by Matt Boyd Smith
When a movie opens with a line like “Technically I’m an alien” delivered in voice-over you should probably expect that what you’re about to see is either going to be a lot of fun or monstrously tedious. Know going into Jupiter Ascending that it’s mostly the latter. This movie’s a mess, has a godawful performance from the amazingly pale walking old-man-corpse Eddie Redmayne, and somehow manages to derail the Channing Tatum love train we’ve all been on the past couple of years. It’s that bad, really and truly. Even the special effects—SFX we’ve been told the movie had to be delayed (twice) so as they could be adequately completed—look like utter garbage. There’s not a lot here to like, though there is one really brilliant moment about a third of the way into it. More on that later. First let’s focus on where this thing goes wrong.
Really, the story is this movie’s biggest problem. There’s too much of it, and most of it is a poor knock-off of obvious source material like Star Wars as well as more cult texts like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Starchaser: The Legend of Orin. The Wachowski Starship are obviously attempting to build a sci-fi epic in the vein of those films (along with the many callbacks to the sword-and-sorcery genre albeit via genetics), but the attempt doesn’t quite come together as a cohesive whole. A lot happens very quickly, and there are some really nice attempts to build a universe without being too obvious about all of its intricacies, but whereas the Star Wars films built its mythology around three films developed and made over six years (and with the benefit of hindsight and fandom completing that world building process), Jupiter Ascending attempts to do it all in a single film, and to cram it all into just over two hours. Granted this is a blessing when compared to recent bloated blockbusters which push the three hour mark, there are still far too many plot threads which develop too quickly and don’t seem at all logical.
An example: newly entitled as a recurrence of former space nobility, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) agrees to enter into a marriage with Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth) in order to preserve a family inheritance (and save the Earth) which she was fully unaware she even had less than two or three days earlier. First, Jupiter is either really dumb and really lucky to have lived this long (I’d say she’s both), or she’s extremely trusting of aliens she just met after almost being killed whilst donating her ovaries at a fertility clinic (also probably true, but maybe just me again). As far as the latter is concerned, Jupiter is maybe the most trusting newly benighted space royalty ever, as her entering into agreements willy-nilly with parties who would most certainly want her dead is a recurrence in and of itself. At least that maybe explains her trust of her old soul’s son, Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), who is also her killer in that former life. And second, Jupiter is not only far too trusting, she is also a character almost totally lacking in agency. Her incredible luck? It’s all in the form of a single person, Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), who is aside from Jupiter Jones probably actually the most lucky person-dog mutant in the entire universe. Jupiter would die at nearly every thirty minute mark of film run-time if not for Caine, and that is a huge problem for a movie in which she is supposedly the main character. Princess Leia with a gun in her hand she certainly ain’t.
That last paragraph probably gave you some indication as to what the plot of this movie is, but simplified it’s this: Jupiter Jones is the reincarnation (the genetic recurrence) of a powerful space family’s matriarch who is entitled to certain parcels of the galaxy currently under the purview of Balem, who became the most powerful being in the universe after killing off said matriarch for his inheritence. His brother, attempting to steal Balem’s entitlement, has sent Caine Wise, a half-human half-dog warrior hybrid to track down Jupiter so he can marry her and, after killing her himself, take over those parcels of the galaxy once owned by Balem, including the Earth, which is of course the most valuable planet ever for the harvesting of the hottest commodity in future space land: time (aka bathing in genetic material which replaces dying cells distilled from the dead bodies of human beings). And yes, I just realized I forgot to mention that Soylent Green is one of the movies this one rips off. Jupiter and Caine fall in love, which is good for her because, as mentioned previously, she’s dumb and trusting and generally seems okay with just being man-handled on her ascension to the throne. That’s about as simple as I can make it, and I left out a lot of plot. Not story—just basic “things that happen in the course of a two hour run time.” And therein we have a semblance of some of what this movie has going on and it’s far far far too much. Far too much. And tedious. Good lord this movie takes what feels like forever to get to the point.
But I did say there’s brilliance and there is. For one fleeting moment, we get to see the Wachowski Starship have a great idea and execute it well. In order to claim her entitlement, Jupiter must first verify that she is who she says, and this entails a lot of paperwork. She is led through a labyrinth of bureaucratic red tape and circular logic that is mind-boggling, and the whole sequence itself is rather amusing and well-executed. But when Jupiter gets to the end of this bureaucratic chain, what does she find? Well, it’s none other than Terry Gilliam, playing a paper-pusher! I was so delighted to see the director of Brazil, one of the great dystopian sci-fi movies that deals with the horrors of bureaucracy actually participating in a scene which works as an homage to his own film that I momentarily forgot that I mostly hated everything that happened up to that point! Sadly, this amazing confluence of happiness and Gilliam being on screen was fleeting. Had Jupiter Ascending featured more moments of inspiration and less super-serious space skating from Channing Tatum, I probably would’ve liked it a lot more.
Oh, right, the space skates. Forgot to actually discuss them. Caine has special boots that are based on anti-gravity technology and he uses them to skate around the air and wherever else he needs/wants. It is a cool idea on paper, and works for a little bit of the first half hour or so, but it looks extremely dumb when seen repeatedly throughout the entire movie, and especially when it means Caine is never in peril from falling through the air, or being ejected into the vacuum of space, or any other time gravity (or the lack of it) might be a problem for him as a life form. Mostly it looks really dumb. There are literally moments when he is basically ice skating through space chasing after a ship and almost catches up with it.
So, what I guess I’m saying is that this is a disappointing film on an epic scale. It would be a lackluster effort in any year, but coming less than six months after Guardians of the Galaxy took the world by storm it’s a goddam drag. It’s not that fun, it’s not that pretty, and everyone seems to be phoning in their performances. If this movie had come out before the Oscar nominations, Eddie Redmayne and Channing Tatum would have most likely been Norbit-ed. Oh well. At least they’ve got a space opera on their resume for whenever a good sci-fi action flick rolls around again.
1.5 out of 5 stars