Reviews are not a place where I like to give advice, but I feel like it’s essential, before talking about Jupiter Ascending, Andy and Lana Wachowski’s latest big-budget visual effects extravaganza, to let you know that there will be a group of people who will try to sell on you on the idea that this is a worthy movie. That it’s incompetence is intentional, and that its cheap thrills something fun to behold. There is going to be a group of people that try to make this something of a camp classic, one of those “so bad it’s good” movies. Those people are wrong.
There is no denying that almost any description of Jupiter Ascending‘s plot will make it sound like a bat-shit crazy movie. You see, Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a young woman who makes a living cleaning houses and lives with her extensive Russian-American family. That is, until an elven-looking Channing Tatum comes crashing into her life. He plays Caine Wise, a half-wolf albino bounty hunter warrior from outer space. Soon Mila Kunis learns that she is actually an intergalactic princess, and that the fate of earth is in jeopardy because evil Eddie Redmayne is threatening to chew up all the scenery in the galaxy.
I apologize if I’m being too tongue-in-cheek, but I will excuse myself by arguing that this movie plot cannot possibly be described while keeping a straight face. I mean, that sounds kind of ridiculously awesome, right? Jupiter Ascending seems almost designed to be the kind of futile enterprise that inspires movie folklore. Think about it this way: the Wachowskis, some of the most idiosyncratic and unrestrained filmmakers currently working in Hollywood somehow manage to con Warner Brothers into giving them more than 200 million dollars to make a bizarre space opera where Channing Tatum plays a half-wolf albino warrior from outer space. It’s a backstory that will excite any cinephile who is thirsty for something more than the tasteless flavor of the yearly Marvel movie. But in an almost tragic turn of events, Jupiter Ascending doesn’t taste any better.
At this point, it’s interesting to think of the Wachowskis’ career as cinematic auteurs. There are fervent fans that will praise the sheer ambition of the filmmaking the siblings displayed in Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas. But if we talk about plot and themes, it’s worth remembering that both those movies were adaptations of pre-existing properties. The last original story the Wachowskis came up with -if you don’t regard sequels as wholly “original”- was The Matrix, and now that they’ve come back to their own imaginations for inspiration, Jupiter Ascending reveals them to be fascinated with certain recurring motifs, trying to rekindle the magic of that original Matrix, or both.
Much like Neo, Jupiter Jones didn’t even know she was the “chosen one”, and she too must wake up to a reality where the human race is treated more as a commodity than, well, humans. The big difference is that she’s a girl, and thus, she doesn’t really take any kind of action, leaving pointy-eared Channing Tatum to do the fighting for her. InThe Matrix, the Tatum role was performed by Trinity, a badass female fighter who becomes considerably less interesting once Neo enters the picture. In Jupiter Ascending, the man keeps being the badass, while the girl is just the girl. And if you try to tell me that Jupiter doesn’t fight because she’s a simple human and doesn’t know how to, then let me remind you that the Wachowskis used magic pills and crash-courses in kung fu to give Neo his superpowers.
Almost as disappointing as the sexism in this movie is the casual racism that goes into the depiction of Jupiter’s Russian family. They’re all dumb, and say cooky, ethnic things. Her Russian mother is barely a character, while her father was the intelligent one who loved to look at the stars through his telescope. I guess this is as good a place as any to point out how much of a cypher Jupiter’s character is. Mila Kunis is nothing short of laughably atrocious in the role, but to be fair, she had absolutely nothing to work with. I don’t think I have ever encountered a more thankless role, is as if part of the Wachowski’s agenda was making her give a bad performance. There is not a single adjective that I could use to describe Jupiter, and nothing she does in the movie seems to be motivated by any form of human psychology.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as the screenplay is concerned. As most science fiction fiascos, there are too many characters, too many royal plots, and too many intentions and allegiances to keep track of. For example, Eddie Redmayne is only one of four or five villains. I had very little of what was going during any given moment of the movie, which is to say I mostly knew what was happening on screen, I just didn’t have any idea of its significance towards the bigger picture. I think of the people who thought Inherent Vice was hard to follow and wish them luck trying to figure out what the hell is going on in this movie.
It’s not a pretty screenplay either. Most of the lines are garbage. And I know garbage is, to a certain extent, in the eye of the beholder, but that extent ends here. I think the real reason behind Jupiter Ascending‘s existence is the Wachowskis tried to make George Lucas a solid and make a movie that made his Star Wars prequels look like masterpieces of screenwriting. The biggest sin of Jupiter Ascending‘s script, and one of the signs that the people involved in making this movie gave zero consideration to my enjoyment of their product, is that we are introduced to the notion that Channing Tatum’s character kills people by biting off their throats, and said notion is not payed off later in the film. If you wanted me to enjoy this movie as a camp classic, you had to at least give me some throat-ripping bites.
The script is a mess, and so are the visuals. Despite its crazy premise, the movie looks like every movie you’ve seen before, which is to say that every frame is either teal, orange, or a combination of the two. There is one creative moment of action, when Tatum’s character uses a teleportation device to “decapitate” a henchman. The rest of the action sequences are not as much sequences as a cacophony of sights and sounds that are too exhausting to even try to follow, especially if you, like me, watch this movie in hideous 3D.
My friend Abie, who I think is a very smart person, tried to convince that this is not as much a “good movie” as it is a “great representation of Sanskrit philosophy on screen”. I guess he is onto something -the movie does, after all, feature a half-elephant-half-man character named Ganesh. What to me seemed like a rehash of the plot points of The Matrix seemed to him like a fascinating representation of the Sanskrit view of capitalism. I won’t try to contradict him here, I just want point out that there will be smart people that get something out of this movie. I just would strongly advice you to consider the implications of watching a movie as soulless as this one.
The Wachowskis’s bizarre taste comes through in Jupiter Ascending. Considering all the thematic connection to their previous work, and the garish mix of operatic and comedic tones, one could only conclude that this is a Wachowskis movie through and through. Auteur Theory, at least in the way I’ve decided to put it into practice, says that idiosyncratic directors will always put something interesting about their personalities in their movies, and thus, they will never be completely worthless. Let’s just say Jupiter Ascending puts the Auteur Theory to the test.
Grade: 3 out of 10.