“I Will Harvest That Planet Tomorrow Before I Let Her Take It From Me.” – Balem Abrasax
A sci-fi blockbuster from the writer-directors behind; Cloud Atlas, V for Vendetta and The Matrix trilogy, Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski, a.k.a. the Wachowskis. 2015’s Jupiter Ascending is a rarely exciting, often laughable science fiction flick that attempts to explore a number of interesting concepts yet frequently fails on almost every other front. Unquestionably the singular work of the Wachowskis, Jupiter Ascending exhibits many of the filmmakers’ worst tendencies, telling a campy, overblown spectacle of a story that retains barely any of the visionary leadership that drove some of their earlier filmography to be held in such high regard.
Plot Summary: Born under a night sky, with signs predicting she was destined for great things, Jupiter Jones dreams of the stars but awakens to the cold reality of a dead-end cleaning job in Chicago. But, when Caine Wise, a genetically engineered ex-military bounty hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down, Jupiter begins to realise what the universe has in store for her as she is marked next in line for a royal inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos…
Originally slated to release on July 25th, 2014, before the production slipped over six months to provide more time for the visual effect team to complete the elaborate effects. Jupiter Ascending possesses many attributes that commonly make for an entertaining sci-fi epic, with large-scale set pieces, thrilling action sequences and moments of world-building all appearing throughout its runtime. However, similar to The Matrix sequels, where the sheer scale of the storytelling seemed to overwhelm the Wachowskis, Jupiter Ascending frequently appears unfocused and carries little dramatic weight as it places all of its attention on exploring its vast universe, with the plot itself resembling planet-hopping stories like Dune and the Star Wars prequel trilogy, revolving around various factions grasping for power. It’s a serviceable story, to be sure, but it usually feels secondary to the world-building which, as previously mentioned, comes across as cluttered and forces countless characters to serve as exposition dumps for Jupiter, even if there are some interesting ideas at play, such as humans not originating from Earth and being sighted as cattle to species that consider themselves superior.
On a screenplay level, Jupiter Ascending is hardly revolutionary, depicting the protagonist, Jupiter Jones, as a young, seemingly insignificant woman who discovers she actually holds the key to extraordinary power. Yet, the screenplay rarely treats Jupiter as anything more than a damsel in distress, constantly needing to be protected by the fearless soldier turned bounty hunter, Caine Wise. As a result, the central duo of Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum deliver rather bland performances, occasionally wisecracking as they travel from location to location, continually in danger and continually underdeveloped, especially when they develop feelings for one another. In keeping with their surroundings, the supporting cast of Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton turn in similarly lacklustre performances, with Redmayne’s performance as the antagonist, Balem Abrasax, being the true standout (unintentionally so), whispering some lines and shrieking others.
The visuals of Jupiter Ascending are one of the film’s best aspects, as the cinematography by John Toll captures the majesty of outer space in several creative ways, presenting the universe with much more colour and lavishness than many other sci-fi blockbusters. Speaking of other science fiction franchises, unlike Stark Trek or Battlestar Galactica, all of the spaceship designs throughout the film are pristine and elegant, almost comparable to floating cathedrals, as they maintain a golden colour scheme to play into the idea of the proprietors of said ships (and accompanying opulent costumes) belonging to a royal bloodline. Many of the interiors of the spaceships even appear inspired by European architecture, specifically Renaissance architecture, massively deviating from the grey, metallic interiors seen in most of the sci-fi genre. Sadly, however, it’s difficult to fully concentrate on the myriad of beautiful visuals due to the abysmal dialogue, which ranges from dull and overly expositional to unconsciously hilarious.
On another cynical note, the original score by Michael Giacchino is regrettably one of the composer’s weakest scores to date. Moving from thunderous, brassy statements to a deeply menacing voice choir that evokes memories of The Emperor’s Theme from Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, released in 1983, the soundtrack for Jupiter Ascending certainly fits within the science fiction genre, yet never feels distinguishable or greatly adds to the emotion/excitement playing out on-screen.
In terms of action, Jupiter Ascending makes the most of its few action sequences by having Caine Wise and the assorted adversaries he goes against cleverly utilise a selection of futuristic weapons and gadgets. In particular, one early sequence of Jupiter and Caine escaping an extraterrestrial attack squad in a chase above the twilight streets of Chicago is both eye-catching and exhilarating.
In summary, at its heart, Jupiter Ascending is a jumbled wish-fulfilment narrative whereby a despondent cleaner turns out to be the secret proprietor of Earth. And with so many heroes’ journey-type franchises existing nowadays, it is a bold stroke to make the ‘chosen one’ a respected monarch. But, on account of the sheer magnitude of the story and world-building, Jupiter Ascending quickly crumbles under its only weight, only being saved from total collapse by its impressive visual effects and stimulating action set pieces, subsequently failing to start what would have been yet another big-budget science fiction franchise. Rating: low 4/10.