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Movie Review: Jupiter Ascending

The Science-Fiction epic Jupiter Ascending is mired in interstellar palace politics and well-intentioned but ultimately uninspiring drama.
Review by Matt Cummings

When the entirety of mankind is one day remembered by people living either in different times, or by aliens that arrive to catalog our achievements, one oddity might occupy their time the most: the way we viewed aliens from other worlds in our media and literature. For a film like Jupiter Ascending, they might further ask the question 'Why we did they bother with such mumbo-jumbo?" And they'd be right.

As inconceivably large stretches of the universe manufacture human beings for their later consumption, the royal family known as the Abrasax have ended countless worlds, all to extend their lives. Their genocide has made them profitable and powerful, but in a millennium they have been without their queen, who was murdered by an unknown force. Meanwhile on Earth, the Russian Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is swept into these politics when her gene makeup is determined to be the exact copy of the fallen queen, making her the ruler of Earth and many other worlds. But this won't sit well with Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), who's obsessed with ruling the universe and keeping Jupiter off the throne at any cost. He sends a team to have her eliminated, only to run into the lone hunter Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) whose demotion has led on a long search for his destiny. He wants Jupiter in charge, but his alliance to Stinger Apini (Sean Bean) is about the only friend he's got. But without the memories of the queen, Jupiter must learn to navigate a universe of palace intrigue and unimaginably powerful forces before Balem puts her life in overwhelming danger.

There's so many wasted opportunities in Jupiter Ascending that it's hard to list to all of them. The idea that mankind is somehow worth even less in the universe - basically that of interstellar cattle for the royal family to consume - is a difficult pill to swallow but whose science is never really explained. Moreover, the fate of those cleansed world is never discussed: it's there one minute, the next it's not, wiped off the board like The Borg came to town; but without a plan to use this planet, what do the Abrasax do with it? Then there's the required mirth-filled moment at the bee house and the way Jupiter controls the insects without really knowing why they're there in the first place. Why does Stinger have such a fascination with bees? But at its source is a royal family who sound and act like humans, with all of their nuances and yet don't even live on Earth. They wear elegant British attire, sound like a royal family from the 1500's, but remain human even though they've been alive for a million years. Shouldn't at least some of them speak more like George Washington rather than a modern-day action hero? But as Writers, the Wachowskis don't seem to care about such inconsistencies, obsessed instead about look over depth, which allow them as directors to paint a much more favorable picture. The result is a film that's not very selective about its early scenes of Kunis cleaning toilets or waking up 50 times at 4:45am, instead of showing us more about the culture and lives of the Abrasax, a far more interesting alternative.

When the movie does get going, we're treated to some of the most exquisite imagery we've seen of the settled universe, which lead me to a whole series of questions that Ascending never addresses. I kept wondering what made Earth so valuable to these families, when every other world we see portrayed (and there are some beauties) rival Earth in every way. Cities that extend above the atmosphere in giant rings, while another lives inside the storm of Jupiter, are impressively shot and beautifully animated and decorated, making the drudgery of Chicago seem like a interstellar outhouse. But there's also the question of cost: should Jupiter become queen, wouldn't there be retribution by more capable elements of the royal family and their competitors to force abdication? And what of the various forces that do battle: what do they have to gain from a universe with or without the Abrasax in it?

Kunis isn't terrible here, but she's been in better, including Ted, where here she seems out of place and unable to dig deeper into her character, rather than merely reacting to controlling bees or cleaning toilets. Tatum, for all the sky boots and pointed ears, plays Caine quite well making his scenes pass far better than Kunis', but he and Kuinis have zero chemistry as does she and Redmayne. He is reduced to uttering only slightly memorable lines and more passive-aggressive behavior than you could shake a supernova at. None of them are particularly interesting, nor do any of them say anything that's worth our time. Even when the predictable deceptive wedding arrives by fellow Abrasax Titus (Douglass Booth), his CW good looks disappear just as fast out of the picture with no one remembering he was even there. It's these choices by the Wachowskis that makes Ascending so frustrating. One thing can be said: even their bold vision of a universe teeming with life is pretty interesting and definitely worth either a sequel or new life on the small screen. For all their' blunders since The Matrix Revolutions, they might actually have the basis for something quite extraordinary here.

Jupiter Ascending is a palace mess, a movie filled with too many subplots, too many characters, and not enough time to tell its potentially interesting story. Had this been given either a three-film commitment by Village Roadshow or had been picked up by HBO for a mini-series, we could have been in a for deep-character game-changer. Instead, we're forced to strap in for an experience that's more like Dune, leaving us with too many questions about what could have been. It's an example of the short-sightedness we see from Hollywood all the time, when the forest is so thick with trees that the only good perspective left is the one above it all. For Jupiter Ascending, it's clear that viewpoint was lost early in the development process; too bad, because this one had so much potential.

Jupiter Ascending is rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity and has a runtime of 127 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


Dan O. said…
Good review. It's a silly movie, but it's one that I surprisingly had fun with. Even if it was sometimes hard to get by, or better yet, understand just what the hell was going on with the plot.
Matt Cummings said…
Thanks for the nice comment. Might actually see it again or at least catch it on cable when it finally gets there. Not an awful movie but certainly the perfect movie for Feb! Go see Black Sea!!!

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