Jupiter Ascending, 2015
Written and directed by The Wachowskis
Starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton
In a bright and colorful future, a young destitute caretaker gets targeted by a ruthless son of a powerful family that live on a planet in need of a new heir, so she travels with a genetically engineered warrior to the planet in order to stop his tyrant reign.
In an age where comic book movies, reboots, remakes and films based on toys reign supreme, a movie like Jupiter Ascending should be praised for at least being “original”. It’s a movie that doesn’t play it safe with its $175 million budget and instead makes the sort of film one wouldn’t expect to see in this age of cinema. And who better to do this than The Wachowskis, who wowed us back in 1999 with the fantastic The Matrix, a film so blindingly surreal and imaginative before it was marred by unnecessary and nonsensical sequels. Sadly, Jupiter Ascending is not on the same level as The Matrix. Jupiter Ascending is not a good movie. Is it the train wreck a lot of us were lead to believe from early reports? Not at all. But it’s still pretty rubbish.
After Edge of Tomorrow criminally tanked last year, it was a wise move for Warner Bros. to push Jupiter Ascending back by nearly a year, as there is every chance this could do the same thing. It tells the story of a lowly toilet cleaner named Jupiter who, because of her DNA structure, is the rightful heir of Earth since the previous owner of said DNA structure had passed away after 19,000 years – leaving her squabbling trio of children to argue over the inheritance. The three children then use their wily tactics to bring Jupiter into their presence and try and convince her to hand Earth over so that they may harvest it of life so they can live longer. Also, Sean Bean is a half man-half bee named Stinger (geddit?) and Channing Tatum is a half man-half wolf with gravity defying roller blades named Cain (geddit?!). Even the most loyal and die hard of science fiction fans will struggle to get behind the fairly ridiculous plot.
What Jupiter Ascending aims for is Cinderella meets The Wizard of Oz in space, but it ends up being Battlefield Earth meets Super Mario Bros. with all the boring scenes from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The biggest issue with Jupiter Ascending is not its out-there story, but the fact that the execution is really dull. Much of the film is spent with people sitting around and discussing space politics, royalty legalities and just what the hell is going on to the point where it all becomes too much and you end up zoning out.
It doesn’t help that the plot is being explained by good actors turning in less than stellar performances. Much has been said of Eddie Redmayne’s Balem Abrasax, a performance so awful his agents were trying to get him removed from the marketing materials in the fear that it would ruin his Oscar chances. But what should have been a fun and campy performance akin to Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons or Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula actually has more in common with Mathesar, the soft spoken alien from Galaxy Quest. And yes, Redmayne is unspeakably bad, but the term “dreadful performance” is not exclusive to him. Channing Tatum, a man with incredible charisma, is reduced to a bland robotic performance with nothing to say and Douglas Booth is laughably horrible as one of the royals trying to trick Jupiter into handing over Earth. Tuppence Middleton is gleefully silly in her dialogue delivery and Mila Kunis, while not terrible, is about a notch above Natalie Portman’s lifeless performances in the Star Wars prequel movies. Thankfully Sean Bean is there to add some Northern class to the proceedings, but he’s given such woefully stupid things to say that you have to question why he decided to commit these lines to memory and then say them in front of a camera.
The script is chock full of little idiotic ditties that could very well be revered in years to come and be quoted at screenings à la The Room, but there isn’t enough charm in the proceedings to really make them memorable. You will find yourself guffawing as you hear them in the moment, but will quickly forget them as soon as you leave the cinema. Apart from Mila Kunis saying, “I like dogs” – which should go down as one of the worst lines of dialogue spouted by a human being this year.
And even if the story had been good and the performances had been Oscar-worthy, Jupiter Ascending still would have suffered because the characters are so paper thin. Eddie Redmayne is dire, but the character of Balem Abrasax has no development or reason so the bad acting doesn’t really matter. The film spends so much time setting all three of the children up as villains that in the end, none of them really seem that villainous. If The Wachowskis had focused on just one of the siblings and made them into a credible threat, then perhaps the film would have fared better. But as it is, you don’t invest into any of Jupiter’s perils because you see it three times over and you know that she’ll just end up being saved by Channing Tatum. Jupiter herself should have been the film’s heroic kick ass leading lady, but instead is left to the an object for Tatum to pick up into his hulking arms as he stops her from making more silly decisions. It seems baffling in this post-Hunger Games world that a female role like this can be created, let alone be the leading character.
Jupiter Ascending is not without its merits however as the stunning visuals and intricate designs are quite pretty to behold. Each citadel and spaceship has been clearly designed and developed over time and there is a particularly thrilling action sequence towards the start of the movie. The problem with all of this, of course, is that none of it feels real. The CGI and green screen effects are laid on so thick that eventually you won’t engage with what’s going on. The comparisons to the Star Wars prequel trilogy are so apt because Jupiter Ascending makes the same mistakes as George Lucas, relying on CGI to tell the story because your script is as useful as a chocolate teapot.
Like The Wachowski’s previous efforts Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending could very well split audiences in what they make of it. Some might sit back and relish in the absurdity on screen, but there will be those who just see it as a CGI-laden snore fest with little worthy of note. Perhaps the biggest shame of Jupiter Ascending is that it’s not bad enough to be good again like The Fifth Element, because it’s just too boring and dreary. The script is stupid, the characters are spectacularly flat and the performances are mundane at best and ridiculous at worst. It should be applauded for being original, but that’s as far the accolades should go.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.
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