Review: Jupiter Ascending

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 9 February 2015
Category: Reviews
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In Jupiter Ascending a cleaning lady discovers that her destiny extends beyond buckets and brooms... all the way to the stars. Before she can claim her birthright, however, she'll have to navigate bureaucracy and betrayal with the help of a lone wolf(man).

Jupiter AscendingJupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a naturalised American, the daughter of a Russian immigrant, whose family has a cleaning business in which she's fully immersed (it had to be said) but then science-fiction action and adventure finds her and, long story short, it turns out that she's the genetic reincarnation of the matriarch of the powerful Abrasax family, which seeds, rules, and harvests planets in the universe for profit and, oh, she's entitled to a slice, which happens to be (or include?) Earth. Unfortunately there are three siblings belonging to the House of Abrasax who have personal interests at odds with this new development. Chaos ensues.

Although the story seems to set up Jupiter for the hero's journey, which would be a small, yet welcome change to a very tired trope and, for the first time in ages (bar Gravity), give us a female science-fiction action lead to root for, the character soon falls into the writing trap of another, more modern filmmaking trope, the strong female character with nothing to do (although I'd actually argue that here she's more the insipid lead female character with nothing to do).

Jupiter Ascending

Instead of grabbing her destiny and, I wish, occasionally smacking a few people in the face with the fancy industrialised tablets that everyone's holding, Jupiter, literally, becomes a pawn in the siblings' games, shunted around between their realms at their whims, with no agency of her own, to be used as a tool for their capitalist ambitions - one needs her alive, a second needs her dead, and a third needs her alive and then dead to manipulate markets and inheritances in their respective favours. She very rarely does anything but allow them to lead her around their manifestations of opulence, which are nothing more than excuses for costume changes that - creepily to the point that Jupiter herself eventually comments on it - tend to happen while she's asleep or unconscious as a result of the conclusion of an action sequence.

Her repeated knight in shining armour in every predicament is Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a defective genetically engineered warrior (he has "lycan" in him and is supposedly half albino, whatever that means). He's a loner with a holographic power shield and fancy hovershoes that allow him to "skate" on air, at any height, and therefore perform cool stunt manoeuvres that form the heart of the action sequences and his badass warriorness. He's initially presented as a bit of a bland support character but it soon becomes apparent that he is the hero on the hero's journey. Jupiter is just the catalyst for his story.

Jupiter Ascending

The action is quite fun and technology was developed to allow the film-makers to film the actors and the stuntmen in the aerial sequences rather than use CGI doubles. The difference is remarkable: there's a scene towards the end of the film where a CGI human is used (pictured above) and the animation is utterly terrible. I kept thinking about how this technology would benefit The Silver Surfer if they ever give him a decent movie to appear in but that's an aside, however it's indicative of how my mind kept wandering during the screening. Since we're on a tangent I may as well also point out here that there's absolutely no reason to see this movie in 3D.

Jupiter Ascending

The set and costume designs are lavish, detailed, and fascinating but also overwhelming in some aspects, with too much to look at and not enough time. Unfortunately much of the incredible production design is decimated by the scourge of modern filmmaking, orange and teal. It feels as though someone in an editing suite flipped the switch to 200% because I have never seen a movie so badly drenched in this palette. It was nauseating and marred some really good visuals and action sequences. There were a few scenes in which a different palette was chosen (red, cream, and blue, for example, in one, although the teal still crept in in some spots) but they just served to make the transition back to teal and orange even more jarring.

Jupiter Ascending

Another problem is that Mila Kunis brings absolutely no emotion to the role, and little acting ability. Admittedly, there isn't much for her to do with it in the first place but there are scenes that call for fear or desire (there's more than one cringeworthy scene in which Jupiter tries to seduce Caine - or something...) and she's just going through the motions but bringing nothing visceral to it. There's also some particularly bad acting towards the end when she's running from explosions and it looks more like an inept teenager in a stage play feigning a sense of danger where there is, of course, none to be found - which is what acting is supposed to be for. Channing Tatum, on the other hand, though also given very little to work with besides being the action centrepiece in every scene (shirtless, naturally, in one) somehow manages to bring gravitas to some of the more intimate scenes and basically is the entire chemistry between the two of them. (I had a moment during one of them when I thought to myself "He actually can act!")

