When you get down to the world of science fiction, there are two distinct types of films about space. One are films like Gravity, Interstellar and The Black Hole that give off the size and scope of the universe while making it clear that the Earth is such a precious land that we humans take for granted. We rarely see these kinds of movies because these are visually boring stories, even if the characters are interesting and the philosophical ideas are groundbreaking. These don’t seem to click with a mainstream audience the same way it probably would with Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The safer route of space, and being the second kind of space movie we see, shows the universe as full of life with planets full of many types of species and advancing technologies. This we see often with Star Wars, Flash Gordon and the recent favorite of mine, Guardians of the Galaxy.
The more “cosmic and awesome” route is something that I’ve always preferred as the field is science fiction (emphasis on fiction). Entire franchises have evolved out of these notions, yet few remain iconic. The Wachowski siblings, the same team behind another famous series The Matrix, try to have lighting strike twice with Jupiter Ascending.
We open sometime in the past where a Russian couple, are about to give birth to a girl named Jupiter, though the father is killed in a home invasion when robbers shot him. We cut to the modern day where Jupiter (played by Mila Kunis) and her mother have immigrated to America along with the rest of their Russian family as they make a living cleaning homes. She’s about to sell her eggs to buy a really nice telescope, but horrors as she realizes that the doctors operating turn out to be aliens trying to kill her. An ex military hunter barges in, gunning down the creatures and telling Jupiter that they need to leave.
He introduces himself as Caine Wise (played by Channing Tatum) and starts referring Jupiter as “his majesty”. After an escape from Chicago, they go to a farm where they meet up with Caine’s old friend Stinger (played by Sean Bean). They reveal that the Earth shall belong to Jupiter as she is an heir to space royalty. She’s taken into the cosmos and is revealed that the queens children, Balem (played by Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (played by Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (played by Douglas Booth all have different ideas on the humans of earth and who the planet should belong to.
Jupiter Ascending has a lot ready to go here. The set design, costumes, and the visual effects all look great here. It all looks large and grand, matching the size of the universe. This is stuff that I could see ranking in the same grounds as Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy. But in order for all of that to become memorable, you need a great story along with some likable characters. This has none of that.
The journey that Jupiter goes on is a cross between Cinderella and Wizard of Oz…in space. This is fine, but the screenplay is really bad here. Rather then becoming a fun road trip story, we get a lot of uninteresting dialogue that mostly consists of “the great things Jupiter will do for Earth” and “what humanity is”. Much of it sounds forced and something that looks better on paper then film format.
The acting here is very stiff and wooden. It’s ironic that given Eddie Radmayne is nominated for an academy award as his performance is like a cross of a bitter old man and a Doctor Who villain. If none of these humans or aliens ever become excited for fearful of something, then why should I care? It’s just kind of boring that begs for better direction.
I’ll give this two and a half sets of anti-gravity boots out of five. Jupiter Ascending is a grand idea that’s simply too large for one movie. It probably would have better played as a Game of Thrones style show on HBO or Netflix. Even so, the Wachowskis have revealed how their better at directing action then juicy dialogue. Unless their interested in making another Matrix movie, Jupiter Ascending shall only descend the duo further into career doom.