My expectations going into Jupiter Ascending were relatively high, despite the critical hammering the film has received in the past week or two. The Matrix ranks as one of my favourite movies of all time and almost every other project the Wachowskis are involved in piques my interest in some capacity. When I found out they were delving back into the sci-fi genre with an original idea, I had already resolved myself to giving them the benefit of the doubt.
You may ask why – and that is a perfectly valid query. Personally, outside of maybe James Cameron, I believe Lana and Andy Wachowski are the best directors currently working at creating other worlds. Whether it is the hyper-stylised, kaleidoscopic fever dream that is the world of Speed Racer or the dystopian future shown in Cloud Atlas, they manage to create environments and cultures I want to experience and inhabit – the world of Jupiter Ascending is no different.
• Director: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
• Exhibition: 3D
• Rating: 12A
• Run Time: 128 mins
Telling a modern day fairy-tale, Jupiter Ascending opens on a young woman named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), cleaning toilets for the rich and famous. She hates her life and is eager to change it. However, when various groups of people start shooting at her, and only a human-wolf-hybrid named Caine (Channing Tatum) seems to be out to protect her, she finds a new appreciation for her old life and family. The reason people seem to want her dead revolves around the fact that she is the living reincarnation of a long-dead intergalactic queen. Afraid that they will lose their inheritance, her past life’s children – Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppance Middleton) – all conspire to use Jupiter for their own gain.
Beginning in Chicago, then taking us on a trip around the galaxy and solar system, Jupiter Ascending is exquisitely shot. From the panoramic scene-setting vistas to the action-packed set pieces, the visuals are stunning. Caine’s character has anti-gravity boots that allow him to glide effortlessly through the skyscrapers of the city. We get views of Chicago rarely seen on film (which is a feat in itself seeing as the city is used ever more regularly as a backdrop for movies).
There is also a strong playfulness at work here. Not only are there some superb dialogue exchanges that will bring smiles to faces (“I love dogs!”), but the movie is not afraid to embrace the silliness of its premise. An entire section of the film is dedicated to Jupiter getting her royal heritage signed off within what can only be described as a bureaucratic nightmare that strongly reminded me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This, plus the addition of Channing Tatum to the cast, had Jupiter Ascending on my good side.
However, there are a few problems with the film that good writing and epic visuals cannot mask. Mila Kunis is simply not good here. Her performance is a bit wooden and her character is not given much to do for large portions of the movie. The two younger royal siblings in Titus and Kalique are relatively forgettable too. On the other hand, Eddie Redmayne’s Balem is memorable as the whispery villain. He basically plays the role of Ming – and does so with style too.
Jupiter Ascending has other issues too. Its pacing is an issue. We are unceremoniously thrown from intergalactic dealings to chase sequences to backstory exposition blocks with little to keep the momentum intact. The movie could have done with a more strict hand in the editing room too as it seemed about 20 minutes too long.
Walking out of Jupiter Ascending, I was already saying to myself that it was a film I fully enjoyed but would have a difficult time recommending to anyone. You need to be in the right mood and have an open mind going in. If you do, you will experience one of the most ‘Flash Gordon’ movies created since Flash Gordon.
Tags: Andy Wachowski, Flash Gordon, Jupiter Ascending, Lana Wachowski, The Matrix