JUPITER ASCENDING follows Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a housecleaner living in Chicago alongside her mother and the rest of her family. On the eve of her birth, Jupiter’s father — a stargazer obsessed with naming his child after the biggest and best planet out there — was murdered over a telescope. Her mother said her goodbyes and then left to give birth to Jupiter on a ship underneath the stars. Jump thirty-or-so years and now Jupiter’s cleaning toilets, waking up at 4:45 every morning and stating to herself, “I hate my life.”
Suddenly, a half-human, half-wolf hybrid mercenary named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) lands on Earth to save Jupiter from impending doom. On the run from headhunters of all shapes and sizes, they seek refuge and help from a former teammate of Caine’s, Stinger Apini (Sean Bean). It turns out that Jupiter is the reincarnation of the royal mother to the demented Abrasax siblings. The three children, now thousands of millennia old, all have different plans for Jupiter. Balem (Eddie Redmayne), the elder, wants Jupiter dead by any means necessary because her existence would lead to him losing his ownership over Earth. Titus (Douglas Booth), the youngest, also wants Jupiter dead, but not before marrying her so he can take ownership of Earth from Balem. Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), the middle sibling, doesn’t reveal that she wants to kill anyone, but that’s mostly because she loved her mother and can see her mom in Jupiter.
Kunis was decent in her role here as Jupiter. I originally thought that she was somewhat miscast, but then I remembered her great turn as an ass-kicker in THE BOOK OF ELI. Unfortunately, here, she just seems out of place. The Earth scenes where she’s portraying the regular mortal Jupiter were played out well, but once she gets into space, I just didn’t buy it. I generally enjoy Kunis in her roles, but this one just felt off.
Tatum was good enough in his role as Caine. The one thing that I found is that after seeing him here, I can definitely picture him as Gambit in the X-MEN franchise now. Still, his character was somewhat boring, with the story only hinting towards a violent past that we want to know more about but ultimately never do.
The supporting players were all decent, too. No knock towards any of the actors; you can only do your best with what you’re given. Bean was his usual badass self. I always enjoy seeing him in projects, though I questioned why he had an English accent while all the aliens around him were American. Redmayne, fresh off his Oscar win for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, played his role of Balem rather strangely. He talked in a soft, whisper-like voice for 95% of the film, reminding me a lot of the way Voldemort was portrayed in the HARRY POTTER films. I never once found him intimidating and instead just thought Balem came across as a whiny little brat.
Andy and Lana Wachowski are no strangers to creating massive, sprawling new worlds. Their work on THE MATRIX trilogy was revolutionary and their films afterwards, SPEED RACER and CLOUD ATLAS, were also quite brilliant. I’ve never once questioned their abilities, but now I can’t help it. JUPITER ASCENDING was just too ambitious of a project. At only two hours in length, the Wachowskis had to create multiple worlds, races, and laws all while giving us hundreds of personalities that we should care about. It just wasn’t doable. If JUPITER was an existing property in another form of media beforehand (comics, cartoons, whichever), it could’ve possibly been better received. It’s just too much for the general audience to buy into, though. It sure didn’t help that the screenplay was plagued by not-so-great dialogue and horrendous character names, too.
They weren’t the only ones to fault, though. Cinematographer John Toll gave us some of the quickest, flashiest shots that I’ve seen in a while. When ships are flying around and Caine’s rocking his “sky surf” boots, the camera flip-flops all over the place. Toll keeps the eye on the action a lot better than Amir Mokri did on MAN OF STEEL, but it was still a little too fast for my tastes. It surely didn’t help that my only available way to view JUPITER ASCENDING was in 3D.
Composer Michael Giacchino put together a compelling but forgettable score, even though I sometimes heard familiar MATRIX-sounding runs throughout the main theme. If anything, I think the highlight of the film comes from the crew responsible for the make-up, costumes and production design. JUPITER ASCENDING is one gorgeous-looking film, no doubt about it. It’s no wonder why this cost Warner over $175-million to produce and distribute.
One thing I noticed (while it’s probably unintentional) was that it seemed like JUPITER borrowed a lot from other stories. The Abrasax family — who come across as being very Shakespearean — live forever due to the harvesting of planets, essentially drinking (or bathing in) the essence of life from the inhabitants. This reminded me a lot of Galactus from Marvel Comics. While he devours whole planets, the idea is very similar. I also received a THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK vibe throughout the film due to the massive world building that was going on (and that each film shares its love for characters with strange names). The difference there is that RIDDICK at least established its lead character already in an earlier, smaller film. And then I saw a lot of shades of the MASS EFFECT video game series, for obvious reasons.
I don’t hate JUPITER ASCENDING. It was decent; it’s just that the Wachowskis have set the bar so high for themselves now. I know they’re always gung-ho to create new material and for that, I’m grateful. We all know that fresh, new material is something that’s scarce in Hollywood these days. I just can’t help but think that maybe they should return to THE MATRIX universe to help rejuvenate their careers. The least they could do is adapt their awesome and severely underrated DOC FRANKENSTEIN comic book into a feature film. Until either one of those events happen, though, we’ll just have to watch JUPITER ASCENDING and enjoy it for what it is. It may be the Wachowskis’ biggest film to date, but unfortunately, it’s also their weakest.