Taken by themselves, the adjectives I conjure up when I think back on Jupiter Ascending, the latest offering from the Wachowski brothers, seem more suited to a review of a dishevelled broom closet – muddled, haphazard, and disorganized – than a Hollywood blockbuster.
Regardless, those are the words I keep coming back to. It is a bit of mess, a movie that even by its own standards of logic doesn’t make a whole lot of sense…
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a young maid in Chicago. Her days consist mainly of waking up early, cleaning toilets, and getting home late. She hates her life, revealed to us through subtle little lines like “I hate my life” sprinkled throughout her travels. It’s in this early going we get to meet all of Jupiter’s family and friends, none of whom will have any impact going forward.
Before long though, she’s met Caine (Channing Tatum) – a sort of human-canine super soldier – who reveals to her that Earth is not the birthplace of humanity, but simply a colony seeded by a powerful family of alien royalty. What’s more, Jupiter just happens to be the genetic reincarnation of said family’s matriarch, entitling her to some serious alien perks.
I’ll ignore the mathematical improbability of genetic reincarnation (whatever, it’s a big universe), but can I just say that I’m sick of the whole premise that aliens live among us and we just don’t notice. It’s fine when a movie like Men in Black does it – it’s meant as a joke – but we’re supposed to swallow, with all the earnestness that Channing Tatum can muster, that these aliens can have a city destroying fight in the middle of Chicago and then somehow erase everyone’s memory of it? That’s just bad writing.
Either way, from here we embark on a tour through the universe, or “the verse” as Caine calls it, because shortening words is way cooler than saying them the whole way. In essence, the Wachowskis seem to think that explaining the world they’ve created is reward enough in itself, so we’re given scene after scene of different royal leaders, space cops, and other random aliens spelling out to Jupiter just how exactly everything in this royal society works.
There’s a few problems with that… first, despite all of this exposition, most of this stuff still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s almost impossible to figure out what’s happening half of the time and the movie makes all sorts of detours that don’t really pan out to anything.
Second, quite a bit of the story involves getting to the bottom of this idea of a harvest, something that makes Earth a very valuable planet to these alien royal types. Let’s just say that the answer probably won’t come as much of a surprise, particularly given the Wachowskis previous work (*cough* The Matrix *cough*). I don’t know you, but I’m going to guess that you can probably get to the bottom of this mystery long before the movie does. In the meantime, you’re just sort of left waiting.
The most significant problem, though, is that we’re being guided through this universe by a pair of pretty dull leads. Jupiter, for instance, is a particularly weak character.
For 90 percent of the movie, her greatest accomplishment seems to be being born with a particular set of genes. Simply moving from rags to riches does not in and of itself make you interesting.
On top of that, her entire attitude towards becoming the heir to half of the universe just seems to be “oh, okay.” She rarely if ever contributes to her journey, she’s basically just along for the ride, and she’s gullible to a point which almost strains credibility… and we’re talking about a movie where giant talking lizards fight a half-man half-dog on anti-gravity skates.
For his part, Caine is almost completely devoid of personality. Apparently he wants to be a soldier again, but aside from that rather generic motivation he’s pretty much just the guy who saves poor naïve Jupiter from whatever mess she’s gotten herself into this time.
What it all amounts to is a pretty puzzling couple of hours, full of hammy characters and weird creative choices. Even the ending, however sincere, kind of leaves you questioning what the point of it all was. Jupiter Ascending is just an absolute mess of a sci-fi movie.
Final Score: 1.5/5