Jupiter Ascending Review: A Descent

Jupiter Ascending

What an indecipherable mess. There’s a lot of say about Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowskis’ latest cinematic endeavor, but most of those things are questions, and none of them helpful. There are no critical inquiries to be made except for one: why?

Let’s back this intergalactic bus up first. The bulk of the movie centers around Mila Kunis’ Jupiter Jones, a down-on-her-luck woman working maid jobs in Chicago and living in a nigh totalitarian household with her mother. One day, Channing Tatum’s Caine Wise, a half-wolf ex-military warrior, shows up and whisks her away to reveal her extraterrestrial destiny.

That, unfortunately, is where the train begins to derail. The signs were there: delayed from summer to February, inscrutable trailers, and fuzzy marketing. But watching this menagerie of befuddled ideas unfold before you is almost unbelievable. It’s certainly not abysmal in its ambition or scope, but it absolutely fails to congeal into anything remotely shapely.

A common lesson in sophisticated and effective storytelling is that is has to flow. This happened because that happened but then this happened, so therefore that happened. The hallmark of a child telling a story is something that skews closer to this happened and then this happened and then and then and then.

Once Jupiter Ascending hits about 20 minutes into its two-hour runtime, you realize its narrative edges dangerously close to the latter, and then five minutes later, it goes all the way over the cliff. Caine reveals to Jupiter that she’s of royal descent and that her children want to aggressively acquire and takeover her planetary assets, including Earth.

Except she’s not really their mother but also kind of is. And one of them wants to trick her while the other two trick each other. And there’s some convoluted and inconsistent caste system in place laid across the entirety of the spacey realm. And all of that feeds into some serious Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace-like socio-politics.

Jupiter Ascending

It is exceptionally baffling in every possible regard. Even the parts that make relative sense like the utility of genetic splicing with Earth organisms and sweet anti-gravity boots eventually come under counterattack from the rest of the film. As more of these wrinkles inexplicably spring up and push back against the established order, you see a film cannibalize itself.

Do you remember the part of The Matrix when Neo meets the Oracle and she poses a brain-tickling question: would he still have broken the vase if she hadn’t said anything? You ask yourself the same question regarding the acting in Jupiter Ascending. Normally charismatic and engaging actors like Kunis and Tatum become as interesting as celery sitting on a bed of tofu. But is it their acting or the material? It’s hard to tell.

Then there’s Eddie Redmayne who plays the eldest of Jupiter’s greedy children (and undoubtedly the most pillow-lipped). To say he’s acting would be a stretch. It’s more like he happened to say some stuff while a camera was nearby. And whether that’s directed at Redmayne himself or the script is once more debatable.

Jupiter Ascending

Potentially conflated with the potency of the acting, the discrete problems with the characters are actually easily picked out among the wreckage. Jupiter, for example, should be the hero. She fulfills the archetypal bits of being pulled out of her daily life, thrust into a foreign world, and pointed down the path of ultimate victory. But somehow she becomes little more than a waif of little agency, being led and pushed around to someone else’s success.

At the very least, it’s possible to say that Jupiter Ascending is a good-looking film. It certainly bears enough color and spectacle to distract the eye from the intellectual failings of the story, but that road quickly runs out to a dead end cliff. The visuals of confounding architecture and alien design mix up into a wholly incomprehensible blend of overly familiar and impossibly unrelatable.

Allow me to address you directly now. In my first viewing of Jupiter Ascending, a literal half of the audience walked out. In the second viewing (I’m wary about being overly critical of films without proper examination), four of the five people around me fell asleep. The narrative is impenetrable, the visuals progressively numbing, and acting on par with lukewarm water. You probably shouldn’t Jupiter Ascending.

Jupiter Ascending

+ It’s super colorful and can be fun to look at every once in a while
– Impotent acting
– Unfathomable world and opaque plot
– Passive character arcs

Final Score: 2 out of 10

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