Jupiter Ascending: Gradual Ascent, Catastrophic Descent
What’s A Geek reviews Jupiter Ascending, a space opera written and directed by The Wachowskis. Don’t hit the jump if you don’t want to get spoiled.
Jupiter Ascending follows the story of Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), daughter of an astrophysicist father and an applied mathematician mother living in Russia. Unfortunately, her father is killed in a random robbery while she is still in her mother’s womb, and is then born on a cargo ship on the Atlantic Ocean bound for the United States. We next see her all grown up, working as a cleaning lady together with her mother. As it turns out, however, she is the perfect genetic recurrence (or reincarnation, if you will) of one of the most powerful and influential space tycoons in the known galaxy, which makes her both their universe’s version of royalty and the unwitting target of said tycoon’s three children, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas Booth) Abrasax. Titus sends a disgraced ex-soldier-turned-mercenary named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) to fetch Jupiter before his siblings get to her, kicking off the events of the rest of the movie.
Jupiter Ascending is, quite frankly, a visual marvel. The set-pieces are elaborate and beautiful, whether they are located in Chicago, a hidden base in the middle of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter (yes, the planet), gigantic space military bases, or the interiors of ships both big and small. You can watch the movie fully knowing that almost everything is CGI, but, aside from the shiny, shiny tech and the anthropomorphic lizards, mice and what have you, your eyes could be forgiven for being fooled that what they’re watching is reality. The fight choreography is also excellent; I, at least, found myself on the edge of my seat several times, almost against my will. From a purely technical, eye-candy standpoint, Jupiter Ascending is a masterpiece.
In most other filmmaking aspects, however, the movie is an unsalvageable shipwreck.
Let’s begin with the story. Jupiter grows up to become a househelp in the US, scrubbing rich Chicagoans’ toilets and going home to an extended family composed of stereotypical Russians (one cousin is a shill, an uncle a mobster, they live in a house where they argue loudly at the dinner table over borscht, et cetera). She is then “rescued” from this life, to the tune of much space fighter gunfire and to the sorrow of those working in Chicago high-rises, by some sort of man-wolf hybrid who sniffed her across the galaxy (not a joke), who she then promptly falls in love with. Due to the machinations of Caine’s fellow ex-soldier Stinger Apini (Sean Bean, and no, he doesn’t die this time), Jupiter is successfully spirited off-world. She is then used as a pawn by Kalique and then Titus, with Balem outright trying to kill her all throughout. With the help of her now-lover, she of course triumphs over the opposition, to happily go back home to her life of… cleaning toilets. But with a space boyfriend!
What was irksome about this movie was that, when you subtract the amazing visual spectacle from the equation, the movie really does become quite as trite and corny as I made it sound. The dialogue in this movie was excruciatingly bad, and it didn’t help that almost every actor in this movie apparently decided to mail in their performance. Mila Kunis was absolutely unconvincing as Jupiter, and failed throughout the movie to portray the wide-eyed wonder that seemed to have been written for her to deliver, instead coming across as just plain airheaded and slow. Channing Tatum was great when he didn’t need to talk, and actually seemed to be having fun during all the action sequences, but his performance was otherwise bland and uninspired.
The Jupiter-Caine romance, in particular, was terrible. There was almost no discernible romantic chemistry of any sort between Kunis and Tatum; in fact, the only time it worked was when Jupiter asked Caine to repeat himself when he called her “Your Majesty”, Kunis’ seemingly natural naughtiness glimpsing through before being snuffed out by more banality.
For me, the best parts of the dialogue were the parts where Tatum and Bean engage in banter as Caine and Stinger, which is a sad commentary on the state of the script considering there was nothing particularly good about the acting there; it just happened to be the least stilted. Eddie Redmayne was reduced to a particularly hammy villain, lacking in refinement and subtlety, which is particularly jarring considering his work on The Theory of Everything.
As I was watching the movie, a recurring thought kept nagging at me: isn’t the damsel-in-distress schtick getting old? We see a character, for whom the movie is named in such a manner that you would expect a Bildungsroman, who then gets shoved into dangerous situation after dangerous situation while barely exercising any agency of her own throughout. Jupiter Ascending is a deceptive title because someone not named Jupiter was doing the ascending for her the whole time. Jupiter was thrust into so many incidents where her only salvation lay in rescue (by Caine, of course) that you almost forget that she is supposed to be the genetic reincarnation of a massively wealthy tycoon who wrote said reincarnation into her will. The only decision of consequence she does make, she makes at the end of the movie, and leads to, you guessed it, a rescue situation.
Disenfranchising a potentially powerful lead is a regrettable decision from a scriptwriting standpoint (if in fact that was the intention of The Wachowskis) because Mila Kunis is one of the most action girl-y women in Hollywood today. Perhaps that’s why her performance, and the whole romance angle, seemed so lifeless. I would at least like to cling to the belief that it was a form of rebellion against the script.
Towards the end of the movie, Jupiter is beating Balem with a pipe. The look on Jupiter’s face as she knocks Balem off a platform and to his death, with explosions in the background and a swelling, ominous score, was positively rapturous. I thought, hey finally, this is the Jupiter I paid to see.
Ten minutes later, the movie was over.
Rating: 2/5 stars
Images (c) Warner Bros.