Jupiter Ascending

The film very cleverly works some of our modern mythologies concerning grey aliens and crop circles into the story. Some of it is suitably terrifying but the awkward attempts at humour likely included in the movie to counterbalance what is a very heavy tone at times (especially after Jupiter makes her costume-change observation, which just gave the entire movie an unintended rapey subtext that really wasn't needed) fall flat. That's probably because this shouldn't be a movie with humour in it. Sporadic dialogue tends to be mistimed (or just delivered by people who can't deliver humour successfully and/or edited by people who don't understand comedic timing) and there's one completely out of place "comedic" scene, which is apparently an homage to Brazil (and comes complete with a cameo by Terry Gilliam) and has a certain A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy sensibility. All of it is backed by a very light score that sounds like it was pulled out of the pile of leftovers from an early Harry Potter film and which is utterly incompatible with the rest of the score's heavy orchestral and choral leanings (which is quite beautiful in places, and all by Michael Giacchino).

Jupiter Ascending

The tone and pacing of this scene is completely at odds with the rest of the movie and would have been better pulled out of it entirely and rather presented as a standalone short on the DVD release as a fun extra. The only positive that it offers is to show that the larger world isn't sterile opulence, as would seem to be the case if you only get to see the siblings' realms, but is rather bogged down by millennia of exponentially multiplying bureaucracy, overpopulation, and accumulations of stuff (and people) that's just become collected and settled in corners and rooms and basement offices. The characters inhabiting this scene, many of whom are humans genetically spliced with other kinds of animal DNA, as, apparently, is all the rage, are also a decent counterpoint to the bored, emotionless, robotic personas of the members of the House Of Abrasax who have lived lives that have been far too long while powered by hearts seemingly made of steel. It still just doesn't work, however.

Jupiter Ascending

The only delight for me in this mess of a film was the crew of the Aegis ("the space police"), which seems to be an official, organised, structured, and militaristic force that somehow still maintains a ragtag quality and comprises a bunch of individual personalities whose mere presence in a scene (many didn't even have lines) seemed to offer more character development than what we saw for most of the main cast. I kept wanting the film to be about these characters and their adventures instead of whatever the hell was actually going on. They act as a support service to Caine and his mentor Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), who has fallen from grace and is looking to redeem himself by assisting Caine, but they don't get nearly enough screen time. The crew is also particularly representative of the diverse cast that is to be found throughout the movie in the supporting characters (sadly not the main cast), which is probably one of the reasons why the team seems so interesting.

Jupiter Ascending

The ending was particularly dissatisfying to me, though I can't discuss it here without spoilers, suffice to say that if I was Jupiter and the story ended the way it does I'd be restless, irked, frustrated, and liable to go mad within a year due to having the ability to do everything and the power to do nothing.

Jupiter Ascending is by The Wachowskis, who (perhaps unfortunately) have a legacy to live up to as the creators of Bound and The Matrix and directors of the highly underrated Cloud Atlas. They have also manifested some cinematic duds that are best forgotten - and this is one of them. The film is a great premise completely decimated by inept filmmaking choices. It's doubly depressing because this is one of very few original movies that has been released recently - the rest being sequels or reboots, which is tiresome yet seems not to be ending anytime soon. As an audience we deserve something better than what Hollywood has been dishing up. Sadly this isn't it. The film is beautiful to look at and reasonably entertaining, especially during the action sequences, but, overall, it's just not very good.

Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending is written by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, is directed by The Wachowskis, and stars Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Nikki Amuka-Bird, and Christina Cole.

The review screening was courtesy of Times Media Films. Jupiter Ascending opened worldwide on Friday.


Tags: #screen, #speculative_fiction



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