There was a lot of hype about this movie, as it’s directed by the Wachowskis, who directed The Matrix back in 1999. That’s really been their only solid movie though, so expectations were pretty low. And to add to that, they delayed the movie. It was supposed to come out last summer but they delayed til February, which is usually when horrific movies come out without much competition (so therefore Jupiter Ascending might have a better chance at doing well).
The gist. Mila Kunis stars a housecleaner living a tough life and struggling financially when she is suddenly thrown into the middle of a galactic war over the control of Earth. It turns out there are three siblings who control all habitable planets (basically) and they’re fighting over the possession of Earth when it’s discovered that Kunis’ character is essentially a reincarnation of their mother, who wrote into her will that her future reincarnation shall control Earth. So the three siblings try to persuade and ally with Kunis’ Jupiter. Why do they want Earth? That’s one of the few enjoyable reveals in the movie so you can wait for that.
Channing Tatum shows up as a former-military bounty hunter kind of character that was sent by one of the siblings to bring in Jupiter. He’s said to be a genetic splice of a human and a wolf to create the ultimate warrior but it really just looks like he has elf ears glued on. Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones) appears in a few scenes but is mostly forgettable. The villain of the film is the oldest son in the sibling trio, played by Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything).
With their film experience, you’d expect the Wachowskis to deliver some solid action. And in moments, they do. While it may not always look stellar, the action scenes are at least unique, mostly due to some of the technology created. Tatum’s character has these rollerblade boots that allow him to essentially skate through the air. This is sometimes ridiculous, but it allows for some unique moments.
There are some performances that are a little intense and almost laughable, but I don’t blame the talent. Both Tatum and Redmayne commit fully to their roles but the directing team didn’t always manage that talent effectively.
What didn’t work?
Imagine you ask some kid to write a science fiction story. They would make up ridiculous names for everyone, they’d mesh together things that shouldn’t be meshed together, and they’d create action setpieces because they might look cool. And then imagine you ask a studio to make that movie but they somehow fail, even though they had millions of dollars and some stellar talent. That is Jupiter Ascending.
Let’s start with the script. The dialogue is atrocious, mostly due to the fact that so many foreign concepts are used that you have to use every line for exposition. “I’m a ___,” says Channing Tatum. “What’s that?” asked Mila Kunis. And then a five-minute explanation. And then he says something else that’s a weird made-up name and then has to explain it to her. The whole movie is basically people trying to explain this world and this story to Mila Kunis.
Also the story suffers from horrible pacing. The Matrix worked because immediately Neo was drawn into that world. Here, we spend a good 30-minutes or so just watching Kunis clean bathrooms and complain about her stressful and horrible life. Even after the action starts, there are huge lulls in the story and the movie is a little long for the amount of content.
While our talent is all pretty notable, Mila Kunis stands out as being 1.) uninteresting and 2.) completely and utterly helpless. Other reviewers have noted this before me but Kunis’ Jupiter can only go about 15 minutes without needing someone to save her. It’s ridiculous. And even if the writing here was a little different, Kunis still appears almost disinterested in the story completely.
Let’s talk visuals. I said the action was unique but it doesn’t always look good. Some green-screen is atrocious, the CGI is overused, and some character design is just offensively bad. There are these dragon-lizard things that look like they’re from a videogame. One girl has giant mouse ears for no reason. Overall, this brings me back to my comparison to a young boy’s science fiction story. They made decisions here in terms of characters that don’t really make sense to us, but actually (pun intended) alienate us a bit. There’s an elephant-man that pilots a spaceship that had the audience laugh when he appeared on screen. People have wires on their face without any purpose. In a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy, their character design made sense and it made it feel like a diverse world. Here, it’s meant to feel diverse but instead is laughable in execution.
This movie failed on almost every level. They got a huge budget with some big stars but wasted them on a nonsensical story and caricatures of typical heroes. The action was meant to be impress but was full of lackluster effects and strange (and unexplained) technology. To make this even worse, the movie is long and drags with substantial sections that are just uninteresting. Definitely not worth your money.