Galactic royalty! Harvesting planets! Aliens you can’t remember seeing! Genetically engineered warriors! Giant reptiles in leather jackets! No, this isn’t a new episode of Doctor Who; it’s The Wachowskis’ long awaited return to sci-fi – Jupiter Ascending.
After an attempt on her life, Jupiter (Mila Kunis) learns she’s alien royalty and heir to a family business. She’s escorted to space by Cain (Channing Tatum), a genetically spliced super soldier, to claim what she’s owed. Jupiter finds herself unexpectedly thrust into the middle of a family squabble between Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas Booth) who want to claim her inheritance. While Belem puts a bounty on Jupiter and threatens to destroy Earth, his brother Titus plans to marry Jupiter and claim her prize. What is Kalique up to? Not sure. She kind of disappears for the rest of the movie after she bathes in a pool of glittery Ciroc.
Before I dive into what was painful about Jupiter Ascending, I will say the visuals were outstanding. Very few filmmakers can make a movie look and feel big the way The Wachowskis do. They have an ability to make every film they’re involved in look like the biggest film of the year and something you have to seen in theaters.
I know the Jupiter Ascending trailers with Channing Tatum space skating around look promising, but the action sequences in the film aren’t as rewarding as you might think. The action scenes become repetitive after the first 30 minutes and they’re sandwiched between uninteresting characters and boring plot points. The collection of unexciting action scenes isn’t what sinks the movie; it’s the film’s insistence on two things: Forcing a love story between Cain and Jupiter and a story line that’s too big for one movie.
Let’s start with the love story – Why? Even though I could see the love connection coming a mile away, part of me hoped the film decided to go another direction. Nope! I got to suffer through Tatum and Kunis having awkward first date interactions as they fly through space. The movie slows down to a grinding halt whenever it takes time to “develop” their love story. It’s frustrating to watch. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of movie characters falling in love in 36 hours. Or maybe it’s because I was hoping for a more interesting story, not watching a Tinder date in space.
The storyline suffers from a serious lack of development. There’s a scene where Titus tells Jupiter what the family business is and it’s the first interesting concept introduced in the film. Their discussion is followed by yet another scene of Jupiter needing to be rescued. That’s when it hit me – the entire film is leading up to the big ‘Can saves Jupiter and falls in love’ scene. The parts in-between will look good, but the story itself is going to suffer.
Jupiter Ascending’s script doesn’t do the plot any favors. Some of the conversations go completely over the audience’s head because the movie takes zero time to explain what the space jargon they’re using means or how it applies to the world the movie is set in. Information is dumped without any instruction on how it moves the plot forward. You might as well be watching those information scenes in foreign language with no subtitles.
To be honest, the performances are mostly forgettable except for Eddie Redmayne and his vampire whisper. He gave it 110%. It was an odd choice to mix whispering and yell-screaming into his characters personality but it provided some of the films biggest laughs (unintentionally). It’s almost as funny as Tom Hank’s ‘True-True” language in Cloud Atlas. How did anyone think both of these ideas were OK? How? There’s no way you can edit those Redmayne scenes with a straight face.
Whatever the Wachowskis tapped into while making The Matrix, they’re having a hard time recapturing that magic. As original as The Matrix felt, Jupiter Ascending feels like a million different sci-fi films we’ve already seen and those movies did it better. There’s plenty of room for originality in the sci-fi genre and they didn’t try anything original or daring. Doctor Who does space odysseys better with just 52 minutes and a much smaller budget. Rather than trying to stuff a lot of information into one movie, maybe making Jupiter Ascending as a three part movie would’ve been better. But when I think about The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, maybe not.