Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Jupiter Ascending is a cinematic marvel, if only because it’s such a blundering misfire on a narrative and emotional level. While the prominent special effects are often exciting and altogether well-produced, the story surrounding them resembles a toddler who plays with toys and dreams up a story full of twists and turns without any character development or foreshadowing. Unlike the filmmakers’ brilliant, toweringly ambitious Cloud Atlas or even the zippy Speed Racer, the writer-director-producer siblings have assembled a misguided assortment of storytelling clichés. At times, there are hints of the film aiming for Star Trek-level ensemble space exploration, with other times feeling like it borrows the best of Star Wars and other space capers. There’s no semblance of an original voice, theme, or message. It’s a vapid film with miscast leads and an even campier, more awful turn from Eddie Redmayne as the soft-talking villain. It’s an overblown, exasperated take that epitomizes the film’s misjudgments from inception.
The film follows a young destitute maid named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis). Her father loved astronomy and, after his unfortunate passing, her mother succumbed to his wishes and named her after his favorite planet. Jupiter lives with her Russian family, starting the film with narration talking about her being an “illegal alien” (cue obvious metaphor). While preparing for a medical donation, she has a run-in with Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a half-Lycan half-human that travels across space to protect whom he considers a special woman. Jupiter finds out through him that she may have the exact same DNA coding as a famous queen from another race of humans (bear with me, here). Her genes could be a “recurrence,” as the film names them, a quasi-form of cloning that links itself to the Abrasax family. The arrogant, power-hungry brother at the helm of their dynasty is Balem (Eddie Redmayne), who wants Jupiter captured from Earth so that he can mine the world for their resources. In this case, that means human lives. That leads to another long-winded metaphor surrounding natural resources and presumably genocide, but the editing makes for a muddled film with even more confused thoughts, characters, locales, and motivations.
It’s shocking how inept Jupiter Ascending becomes over time, a solid explanation for Warner Brothers’ decision to delay the film from a late summer release to work on improving special effects and more. That “more” are probably a trimmed running time, more linear narrative, and the ensuing hodgepodge. It doesn’t feel like the same type of film from the people behind Cloud Atlas, which was also a box office disappointment for Warner Bros. despite a tremendous cast. With leads like Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis, their latest should be a resounding success. Yet it’s tracking poorly amongst younger viewers and doesn’t even have a discernible set of characters, which becomes more apparent with its thin supporting crew and a significantly weaker thematic pull. The film is simply thin on narrative meaning and full of repetitive special effects. No matter how compelling they may look, they don’t drive the story. There are shreds of a longer, more ambitious narrative here, but Jupiter Ascending testifies that the Wachowskis were given far too much freedom in a narrative that falls flat on its head.
Grade: ★½ (out of 5)