Today’s Accompaniment: Music by Michael Giacchino, who scored this movie.
Oh Jupiter Ascending, you’re certainly a difficult film to write about. You are a very interesting, weird, ambitious movie. You are also kind of a mess. It leaves me very conflicted.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m not biased towards the brother and sister combo of Lana and Andy Wachowski. Even if they had only made The Matrix they could probably have gained goodwill from me forever, but they didn’t stop there. They continued to create interesting and ever more ambitious work. They never created anything as tight and polished as The Matrix and there’s a high chance that they never will, but what they have created leads me to name them as the two most creative people in Hollywood.
Their work seems to be generally divisive, to say the least. I definitely err on the side of their films essentially working. I understand the common thought that films like Cloud Atlas or Speed Racer are tonally all over the place, but it’s that complete disregard of anything resembling normalcy that makes them really special for me. I mean, Cloud Atlas is one of those films where I feel that its detractors will be proven wrong by time.
The fact that this film is weird doesn’t really feel like the issue here to me. I’m okay with weird. It might have turned off a few critics but I am fully on board with suspending my disbelief in the name of a good old space opera. Wolf men with skating boots that work on gravity instead of ice? Yeah alright. Intergalactic crop rotation using humans as seeds to fuel some kind of philosophers stone and make people immortal? I’m down with that. Sean Bean not dying in a film? Okay that might be stretching it a little bit (har har, cliched joke).
No, the problem is not how weird it is, although as is probably obvious by now, it’s very weird. The problem is that the narrative doesn’t go very far and repeats itself to the point that the film just doesn’t work.
The film’s narrative centers around Jupiter Jones (yes, really) played by Mila Kunis, who finds out she is genetically identical to the leader of a dynasty known as the Abrasax family. This, by virtue of the culture’s custom, makes her the heir to the family fortune, which just so happens to include Earth.The plot follows her as she is pulled around the galaxy (without any real autonomy for the most) by the three siblings of the Abrasax family, who would be the conventional heirs to the fortune, in a more conventional tale.
As such the plot can basically be split into three parts. She gets somehow forced to meet one of the siblings, gets away, repeat until 2 hours have gone by. This fundamentally doesn’t work because the lives of these siblings and the lifestyle they lead is basically the same. You don’t actually get to learn anything about the universe these people are living in, so it all feels terribly shallow, and it should be repeated that during this time she doesn’t really make any decisions and she is repeatedly saved by Channing Tatum’s character of Caine. She is mainly just paraded around from situation to situation.
The main part that feels like the most excessive bit of wastage is the scenes including Douglas Booth. The whole section of the movie where he tries to marry Mila Kunis could be cut out of the movie and you wouldn’t really have to change much. It’s strange to me that this didn’t get left on the cutting room floor when the film as a whole feels so disjointed.
Despite Caine constantly saving Jupiter, it feels like Tatum has barely anything to do here. His character is completely devoid of anything resembling a personality, and he has basically no chemistry with Mila Kunis.
Don’t even get me started on Eddie Redmayne. I feel like he was trying to create this classic ultra campy villain but it just doesn’t work at all. Not even close, honestly. It ends up feeling so out of place with the rest of the character, who don’t really have any personality at all. Maybe in a different movie this would have worked.
The film that this most reminds me of is The Matrix: Revolutions. People cite that it was confusing as the reason that it wasn’t a very good film but that wasn’t really the issue with me. The issue was that it spent far too much time on the fight in Zion that I had great difficulty caring about. Plot economy is clearly something the Wachowskis don’t excel at.
Things get a little brighter when you look at some of the production values: The film looks incredible, and I’m assuming this is where most of the budget went. I feel like there was some odd green screen work near the beginning but it doesn’t amount to much. From a visual perspective there isn’t much to fault. This helps with the action, Channing Tatum zipping along with his gravity boots never got old for me.
I also quite liked the score, and if you clicked the link at the start of the review, then you’re now probably well aware of how good Giacchino is. it’s that usual brand of choirs and brass instruments that makes every big moment feel suitably epic. It’s not his best work but it works well enough here.
This all ends up with Jupiter Jones beating Eddie Redmayne with a iron bar and keeping her ownership of the Earth. This is, admittedly, really cool. It’s too little, too late, but it’s cool nonetheless. She then gets to go home and have a real Wizard of Oz moment, where Jupiter becomes content with her role as a cleaner with her family and begins to embrace her life. That’s fine, and I get it conceptually, but it feels different than Dorothy’s actions in Wizard of Oz because while she goes home, these families are still out there harvesting planets for their life force. It’s like if The Wizard of Oz himself was actually a mass murderer and Dorothy just went home and left the lollipop guild and all her new friends to die. They may not be able to take the earth right now because it is owned by Jupiter, but nothing stops them from just waiting until she dies. They’re basically immortal, she is not. Redmayne’s psychotic character may be dead but the other two siblings are still alive and just as manipulative. Nothing is really solved but the characters seem to think there is. The ending really didn’t click for me for that reason.
Jupiter Ascending doesn’t work. Ultimately the film is an example of lost potential. There’s a lot of things here that would have made a great film, but the narrative is muddled, lacks propulsion and anything resembling a structure. They tried to tell a grand space opera but it all ended up falling flat. But still, I hope they never stop trying.