Jupiter Ascending

I want every movie that I see to be good. I hope for the best, which sometimes sets up painful disappointment. Jupiter Ascending represented a challenge to keep high hopes. While they have their defenders, the Wachowskis have had a tough time following-up their Matrix success. Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas remain cult favorites that are ignored by most. Like the movies before them, Jupiter Ascending is a story told on a massive scale. It swings for the fences, providing plenty of action without holding back the sci-fi backstory and dialog. It should have worked. Too bad it was a complete mess.

Warning: This is a spoiler-filled reaction to Jupiter Ascending. If you haven’t seen it yet, you are likely making better life choices than I am.

Eddie Redmayne is a talented actor. His performance as the villain here is absolutely different than most of all-powerful super villains who are larger than life. Unfortunately, his strange, sniveling take on the character wore thin quickly. He annoyed more than intimidated. Perhaps that’s because his big threat was a legal document. I'm reminded of a lesser Muppet special, where our friends had to outsmart a villain who was going to take over the deed to their theater at midnight. Must our key villain in this space opera rule the galaxy with a legion of notaries?

This may be the most baffling failure of the film: its focus on the legal problems. I tried to push through the confusing plot, indistinguishable dialog, and action scenes so confounding they reminded my of Transformers. However, the point where I realized there may not be a light at the end of the tunnel came from one question once we left Earth.

"Wait, is Jupiter's 'ascension' really about going through red tape and bureaucracy?"

I admit, its an interesting idea to explore; the process of claiming one's identity at the intergalactic DMV. I bet that got more than a few chuckles in the writers room. However, this added little value to the movie. Harry Potter getting his school supplies is interesting world building. This is tedious.

Of course, I can’t give the movie too much trouble over one DMV sequence. After all, little else made sense anyway.

"Oh look, Sean Bean showed up because he need to do something to further the plot. Who's side is he on again?"

"Of course Jupiter is going to marry this guy after spending five minutes with him. Five hours ago she didn't know life existed beyond Earth. Why not trust that this shady guy."

I have to reiterate that I genuinely wanted to like this movie. Maybe I'll revisit it later and like it better. Michael Giacchino's score is great, and there are some great images presented on the screen. There are also some great ideas written into the scrript. Unfortunately, its just all too much. Its as if the Wachowskis just had too many worlds built, and they needed to share them with us.

Jupiter Ascending is a movie that might be greatly improved by a change in length. If we shortened each of Jupiter's stops, or cut one, the story could be simpler and better connected. The toilet cleaning bookends feel like they belong in another movie anyway. They don’t seem to do the purpose of connecting Jupiter's life on Earth to everything beyond it.

Concentrating the movie could also have helped the action sequences, particularly those on Earth. Everything was so close-up that I couldn’t tell what was happening from time to time. Furthermore, all the destruction of Chicago looked superficial and cheap. Maybe I'm being unfair, but as our characters flew through the air, all the damage looked painted on an unaffected Chicago.

Then again, I think the movie could be improved through expansion (I know, I'm a glutton for punishment). What if we spent more time watching the evil siblings interact, instead of segmenting each of their visits with Jupiter? Perhaps we could give Jupiter time to sympathize with the rest of the universe. If nothing else, we could have explored more of those beautiful worlds the creators dreamed up for us.

I'm also a bit confused by the choice of accent for Channing Tatum. It reminded me of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises in that it was distracting and hard to follow at times. I also think they cleaned it up after the initial trailer, just like TDKR. Unlike Bane, there isn’t much that is fun about Tatum's voice here, but I found myself less distracted by it as the movie went on.

Perhaps the greatest failure of this film is the role of our title character. This should have been a great role for Mila Kunis. The movie business has had a poor history of creating strong female roles in action/superhero/science fiction films. While the character of Jupiter had potential, she just doesn't do much to realize it. She's made to go along with whoever is leading her around at the moment, nearly selling off the Earth for the sake of her family. She barely seems to realize how she can affect the universe; and rather than do anything about it, she goes back to cleaning toilets.

I love that the Wachowskis tried to create something new and original on a scale like this. I am grateful that Warner Brothers continues to fund their movies. I'll be curious to see how their Netflix series turns out. I just can't like this movie. This isn’t like Cloud Atlas. I appreciated the effort to make that film, but couldn’t connect to the characters (and suspect I may think better when I revisit it). Jupiter Ascending feels like too much of an unredeemable mess. Perhaps with more time, or other collaborators, this movie could have been more. Unfortunately, its just a disaster.