is the character of Jupiter Jones. She starts with virtually no motivation. She wants a better life than she has. When she discovers that she is intergalactic royalty, her initial desire has been satisfied and she move on to more important life goals, a boyfriend. It was among the most unsatisfying character arcs in recent memory. The potential was huge and the opportunity to create a truly strong lead female character sailed by and circled back for a victory lap.
In spite of this being an exceptional visual treat, it was far too cluttered to be really good, and it could have been great. Many will enjoy this film for its most redeeming qualities. Some will enjoy it for the out of place Brazil reference, including a Terry Gilliam cameo.