The Wachowskis have finally gone completely mad. But sadly not in a good way.
The young cleaning woman Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), got her exotic name because her father, a Russian astronomer, insisted on calling her like that when she was still in the womb of her mother, who left the country after her husband was murdered for political reasons.
In the beginning she is leading a monotonous existence, only enduring her less than glamourous job so she can buy a telescope one day to follow in her father’s footsteps. Everything is changing though, when one day aliens (!) turn up that try to kill her for mysterious reasons. Fortunately she is saved in the last second by the intergalactic legionnaire Caine (Channing Tatum), a wolf-human hybrid who is assigned to protect her.
He reveals to Jupiter that our planet is just one of millions in the universe that have been colonized by competing aristocratic families who are now planning to “harvest” Earth, means to kill its population and condense its genes into a serum that allows them to maintain their immortality.
But Jupiter could prevent this happening, as her genetic signature identifies her as the legitimate “heir of Earth”, which made her the object of a power struggle…
At no point I doubted that this would turn out to be a trainwreck, but there was the hope that it would be a glorious trainwreck. Unfortunately, this adjective can be scratched now.
Jupiter… is a typical case of once innovative and talented directors who got too much money thrown at them. But let’s start from the beginning.
Maybe I should first say a few good things about the movie: I know many people out there hate the technology, but the 3D effect was spectacular, maybe the best I have ever seen. The special effects are very good, even if they don’t necessarily strive for realism. Incredibly detailed vistas of vast alien industrial landscapes are the main virtue of the visuals.
Otherwise there is not much to see here.
The first thing that struck me was that the Wachowskis apparently completely lost their touch when it comes to create interesting visuals or a compelling atmosphere. Which is shocking, as even their lesser movies always convinced in that regard.
The designs are not that great overall and actually pretty bad in many points. The spaceship designs are mediocre and the costumes look like they were borrowed from the art department of the Hunger Games movies. All the weapons, equipment and other props have that standardized pulpy SciFi design known from countless movies, comics and TV-series. A palace built upon a waterfall looks exactly like the one of Padme on Naboo.
There is a trio of headhunters (one of them actress Doona Bae) who try to capture Jupiter who are hard to take seriously, as they look like a bunch of cosplayers from the late 90s, one of them a spitting image of Simon Cowell, but with a steampunk monocle.
This new mundane “quality” is reflected in all other aspects of the movie. “Workmanlike” is the only adjective that comes to my mind when I have to describe the cinematography. Remembering the bold visuals of The Matrix, which had an almost tangible precision to them, it is hard to explain how the same directors could approve of the bland and unimaginative camerawork in Jupiter… Outside the action scenes and a few panorama shots, all we get are TV-visuals, including banal lighting and lots of close-ups of faces. Tons of close-ups.
And the prosaic tone does not stop there, but is continued in the storytelling. In the beginning, for example, there is a prologue that introduces Jupiter and her family, everything is earthbound without a hint of anything fantastic/SF-oriented. Then suddenly the film casually cuts to a deserted alien planet where two of the main alien aristocrats are discussing their further proceedings (close-ups included). Quite an unceremonious introduction for antagonists of a bombastic space opera. Another scene has Caine (Tatum) protecting Jupiter in a dramatic air battle between space ships over Chicago, immediately followed by a shot of him driving her out of the town behind the wheel of a Ford.
The Wachowskis incessantly botch any chance of the movie to develop some flair or “magic”.
The acting is unsurprisingly sub-par. Mila Kunis is just Mila Kunis. Channing Tatum has no chance to shine behind his ridiculous Wolfman- make up and futilely tries to keep up a last shred of dignity. Cast as Tatum’s mentor “Stinger” (his genes are spliced with that of a bee!) is Sean Bean (who aged well), phoning it in so obviously, it hurts.
Every time members of Jupiter’s cliched Russian immigrant family, whose antics are mostly played for laughs, were on screen, I felt embarrassed for the poor actors. The crown for the worst performance goes to Eddie Redmayne as the villain of the film, “Balem Abrasax”. He miraculously manages to appear over- and underacting at the same time. The unremarkable rest of the cast was apparently recruited among Twilight– extras.
The worst aspect about Jupiter Ascending? It commits the only real cardinal sin of entertainment- it is quite dull.
The Wachowski’s attempt to reinvent the genre of the space opera following the template of period pieces about scheming aristocrats is as naive as it is misguided and evokes memories of the times when George Lucas tried to infuse political drama into the Star Wars– saga. The result is a poor man’s Dune, just much much dumber.
At no point in the movie there is a sense of anything being at stake, even if we are told so countless times. A great deal of dramatic situations is resolved by either scheming or negotiating, which does not make for a great adventure.
Jupiter… is also a showcase for bad “world building”: Although the dialogue is cluttered with tedious exposition, the universe on screen never feels complex, alive or “real”. Shouldn’t it be done exactly the opposite way?
“Your Majesty, I have more in common with a dog than I have with you.” “I love dogs, I’ve always loved dogs.”
Not to forget all the cringe-worthy moments that sour the experience even more. When Jupiter is confronted with another shocking detail about her predestination, she reacts with the line “This cannot get any weirder.” Stinger (Sean Bean), the human-bee hybrid, kneels before Jupiter when she is revealed to be the Earth’s queen, because “bees are programmed with a sense of respect for royalty” (paraphrased, I do not remember the exact line).
Speaking of which, oh those human/animal hybrids that populate the movie’s universe! There is one with an elephantoid head, including a tiny elephant trunk that moves up and trumpets in a dangerous situation. The budding love story between Jupiter and the semi-wolf Caine, whose levitating hover-boots are as ridiculous on screen as the concept sounds, is intended to bring some kinky spice into the plot, but it just leads to even more bad dialogue. (“Your Majesty, I have more in common with a dog than I have with you.” “I love dogs, I’ve always loved dogs.”) “The beauty and her beast”, the evil space baron says.
Of course, as it is to be expected by the Wachowskis, there is some gobbledigook message about “predestination vs. free will”, this time varied with an excursion into “idiotic genetics”, but any thoughts on this would be a waste of time and brain cells, as the film already cost me too many.
It’s the Science Fiction movie jumble sale! Let’s throw in the kitchen sink, we don’t care how overused and stale the individual elements are! It does not have to make sense or show good taste!
Yet again a movie proves that “camp” does not necessarily equal “fun” and that setting out to make a film that is “out there” is not a guarantee for delivering something that is not mundane and mediocre.
The Wachowskis admittedly have some guts to make a movie that plays exclusively to cosplayers, steampunk fans, Furries and other groups from the fringes of fandom, but that does not excuse the shoddy quality of the result on display. Although it has become a cliche to describe a film script as “fan fiction” by now, I am having a hard time coming up with a more appropriate label for this infantile mess.
Years from now, Jupiter Ascending will still be studied for its almost eclectic combination of exclusively awful elements and it will surely gain some (undeserved) cult status, but I cannot recommend it to anyone like me who was once a fan of the Wachowski siblings, who finally turned from promising talents into hopeless cases, whose creativity got killed by too much money.