Tweetable Takeaway: Jupiter Ascending soars with its effects, but hits a black hole with its script.
By: Wil Loper, Contributor
In the Waschowski siblings’ latest grand exercise in moviemaking, nearly every element is lined up for a slam-dunk cinematic experience. Jaw-dropping special effects? Check. Innovative action scenes? Check. Clever and original ideas? Check. So where does JUPITER ASCENDING falter? Like the guillotine, it’s all about the execution. Between all the fantastic whiz-bang effects are clunky, dialogue-heavy scenes and emotionally mistimed sequences that dull what might have been the sharpest blade of a movie this year.
The plot of Jupiter Ascending is best explained with many diagrams, arrows, and names on a whiteboard the size of a small planet, but I’ll do my best here. Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a seemingly regular Earth girl who cleans houses and scrubs toilets for a living with her Russian extended family. Of course, it turns out she’s not so regular. Up in space, there’s a family of ancient aliens (who look just like humans) who grow people on planets in order to harvest them into bottles, which they then take baths in and restore their youth. Eddie Redmayne is the oldest of the Abrasax siblings, which means he gets the most prized possession of Earth once it’s ready to harvest. His brother, Douglas Booth as Titus, also wants Earth for himself. They each send hunters to find what used to be their mother but is now reborn as Jupiter Jones somehow. Despite being their mother before, this time around Jupiter will be the heir to the Earth fortune, so it’s in the Abrasax’s interests to find her. Among the hunters looking for Jupiter is Caine Wise, played by Channing Tatum. Caine is some sort of half-man, half-wolf creature, and he ends up being Jupiter’s protector, and eventually falls for her as well after several chase sequences and shootouts.
That’s the short version of the plot. The amount of information the Wachowskis feel the need to impart to moviegoers is staggering. Every spare second the movie gets, someone is explaining to someone else what’s going on. Who somebody is, what their role is in the universe, what family they belong to, how long they’ve lived, how dark they like their toast, what planet belongs to who, how many licks it takes to get to the center of a human soul are just a few of the questions that are constantly getting answered. But is anyone asking these questions? The only way to possibly stay ahead of all the plot details would be to take a notebook into the theater (college ruled, 180 pages at the very least). At some point, everything blends together and one no longer cares what or who a Gemma Chatterjee is. The movie tries to mask it’s glut of exposition delivery in the guise of having Jupiter Jones be the naïve newcomer to this packed universe, so of course it makes sense to have Caine explain everything to her every step of the way. But before the movie is over, it’s just bananas on bananas with a side of bananas, and that’s just too many bananas.
It’s all the more frustrating when taking into account all the elements in the movie that do work. The special effects are truly a marvel. Giant talking lizard soldiers, elephant fighter pilots, and little grey men all exist believably on the screen. Which is saying a lot. The extended chase sequence with Tatum on flying boots through the skyline and streets of Chicago while tossing around Kunis is one of the most thrilling action scenes you’ll find in two years in either direction. But the excitement in the action scenes are over far too soon, and it’s back to hearing Tatum’s character intone more backstory and explanations.
It’s strange to feel so detached for much of the movie since so much is at stake. The thought that Earth has just been a livestock farm and is ready to be harvested at any moment if Jupiter and Caine don’t stop it all should have us all biting our nails down to the bone. Here there’s not even the slightest urge. The whole affair of trading and owning planets is dealt with in the least interesting ways possible. Watching a board meeting deciding the pricing point of plastics would be more thrilling. Didn’t the Wachowskis learn anything from the Star Wars prequels?
Thankfully, the pair seem to understand something more immediate and visual needs to happen onscreen, so they have two more sequences in which the fate of Earth hangs in the balance of Jupiter’s actions. One has Jupiter about to marry one of the Abrasax siblings, another has her choosing between her family and the entire population of Earth. Both might have been incredibly tense affairs, but all that’s mustered is a contrived feel to it all. And by the third time Channing Tatum’s character comes flying in to save the day, we know how every scene will play out until the end of the movie. There are no surprises, only the slog through loud space gun battles until Caine rescues Jupiter one more time.
Is the trip to Jupiter worth it? This is a movie that begs to be seen on the big screen for its spectacular effects, but in no way deserves money for its overly complicated story and dull delivery of information. There’s something to be said for simplicity, and Jupiter Ascending has about ten planets’ worth to say against simplicity.
I give Jupiter Ascending 2 elephant pilots out of 5
Score: 2 out of 5