If there is one thing that has always been consistent with the Wachowski siblings, its that they are not afraid to bite off way more than they can chew. Their ambitions are incredulously high, even if everything else isn’t quite up to snuff. Movies like Cloud Atlas and The Matrix might be great films, but ambitions still outweigh the delivered content. I mean, The Matrix was so lofty in its goals that they made it into a trilogy. Jupiter Ascending cements the Wachowskis as a duo that reach for the stars but have a difficult time finding them in the midst of constellations.
The story for Jupiter Ascending has a difficult time finding its place until near its conclusion when the world-building finally starts paying off. As we join the film, Earth is preparing to be “harvested” by the House of Abrasax, as they also fight for ownership of the planet between each other. Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth), and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) are all vying for their deceased mother’s inheritance. A foil in the plan is revealed when earthling Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is found to be the rightful heir. However, she’s stuck on Earth cleaning toilets and selling her eggs for money.
The story is very rote, but has some interesting plot points that make it more interesting even if it all leads to a predictable conclusion. The painful parts of the story come in when Caine (Channing Tatum) arrives on Earth to save Jupiter from a bounty on her head. He gets some help from Stinger (Sean Bean) and then the film decides it wants to have plot twist after plot twist. Hostage situations start piling up, with Caine constantly being forced to save Jupiter, who winds up a damsel in distress more often than as royalty.
If there is one element of the Wachowski film that needs severe work almost every time, it is the love story. Constantly they try to force a relationship into their films when it doesn’t feel earned. In Jupiter Ascending, they don’t even try to let it blossom. The relationship is shoved awkwardly into the first half of the film, making Kunis and Tatum try to maintain sexual tension for an exorbitant amount of time – when they’re not too busy having Tatum save Jupiter so as to let the viewer know “Look how much he cares!”.
Stilted dialogue and painful attempts at jokes hinder the film from being more than just a light-hearted affair. Mila Kunis is exceptionally miscast and really stands out as just plain and boring. Especially when you have Eddie Redmayne stealing every single scene he is in with the most over-the-top, absurd line deliveries. He seems absolutely dehydrated throughout most of the film, and at random times he yells at people. It is exactly what I wanted from this film because its initial premise is hard to take seriously.
The real problem is that Kunis is just there to ask the questions that the audience is asking. Even worse, she sometimes translates all the science jargon into the most simplified and easy-to-understand sentences. I understand that there is an accessibility issue that the Wachowskis are trying to address, but its when they don’t address it that I get excited for their films. Cloud Atlas refused to explain to people what was happening until the very end with such a loose explanation. But that was the exciting part of the film. They transported you into a world (and a timeline) that felt alive. A lot of Jupiter Ascending‘s exposition and layman translations make you feel like an outsider looking in.
But setting all of those caveats aside, Jupiter Ascending is incredible. It’s not an amazing film, and it certainly has a lot of flaws. But everything about it is incredibly detailed and fleshed out, with world-building delivered in such a unique way. Things start off clunky and then just feel commonplace in no time. The movie introduces so many cool elements and visually gorgeous scenery that it is impossible to look at the film and not see the craftsmanship put into it. That ambition is now why I go to Wachowski films. They might have severe faults in them, but I’ll be damned if they are not entertaining to just watch. They make popcorn flicks feel like so much more than just something you see for the spectacle. With Jupiter Ascending, you’re watching the spectacle and the making-of.
It is a really difficult feeling to express in anything other than raw emotion, but Jupiter Ascending does so many extraordinary things with such a terrible script, a boring plot, and some bad acting. It has characters that all feel familiar in the worst way possible. And sure, it may have a lot of borrowed elements from so many other science fiction properties, but what it does with them is worth the mash-up.
I’m not commending Jupiter Ascending‘s problems, or even saying that they should be forgiven and swept under the rug. But it is a film that feels awkward and stilted right up until it lets go and dives straight into the science fiction nonsense. That is why I enjoyed this movie far more than I probably should. You can see the passion and ambition slowly overtaking the problems of the film. By the time the third act hit, I was invested in the world. My only hope is that someday they will have me invested in both the world and the characters.