Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Editor’s Notes: Jupiter Ascending is currently out in wide theatrical release.
There’s something about The Wachowski’s films that I’ve never liked. After coming home after a late screening of their most recent bloated sci-fi epic Jupiter Ascending, I put on The Matrix just to try and remind myself what I don’t like about their pictures. I’ve never been a huge fan of The Matrix or its sequels (at least I’m not alone on those) and I realized that it’s because they load up their films with plot to distract from the fact they can’t create characters that anyone can care about.
The world that the Wachowski’s built is impressive and there are many stories that could be told in this universe that would be very interesting and entertaining.
Jupiter Ascending is about (and I’ll be brief because really the whole film is nothing but plot) Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a girl born of an astronomer and a student when Jupiter was ascending (it’s a tarot thing, I can’t remember what it means but it is explained in the film). Her father is murdered during a home invasion while her mother is pregnant with her, making her mother decide to roam about and Jupiter is born on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic, raised by her mother and her aunt in Chicago working as a maid for her uncle’s family maid service. When she decides to play along with a money-making scheme by her cousin to sell her eggs at a clinic (so he can buy an expensive TV and so she can buy a telescope like the one that was stolen before her birth that caused her father to try to stop the invaders, causing him to get shot…it’s all just so exhausting), she hears before she goes under that she is to be killed. Enter Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), who comes in surfing on gravity boots and kills her attackers, rescuing her.
We later find out that he is a genetic splice, human and wolf and former intergalactic police officer hired to bring her to one of the wealthiest people in the galaxy. See, she is a genetic recurrence of a royal woman who had three kids, all of them assholes. Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne) is the one trying to kill her, Kalique Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton) wants to form an alliance with her to get more money/power and Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth) wants to marry her and then kill her for her title. All the while, Wise is there to rescue her. Time and time and time and time and time again. Oh, and Sean Bean is in it too (and spoiler alert! He lives! Through the whole movie!)
Look, I said the whole movie was nothing but plot and I meant it. It’s just one story point after another, making a synopsis nearly impossible. By the halfway point I started to lose interest, not because I couldn’t follow what was going on, I could, but because I didn’t care. None of the characters onscreen meant anything to me and if any one of them lived or died didn’t matter one bit to me. That’s where the Wachowski’s always lose me. Except for Speed Racer, none of their films have anyone worth caring for. In fact, Speed Racer is oddly the only film of theirs I can say that I actually enjoy and I really have no idea why.
Outside of the fact that there are no developed characters in the entire film, another huge detraction is that Tatum and Kunis have zero chemistry between them …
Returning to Jupiter Ascending, there is a lot to like here, despite itself. The world that the Wachowski’s built is impressive and there are many stories that could be told in this universe that would be very interesting and entertaining. It’s a shame they didn’t make a movie out of one of those stories or aspects, though because the way things are looking for this picture, a sequel is almost certainly out of the question, let alone an entire series.
Outside of the fact that there are no developed characters in the entire film, another huge detraction is that Tatum and Kunis have zero chemistry between them, which is sad considering they are two of the most attractive actors working today. I don’t know if it’s the direction or their takes on the characters or just the lack of material to work with, but they just didn’t do anything for me at all in this picture.
The other thing that put me off is again a Wachowski standard: over explaining the world they’ve built because they feel it’s so complex that they need any character who knows anything to tell us everything, without really showing us anything. That approach is all over The Matrix movies, and when they depart from that form, like in Cloud Atlas, they make an even messier movie (though one that has greater potential and loftier aspirations) but at least puts it on the audience to figure it out instead of talking down to us, like most of the rest of their films, The Matrix included. I admire filmmakers who create a world and just throw us into it, giving clues and explanations that are less obvious than a character going “What’s going on?” and then being told for five minutes instead of showing, because it is a visual medium and I think the Wachowski’s forget that during the writing stage and when they are putting together dialogue. They remember it when exploding the screen (and their budgets) with the background, but that’s all their visual style is: background effects. Their actual films are just people talking, and not even really talking but explaining (I know that’s a lot like Christopher Nolan’s non-Batman films, but he has a way of making the exposition useful and integral and unobtrusive despite half a film being just that). There are few conversations in Jupiter Ascending which limits the already underwritten characters and that’s what ultimately kills the picture. That and perhaps Eddie Redmayne’s abysmal performance as an androgynous money-hungry person that is soft-spoken then yells at random intervals…it’s just a total miscalculation of a performance up one side and down the other by an otherwise talented actor.
The Wachowskis seemed to be the go-tos for sci-fi epics in the wake of The Matrix, but it seems that faith was misplaced considering the sequels and the films that followed. I admire them for continuing to put complex sci-fi ideas out there, I just wish they’d actually create characters that people could latch onto and care about. It would make their films something special instead of head-scratchers that have too many computer effects, which is what Jupiter Ascending is. There are lots of great movies in there, but none of them made it to the surface and we’re left with something that is less than mediocre.
There are lots of great movies in Jupiter Ascending, but none of them made it to the surface and we’re left with something that is less than mediocre.