Playing the role of the unhappy girl in this tale is Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), an illegal Russian immigrant living with her deadbeat extended family and earning a meager living by cleaning houses. That is, until the day comes when she finds out that she’s special, although this realization comes in the form of aliens trying to murder her. Fortunately, she is saved by a man named Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered super-soldier and bounty hunter. Due to a quirk in her genetic structure, Jupiter is a member of House Abrasax, one of the noble families that rule over the universe. Because a new member of the family would decrease their own holdings, the current rulers of the House are all plotting to use Jupiter for their own ends, particularly the vicious Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne). With the help of Caine and another soldier named Stinger (Sean Bean), Jupiter sets out to claim her inheritance, which includes control over Earth.
Part Star Wars, part Game of Thrones, and possessing special effects on a scale reminiscent of Avatar, Jupiter Ascending had so much potential to be a good movie, especially being helmed by the same people who made The Matrix and Cloud Atlas. And there is a kernel of a good movie in there… somewhere. But it’s been eclipsed by every way the production of this film went badly wrong. For starters, it doesn’t feel like a complete movie. There are numerous abrupt transitions between scenes which seem to skip other scenes. While it’s possible that this can be explained by poor editing, I think it is more likely that there are large sections of this film which were lost to the cutting room floor. It also seems unlikely that they would make such an ambitious film and only make it 127 minutes long, especially since their last movie, Cloud Atlas, was over 170 minutes. Why this would happen I can’t say, but I’m certain that the version of Jupiter Ascending being shipped to theatres is not the version the Wachowskis originally made.
I will be honest and say that I did enjoy the action sequences to a degree, but I am still very disappointed in the Wachowskis for making such generic action scenes. Seriously, they made The Matrix, they should know how to do this. For starters, many of the action scenes are overly long, to the point where they lost my attention and I got bored. For example, the aerial battle through the Chicago skyline started off cool, but even I (and I am a huge sci-fi geek) can only take so much of spaceships flying around and shooting each other without any dialogue. Another thing that bothered me was the anti-gravity boots that Tatum’s character has. They were pretty cool at first, but he uses them in like every single scene he’s in, and he uses them in this silly way that makes it look like he’s roller skating through the sky. The special effects are pretty, which is good because like 90% of the movie is special effects, but after other effects-laden movies like Avatar and The Hobbit, it doesn’t feel special. The 3D effects gave me a headache, but I hate 3D anyway.
As for the acting, Mila Kunis did a decent job, neither aweing me in a positive nor negative fashion. Channing Tatum also did an adequate job, even if I think there are many actors who could have played the role better. Sean Bean is good, but he feels rather underutilized, which may be because many of his scenes were cut. Eddie Redmayne, on the other hand, is frankly atrocious. The discrepancy between his Oscar-nominated role as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and as the villainous Balem is astounding. Most of the time he speaks in a tone somewhere between a whisper and one of the people in those anti-smoking commercials with a hole in their throat. The few times he does raise his voice his voice cracks like he’s going through puberty. I know it sounds incredible that such a talented actor could be so bad, but believe me when I say that the person who cast him should be exiled from the film industry forever.
And the parts of the movie that did really interest me were quickly brushed over with little exploration. The world of Jupiter Ascending is filled with princesses and starships, dragons and space cops, noble houses and rampant consumer capitalism. It’s a fascinating combination of an archetypal fairytale (and its accompanying fantasy tropes) with a Star Wars like space opera. But rather than exploring this intriguing fusion, the movie only uses it as set dressing as it jumps from one underwhelming action scene to the next. I want to know more about this world the Wachowskis have concocted, rather than just using it as set pieces. The movie also briefly touches on criticism of modern consumerist culture, but again this is brushed over with little examination, rather than using it to actually make a point. And there is one section of the movie, dealing with Jupiter’s frustrations with interstellar bureaucracy, which ends up being very funny in a sort of Terry Gilliam-style satire. But it’s over far too quickly, so we can get back to watching Channing Tatum shoot people. More likely than not these aspects are further casualties of the awful editing.