Jupiter Ascending

jaI was really prepared to like this movie. I was the guy who thought The Matrix Reloaded was pretty good. I was the guy who loved Cloud Atlas. I was the guy who loved Speed Racer, for heaven’s sake. So how is a big space opera by the Wachowski’s not right in my wheelhouse.

Dang, they missed the boat on this film. Don’t get me wrong. There’s stuff I love. But there’s way more that I hate. And, as is so often the case with bad movies, I will spoil it to pieces. You have been warned.

I did not need the entire opening sequence with Jupiter’s parents in Russia. It seemed designed solely to have a reason for Mila Kunis’s character to have a nifty, sci-fictiony name. And maybe to make me feel sorry for her. This didn’t work.

With the introduction of Jupiter’s extended family, we have the first of our tonal problems. These characters belong in a wacky romantic comedy, not a big-budget, tent-pole action film. That they are brought back into the film near the end only increases my annoyance, it doesn’t reduce it.

Now, what I did love is the basic premise. In the wide universe, your closest heir isn’t your children, it’s your genetic doppelganger. That’s pretty cool, not to mention (as far as I know) original. So Jupiter finds out she won the genetic lottery in more than just looks. She’s the non-mystical reincarnation of the head of the Abrasax family, which owns much of the universe. I also like the idea that she gets flagged when she tries to sell her eggs to a fertility clinic. This is good science fiction.

The reveal of this off-world universe is kind of cartoonish, with animal human hybrids and crazy technology. I don’t mind that. And I don’t care what anyone else says. I think Caine’s (Channing Tatum) flying boots are awesome. When he saves her from creepy aliens intent on her death, and he defeats a squadron of alien fighters in the skies of Chicago with a single gun and a shield, I was totally invested.

Then they dropped me into a cold bath of lost opportunity by claiming that the aliens were going to erase the evidence of this huge battle from existence, by wiping minds and fixing buildings. There is simply no way I am going to believe that. I would so much have preferred if this was the moment that Earth learns about the aliens, and that the U.S. Government got involved as an interested party that might be helpful, or hurtful. Either way, it would add some relatable complications to a weird story.

Anyway. Next we meet Sean Bean’s Stinger, an old comrade of Caine’s. There’s a whole subplot about his daughter, and a double-cross, which I think becomes a triple-cross. Or something. When Sean Bean isn’t interesting, there’s another missed opportunity right there.

There are three Abrasax big wigs that all have their own designs on Jupiter. First of all, most annoying name ever. I want it to be Abraxas. But that’s not what it is. Argh. Anyway, there’s an obviously evil one (Eddie Redmayne), a subtly evil one (Douglas Booth), and an ambiguously evil one (Tuppence Middleton). The idea of this dynasty was kind of cool, but there are a variety of reasons it doesn’t quite gel as a cohesive tale of family corporate shenanigans.

Part of it is the early introduction of Kalique Abrasax, who is obviously a young woman in old lady makeup. This bounced me out of the story instantly, because I’m just waiting for her “surprise” transformation into a young woman. Which, of course, happens almost immediately, and is the introduction to the important commodity in this universe. I don’t remember any of the many names for this goo, so I’ll just call it human juice. Because that’s what it is. The Abrasaxes own whole planets, and where there are enough people on them, they clear them of humans, render them into human juice, then take baths in the stuff to stay eternally young. (People can live to as much as 100,000 years old.) So, it’s a mashup of Soylent Green and Dune. Whatever. Snore.

The not-quite-so-evil brother was clearly a big fan of Lemony Snicket, because he convinces Jupiter to marry him because then he can kill her and inherit all his mom’s stuff. (Eww.) Redmayne’s under-emoting brother has a simpler plan. Since he’s the eldest, if he kills her, he gets to keep all his mom’s stuff (including Earth).

In another drastic tonal shift, Jupiter has a sequence where she registers as this heiress, which requires wandering through a Terry Gilliamesque bureaucracy culminating in [sigh] a cameo with Terry Gilliam himself. I like winking at the audience. I like it in comedies, not in big-budget, tent-pole action films.

The end is (like the rest of the film, I’ll admit) a visual treat, but it’s also the most standard kind of “everything’s exploding but the protagonist and antagonist happen to find each other amidst the chaos for a final showdown” ending.

There’s so much talent and artistry evident here. It’s a shame they weren’t working from a script written (seemingly) by a fourteen-year-old. With some doctoring, this could have been excellent.

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