Jupiter Ascending (2015)

9 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: **
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Tell me if this sounds familiar to you—a bland, underdeveloped main character hates his or her life but doesn’t realize the very important reason for existing until someone or something is on the attack, causing the person to rise up, accept destiny, and fight back.

This story is tired and old, but I wouldn’t mind that if it had strong characterization, a gripping story, and an imaginative world. With the Wachowskis’ latest science-fiction adventure, “Jupiter Ascending,” they certainly have the world down. The film excels at establishing this new universe with great detail and even first-rate CGI. And you also want to find out more about this interesting place. But the problem is it constantly distracts from everything else and the characters get lost in it. You know the expression of the actors “chewing the scenery?” This is the scenery chewing the actors.

What’s worse is it’s trapped in a story with uninteresting characters, a ton of exposition that lost me as quickly as it had me, and even a shorter running time than it needs to really explain the backstory instead of rushing it out so quickly. But I should probably take back that last one, because it’s already two hours and I wouldn’t want to sit through much more of this mess.

Now, to be fair, there are a few nicely-done action scenes, including one involving attacking spaceships and a soldier flying around on anti-gravity boots, having to evade the enemy fire and keep hold of the film’s protagonist at the same time. That was a riveting scene and it had my attention. A lot of the action is nicely-handled. But there’s another problem with that—I easily forget what it is these aliens are fighting for. I assume it’s Earth, as it usually is, but what was the reasoning? (To be fair, I probably missed it in the ongoing exposition.)

Oh yeah, there’s a story here, right? Our protagonist is Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian immigrant to the United States who works as a maid to aid her indigent family in Chicago. But things turn upside-down when a band of aliens try to kill her. It’s a hit ordered by the inter-dimensional Abrasax family—Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas Booth)—who see Jupiter as a threat or as an opportunity to get what they’re interested in. It seems Jupiter is the reincarnation of someone who was originally part of their world, and she may even be of royal blood. A half-man/half-wolf being named Caine (Channing Tatum) is hired to protect her. As he gains her trust, he brings her back to his world, they experience more chases and fights, and she realizes who she truly is by the end of the film.

Oh I must reveal how they find out Jupiter is “royal” because this made me laugh so hard, I almost fell out of my seat in the theater. As Jupiter and Caine visit a farm where lots of bees surround Jupiter before she realizes they’re actually following her every move. Why is this happening? As one character explains, “bees recognize royalty.” If you think that’s funny, you’re going to love the true answer to the question, “what killed the dinosaurs?”

A lot happens in this hastily-rushed story that it’s hard to keep track of whose backstory and even harder to be invested in what little character development there is. Jupiter and Caine are supposed to fall in love, but I think Anakin and Padme in the “Star Wars” prequels had better chemistry than these two. There’s never a sense that these people really connect in a meaningful way. Jupiter is hardly interesting; she’s just a “regular person” without much depth to her that has all this madness happen to her. Caine is a semi-interesting character, but that’s only in his background of being engineered as a half-man/half-wolf creation; aside from that, he’s a standard tough badass hero role. Kunis and Tatum are likable actors, but they don’t have much to work with here.

The villains actually have nice moments and are given at least some personality traits, such as Titus’ smarmy charm. But this brings me to another problem with the film: Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Balem. Balem is a straightforward villain, but Redmayne plays it with what he probably thinks is an “intense whisper” but comes across as Hugo Weaving imitating Dumbledore. Redmayne is currently nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for “The Theory of Everything” and we know he’s a great actor, but he really picked the wrong choice to play this character in this manner.

The “Star Wars” sequels helped further the development of its hero, Luke Skywalker, making his journey more harrowing and personal. With Thomas “Neo” Anderson in the “Matrix” sequels…well, they tried. I don’t think “Jupiter Ascending” is lucky enough to get a franchise, so I’m sorry, Jupiter—I hope your future missions go well without us.

NOTE: I’m just going to address the Abrasax family personally—Have you ever considered she probably wouldn’t be a threat if you didn’t try to kill her in the first place, you morons?! Oh wait. Then we wouldn’t have a movie. Never mind.

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