A film review by Craig J. Koban February 13, 2015



2015, PG-13, 127 mins.


Channing Tatum as Caine  /  Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones  /  Eddie Redmayne as Balem  /  Tuppence Middleton as Kalique Abrasax  /  Sean Bean as Stinger  /  Douglas Booth as Titus  /  Jo Osmond as Droid  /  Vanessa Kirby as Katharine Dunlevy  /  Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Famulus

Written and directed by The Wachowskis


The Wachowskis, based on their past directorial resumes, are far too talented and fearlessly bold to make a film as terrible and wrongheaded as JUPITER ASCENDING.  

Yet, their newest sci-fi offering is an ungodly misfire of galactic proportions, which finally saw the light of day in theaters this past week after a fairly lengthy release delay (the makers cited more time being needed for visual effects work, but I suspect otherwise).  There is no doubt that on a level of delivering pulse-pounding action spectacle and imaginative world building, the Wachowskis are on solid ground here.  Alas, JUPITER ASCENDING is one of the most narratively incompressible, befuddling, convoluted, and unintentionally silly space operas to emerge in a long time.  It’s arguably most lavish and incredible looking bad films that I’ve ever seen. 

I’ve cherished just about everything that the sibling directors have created, from as far back as their rookie indie thriller BOUND to, yes, THE MATRIX TRILOGY.  I was one of the few supporters of SPEED RACER and thought that CLOUD ATLAS was a misunderstood masterpiece.  JUPITER ASCENDING represents the brother and sister filmmaking tandem’s attempts to return original sci-fi and big budget fantasy that helped launch their careers into the upper stratosphere with THE MATRIX.  You can certainly see their attention to the smallest of details in conjuring up JUPITER ASCENDING's galaxy spanning vistas, making the film’s sheer, unbridled ambition stand out.  Yet, the plot here is so incoherent in terms of particulars – even when characters engage in endless expository heavy dialogue scenes that explain and explain…and explain… all the particulars of the storyline – that it leads to more frustrated head scratching than full immersion. It becomes so damn difficult to decipher how characters relate to one another, what their respective motivations are, and more importantly, whether or not I should care at all about them. 



Even though the plot is an unmitigated disaster as a jumbled mess, I will try my best to distil it down: People of Earth, it seems, are not the only humanoid life in the galaxy.  In fact, life on our planet – as well as on an incalculable number of other planets across the cosmos – have been seeded by aliens, or more specifically, alien royal families.  These extra-terrestrial monarchs – that look human, by the way, and speak English, often with English accents, but never mind – harvest the most evolved state of creatures on the planets they seed (once they have achieved evolutionary perfection) to help produce a special serum that allows these royals to live forever (it’s like Solyent Green, but less edible and more of the anti-aging variety).  The most powerful clan in the galaxy, the House Abrasax, were responsible for destroying the dinosaurs on Earth and then planted their genetic material on our planet to make humans and, in turn, later harvested them for their vile cosmetic purposes (eat your heart out, Botox!).  Of course, no one on Earth is aware of this at all. 

Okay, still with me?  Good, because I’m not sure I am even still with me. 

Back on Earth we are introduced – in the film’s opening scenes – to Jupiter Jones, a Russian immigrant that was named after one familiar planet by her deceased astrologer father.  Jupiter works as a lowly maid scrubbing toilets for the rich in the U.S. to help her poor family pay the bills.  Her life has literally gone down the crapper.  Alas, what she doesn’t know is that she has been targeted by the House Abrasax for termination.  It appears that when the matriarch of Abrasax died her children – Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas Booth) -  begin squabbling over the inheritance, and they all see Jupiter as integral to their plans.  Whereas Balem sends his goon squad to Chicago to kill Jupiter, Titus hires a – ahem! – half-wolf/half-man genetically engineered warrior (or in SPACEBALLS lingo…a Mawg) to help protect Jupiter from Balem’s assassins.  And then Jupiter learns, along the way, that she may be the genetic reincarnation the House Abrasax mother…and…and…I’ve just gone cross-eyed. 

There is so much bloody explaining in JUPITER ASCENDING.  Multiple characters talk about their cultures, their histories, their relationships to one another, and how Earth relates to them and back and forth and…sigh…you are left needing to feverously jot everything down in shorthand just to keep up and make sense of it.  Nearly the first half of the film desperately and pathetically tries to introduce, establish, and then clarify what House Abrasax wants to do with Jupiter and how she holds all of the power.  I have no inherent problem with labyrinthine-like narratives, but the Wachowskis handle the limitless density of their inherent material without much grace, tact, or apparent game plan. The film’s story feels like it’s being made up as it goes, even after we are forced to endure scene after scene of characters relaying how an alien dynasty want to force Jupiter to sign over the property deed to Earth so they can kill her, harvest her energy, and make themselves indefinitely young looking…or something…I dunno. 

The casting in the film is another humdinger of a problem.  Firstly, Mila Kunis – an endlessly likeable actress – is rarely convincing as an action hero here, nor does she feel remotely plausible as a downtrodden and impoverished maid.  When the script feebly tries to assert her character as some sort of kick-ass heroine, it then takes an egregious 180-degree turn and reverts her back to a damsel-in-distress.  Tatum fares no better, replete with prosthetic Spock-like ears, a blonde goatee, and about as much charm as a corpse.  He emotes as little as possible in the film and exudes very little, if any, tangible chemistry with Kunis, outside of exchanging longing, puppy dog-like (sorry) glances.  Then there’s Redmayne, who gave probably the performance of 2014 as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, playing JUPITER ASCENDING’s baddie with shrill-like whispers akin to someone that had his tonsils ripped out.  When he’s not frustratingly murmuring his lines nine times out of ten, he freakishly screams out like a drama queen on an obnoxious reality TV show.  Balem never once comes off as a legitimately frightening protagonist because of Redmayne’s hilariously schizophrenic performance; it's the stuff that Razzies are made for dubiously honoring. 

The saving grace of JUPITER ASCENDING?  Yeah, it’s pretty.  The Wachowskis gathered together much of their MATRIX production team (including visual effects designer John Gaeta and production designer Hugh Bateup) to craft a stupendous looking and richly detailed space odyssey to rival the best of them (the costumes and at direction are superlatively Oscar calibre).  Some of the film’s action sequences are momentarily breathtaking, such as an extended aerial dogfight, so to speak, involving Caine (with Jupiter in tow) zipping through the Chicago skyline, evading alien pursuers, while utilizing specialized anti-gravity hover boots that make him skate on air (nifty).  The overall attention to crafting the film’s otherworldly cultures, costumes, alien races, creatures, and so forth rivals anything George Lucas ever did in his prime.   

Like STAR WARS before it, JUPITER ASCENDING tries to borrow from and homogenize many divergent elements from past sci-fi and fantasy classics to create its own mythology.  The Wachowskis don’t shy away from liberally borrowing from movies as far ranging as DUNE, FLASH GORDON, and BRAZIL (Terry Gilliam even makes a cameo) in some instances (that, and a lot of STAR WARS, of course).  Yet, the manner that they marry together these ingredients along with a plot that’s so unfocused, so meandering, so confusing, and so carelessly overstuffed all but derails the film as a whole.  I don’t think that I’ve seen a more bafflingly ill conceived, big budget studio space fantasy than this film.  

And by the way, JUPITER ASCENDING is also the only sci-fi flick ever to have someone – in deadpanned stoicism – proclaim to the title character, “Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty.”   


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