It is easy to understand why audiences would be excited by Jupiter Ascending. Outside of Marvel’s recent Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the space opera genre isn’t exactly rife with fresh, new films at the moment. On top of that, it had a solid cast including major names such as Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne and Channing Tatum. If that wasn’t enough to get most viewers excited, the fact that it was written and directed by the revolutionary Wachowskis was the final push of hype. With that direction of talent in front of and behind the camera, tackling new genre, Jupiter Ascending was sure to be great. And that’s where it’s biggest problem begins.
On paper, Jupiter Ascending should be able to do no wrong. Once you get into into the details though, it starts to fall apart. The problem really comes down to expectation. I enjoyed the film in some regards and I don’t think it is unviewable. Being watchable isn’t a particularly gleaming report though. But I had the benefit of reading reviews and knowing that it had been panned beforehand. So I went in with lowered expectations, thus I was ok with what I got in return. Expectations are a deadly thing. They can make a good film great and decent film terrible.
If you don’t know, Jupiter Ascending follows house cleaner and Russian immigrant, Jupiter Jones, who is discovered to be the perfect genetic resemblance of a royal space monarch. Said Monarch is now dead, but wrote into her will that the recurrence of her genetic structure would inherit Earth. Her children are none too pleased about this and each try and capture Jupiter to use in their own plans. Said capture involves Caine, a hybrid wolf man who also had wings for some reason, and Stinger, another hybrid although this time with bees.
The reason that Earth is so important is because it’s over populated. Our space ancestors are apparently in the business of growing populated planets and harvesting the people to create a serum for regenerating cells. Jupiter balks at the idea of killing billions in exchange for immortality and struggles to maintain her right over Earth to protect herself, her family and everyone else. This involves her being captured three times, each involving a daring rescue by Caine. During their excursion into outer space, Jupiter begins to fall for Caine.
That’s the basic plot of the film but there’s really a lot going on in the film, it’s just not anything that really matters. It’s soft science fiction, so the focus is really on the characters and the story rather than why things are the way they are. Those characters and story aren’t able to bear the load though. The characters sound like they were named by a teenage girl, and they obviously asked some children what they wanted Caine to be and they couldn’t decide so they made him a half-everything. Action scenes, while visually impressive, feel drawn out and difficult to follow.
The Wachowski’s last great film was undoubtedly 1999’s The Matrix. It is clear they they were trying to recapture that glory with this film. It’s another science fiction film where a seemingly normal human turns out to be special and is introduced to how the world really is. Mila Kunis puts on a fine performance as Jupiter and her humble, selflessness is refreshing compared to Neo’s enigmatic self-importance. But she goes through a lot with in the film and doesn’t get an awful lot out of it. She gets Earth, a renewed appreciation for her family, some gravity boots and winged, lupine boyfriend. But she almost died several times. Her family almost died. There are still billions of planets being harvested by the Abrasax family. Her romance with Caine feels shallow because there’s no real connection beyond his saving her life and her liking dogs. And one of those is a joke.
By the end, the film just doesn’t come together. The events where she each meet Abrasax sibling one by one have no real consequence on what happen next. Kalique tells Jupiter to do what she was already planning to do, simply because it feeds her plan against Balem. Titus tries to marry her and then kill her. Balem wants her to sign Earth back to him so he can harvest it immediately. The siblings talk about each other but they never try to stop each other. You’d think that Kalique and Balem would have a vested interest in stopping Titus’s wedding but Kalique does nothing and Balem kidnaps her family and forces her to come to him instead. Maybe he doesn’t know where she is, but given how little the siblings care for each other, it stands to reason that Balem would be keeping an eye on his brother. But nope, everything is just left up to circumstance and chance . It winds up feeling like a lot of ideas thrown at a board with very little in common, bar a main character.
The Caine romance seems to exist in some alternate film as well. One where there are scenes between Jupiter and Caine that aren’t him saving her or him adamantly stating that he feels nothing for her. It’s far too obvious that it’s a ‘doth protest too much’ situation but it would make more sense for it to be true. Jupiter even mentions that she tends to fall for the wrong guy, and there’s little to suggest that this isn’t history repeating itself. She fell in love with him because he was there to save her. What’s she going to do now that she doesn’t need saved so often? A preferable ending would have been if Jupiter went back to her life, keeping Caine around because she appreciates him as a guard and in case the Abrasax siblings try anything else. Apparently, the Wachowski’s were going for a Wizard of Oz kind of vibe, but it’s not like Dorothy went back to Kansas and started dating the lion.
There is a lot wrong with this film. That can’t be denied. However, if you limit your expectations and shut your mind off when you go in, you may find Jupiter Ascending to be mildly entertaining. Otherwise, stay clear.