Scott F Evans
Jupiter Ascending is the seventh feature film from the Wachowski siblings. It was originally scheduled to be released right in the middle of the 2014 blockbuster season, but was delayed until February 2015. The official reason was that the film wasn’t finished. That additional time was needed to complete the more than 2,000 visual effects, and mount a stronger marketing campaign. I suspect that studio execs saw early cuts and lost faith in the project, and dumped it into a February release spot (all the while praying for a surprise hit in a blockbuster-free season).
No one’s prayers were answered. And that’s not really a surprise. The truth is, if the Wachowski’s had spent as much time on the script as they did the effects and marketing, this would have been a better film.
Jupiter Ascending’s biggest crime is that it’s boring. It’s a heady, sprawling sci-fi epic, but it’s not even remotely interesting. I found myself fighting sleep several times during the film due to total disinterest in the adventures playing out in front of me. From the pompous dialogue to the incredibly miscast leads, Jupiter Ascending fumbles at everything but its superb production design.
Maybe it’s because nothing here is original. Let me clarify. Ascending has an “original” screenplay and isn’t a reboot or sequel… nor is it based on a comic book or line of toys or old television series. But for two hours, we’re subjected to reheated plotting, character types, action bits and spectacle. Everything in this train-wreck of a film has been done before… and better. Take the 1980 Flash Gordon, 1997’s The Fifth Element, and 1999’s The Phantom Menace and you’ve basically got the core visual elements of Jupiter Ascending. Because it takes itself way too seriously, Ascending has more in common with the Star Wars snooze-fest than the other two fun, schlocky movies.
Jupiter Ascending is essentially a fairy tale: beautiful heroine comes from humble beginnings but soon learns that she’s actually royalty. Her messenger and savior is a strapping young hero… who fights his attraction to her that he may better do his job. Grafting this simple story onto a sci-fi premise would be fine, but the Wachowski’s (who wrote as well as directed this quagmire) also wedge in a bunch of convoluted nonsense about genetic reincarnation, dynastic real estate holdings, and human harvesting. And I haven’t even mentioned the rest of the overly designed world presented here. Even though this muddled world is clearly important to the Wachowskis, none of it really matters to the audience because we never connect to it.
Jupiter Ascending wants to be so significant and clever that it forgets to be fun. Like The Phantom Menace, the story is stuffed with a bunch of intricate plot details that don’t propel the narrative. It’s just pomp and circumstance wrapped up in a flawless CGI bow.
All of the elements are there, but the siblings seem afraid of it all. Channing Tatum plays Caine Wise, Ascending’s hero. Wise is a half canine, half albino bounty hunter. His main piece of gear is a pair of anti-gravity boots. He used to have wings but was stripped of them when he bit a royal… or something (we don’t really care). Mila Kunis is Jupiter Jones, a Russian cleaning lady who agrees to sell her eggs to buy an expensive telescope. Her genes also put her in line to be Queen of the planet Earth. Get it? Jupiter “ascends” to a throne that no one on the planet knows about. Academy Award nominee Eddie Redmayne plays Balem Abraxas, the film’s lead villain. He delivers 99% of his dialogue in a hoarse, barely coherent whisper. The other 1% is shouted in hilariously inopportune moments. There are characters who seem to be part elephant, others with mouse ears, faceless guards who wear capes and have guns instead of arms, dinosaur men that wear cool leather jackets, and an out of place comic sequence dealing with intergalactic bureaucracy that’s culled straight from much better films. With all of this goofy shit in play, one would think Jupiter Ascending would embrace the ridiculous style over substance nature of it all, but no. This film is two hours of charm free ostentation.
If all you really need to entertain yourself is a couple hours of CG effects and designer clothing eye candy, then maybe you’ll enjoy Ascending. There have been articles published on the internet urging people to go see this film despite its glaring flaws. They suggest that fans of the genre should not only support big budget original sci-fi like this but also support the Wachowski’s because of the geek cred they built up with The Matrix series. That’s nonsense. The Wachowski’s can be good filmmakers, but after bombs like Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas, and now Jupiter Ascending (where they had almost complete creative control and hundreds of millions of dollars to waste), maybe it’s time for them to scale back. Maybe they need to do a bid in director jail or work under much tighter restrictions to get back the spark that allowed them to make Bound and the first Matrix. Besides, Guardians of the Galaxy did it better.
RATING: Cable… on a day when there’s nothing else on TV.