Review of “Jupiter Ascending”

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) works in the family house cleaning business. She wakes up before dawn and spends her day scrubbing the toilets in the homes of the rich. At night, she goes home to her extended family that shares a home. Jupiter, named after the largest planet by her father who died years earlier in a robbery, hates her life and yearns for something more. Her cousin Vladie (Kick Gurry) also wants a better life and concocts a scheme to sell Jupiter’s eggs to a fertility clinic for $15,000 with a third of that going to Jupiter. With the money, she plans on buying a brass telescope that was just like her father’s. At the clinic, the doctors and nurses ignore Jupiter’s pleas to stop the procedure and slap bracelets on her ankles and wrists that cause her to float above the bed. Freaked out, Jupiter struggles but can’t get away. The doctors, who are actually genetically modified creatures called messengers, check Jupiter’s DNA and then try to kill her. Bursting into the procedure room is Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a former military officer in an otherworldly army, flying around the room with boots that defy gravity. Caine saves Jupiter and takes her to the top of a skyscraper in Chicago. Caine explains he has been sent to retrieve Jupiter and bring her to Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth), a member of a powerful family that controls most of the galaxy. Jupiter is confused and doesn’t understand what’s going on but has an innate trust of Caine who explains his DNA has been spliced with a wolf-like creature, giving him enhanced senses and amplified bravery. As the pair is being lifted up to a ship floating above the skyscraper, smaller fighter ships attack and destroy the larger ship, causing Caine and Jupiter to fall. Caine’s gravity boots save them but they are chased through the skies over Chicago by the ships flown by messengers. Caine is able to take over one of the ships and manages to destroy the others but his ship is damaged beyond repair as well. Stealing a car, they head out to a run-down farmhouse that is the home of Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), a former soldier Caine knows. After a bit of a disagreement between the two men, bees begin to fly around Jupiter but they don’t sting her. She seems to be able to control them with hand gestures. Caine and Stinger begin to refer to Jupiter as “your Majesty” as it appears she is royalty of the interstellar variety. The farmhouse is attacked by bounty hunters and messengers looking for Jupiter. She is captured and taken to a planet to meet Kalique Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton), sister to Titus, who informs Jupiter she has the identical genetic code as her mother who died many years earlier. This code entitles her to claim the throne and take over the galaxy-wide corporation currently run by the Titus, Kalique and their brother Balem (Eddie Redmayne), the oldest of the three. Balem has designs on being the sole leader of the family corporation and will stop at nothing to make sure Jupiter is killed.

A synopsis of the first 30 minutes of the movie would, if complete, probably be three or four times longer than above. The Wachowski siblings have stuffed “Jupiter Ascending” to the absolute gills with political intrigue, familial shenanigans and genetic manipulation. It also is a film that is absolutely gorgeous to look at and seems to have a fully realized history that leads to the events in the film. There are stunning landscapes of alien worlds, ornate spaceships that more closely resemble palaces and unique creatures of the CGI variety that are seamlessly integrated with the live action. All the ingredients are here for a spectacular space opera so I wonder where that movie is? “Jupiter Ascending” is far more style than it is substance.

Let’s start with the positives: “Jupiter Ascending” is a visual feast that is actually worth the added price of 3D. Battle sequences in space and above Chicago insert the audience in the center of the action so thoroughly you may have to look away for a moment to avoid vertigo or nausea. The added depth of field gives the more frenetic sequences enough visual cues, allowing the audience to keep up. The one exception to this is a flying fight between two characters late in the film; otherwise, following the action is usually pretty easy aided in part by the tendency to slow the action way down so we can enjoy all the acrobatics. The designs of both the larger space cruisers and the smaller fighter craft are unique and eye catching. Parts of the ships are unconnected to the main body but act as if they are physically attached. They often look like shiny insects as they make quick maneuvers in battle. There are beautiful worlds we visit for far too short a time. Majestic castles soar into the alien skies with architecture both familiar and foreign. Technologies that are impossible now (and probably forever) dazzle the audience with wonders like floors that can become transparent at the wave of a hand, personal protective shields to fend off attack and the previously mentioned gravity boots. The Wachowski’s and their collaborators have given a huge amount of thought to how these different worlds work and it shows. As the characters discuss the issues brought up in the film, it feels like there is a significant amount of history in the background that has led everyone to this point. Some of that history is mentioned in the film but there must be a great deal more we know nothing about. The whole idea of humanity being seeded on Earth a million years ago by an advanced humanoid race has been suggested before in part by those who believe we are not alone and were too backward in the distant past to build the Egyptian pyramids or draw the Nazca Lines in Peru. While it makes for an interesting plot device for a movie, it seems unlikely to have any basis in reality. It is the story which seems to have a heavy dose of realistic motives for the antagonists where “Jupiter Ascending” begins to fall apart.

The plot can be boiled down to a power struggle within a family-owned company and the lengths the siblings will go to in order to secure control over the operation. There is nothing about this story that engenders any real interest. For me, it was just the thing I had to sit through to get to the next action/special effects scene. While the outcome of the fight would decide the fates of billions of intelligent beings, it wasn’t presented with enough emotion or passion to make me care. It reminded me of the plot of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” which used a trade war and the imposition of tariffs to set the ball rolling toward what we get in Episodes IV-VI. At least in the Star Wars prequels, the trade war was actually a smoke screen for what was really happening under the surface. There is nothing under the surface of “Jupiter Ascending” other than the fight for control of the family business. It all seems very petty and trivial as the basis for a massive space opera. Another part of the story that didn’t work was the growing affection between Jupiter and Caine. While they are both very attractive people, their characters have no chemistry. The way her part is written, Jupiter acts more like a school girl with a crush on the quarterback than a woman truly falling in love. While Channing Tatum is very good in the action scenes and when he’s interacting with Jupiter and other characters to move the plot forward, he seems to not know what to do when Kunis is playing all lovey dovey. Their romantic interactions are more embarrassing than emotional.

Another problem with the film is the performance of Eddie Redmayne as Balem. While the characters of his brother and sister behave in a fairly normal way, Balem uses a husky, bored-sounding speaking style. I guess he’s supposed to be acting as if he’s above everyone else and making sure all know who the boss is. It comes off a bit creepy and silly. I’m sure Redmayne was doing what he was told to do by the Wachowski’s and probably agreed with the affected style of Balem’s speech and attitude; but it was taken way too far. Balem likes to punctuate his intentions by yelling at times to express his anger or impatience while the rest of the time he sounds like he’s about to run out of breath. It is an off-putting performance that sticks out like a sore thumb.

“Jupiter Ascending” is rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity. We see several people shot with ray guns. There is the occasional blood splatter when the aliens get hit. There is a long battle scene between Caine and a flying lizard creature that gets a tiny bit gory. There are a couple of fights between spaceships that are often incredibly fast moving. There is a scene where a woman is shown walking around in her bra and panties. We also get a brief glimpse of a naked backside. Foul language is widely scattered.

“Jupiter Ascending” is a feast for the eyes but a famine for the mind. It relies far too much on spectacular visuals and lets the story languish in a meaningless business struggle. Truly spectacular space dramas have to be rooted in some kind of easily understandable and emotionally charged story that could be told as a western, a war movie or any other genre. While MBA’s may enjoy the story, the rest of us will be stuck with what might have been.

“Jupiter Ascending” gets three stars out of five.

Three new movies offer a wide range of options for Valentine’s Day dates. I’ll see and review one and let you know if you should spend your cash to buy a ticket.

Fifty Shades of Grey—

Kingsman: The Secret Service—

Old Fashioned—

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