When you find yourself thinking that a dastardly one-dimension, 7-foot tall lizard who wears a trench coat is the best thing about a movie, you start thinking you’ve just seen one of the worst movies ever made.
If you were to take your time trying to explain everything wrong with the Wachowski Brother’s 2015 movie Jupiter Ascending, you would likely miss out on some of life’s equally torturous experiences, such as having your perfectly healthy teeth yanked out with rusty pliers. Jupiter Ascending’s basic plot revolves around a destitute young woman who doesn’t know she is royalty (thanks to the configuration of her DNA) and her scheming space-family who all want her inheritance, the Earth, for themselves. With a huge budget, the movie attempts everything including the kitchen sink; nothing is spared in an effort to cram everything into a movie: In short, if you were to take Cinderella and Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix, Guardian of the Galaxy, Gravity – basically every other sci-fi movie ever – and put it in a blender, Jupiter Ascending would come out. Unsuprisingly, everything gets lost in the mix. The casting is questionable, the acting is terrible, the plot barely coherent, the visuals (generally agreed by critics to be stunning are in fact) too far over the top and OH my GOD THE sound EDITING! Fire that guy!!
I’ll begin with the plot holes simply because I have to start somewhere and they are something that for me is incredibly distracting. Most notably, Channing Tatum’s character’s past reveals that he was alleviated of his (literal) wings for attacking a member of the royal family, but we never find out why he did it. If you’re Kunis’ Jupiter, who is royalty, you might want to know what exactly happened instead of falling for this alien who is essentially a wolf-like space stripper with Spock ears. In another instance, Mila Kunis’ character is attacked in her apartment by silly little aliens looking to kill her, yet they don’t actually do it and instead opt to ‘wipe’ her memory. Wtf? Worse, the same aliens erase her memory of them being in her apartment but are so incompetent that they leave her with a picture of them on her smart phone. Then there’s half of Chicago getting blown up when the villains are chasing down Channing and Kunis, but this is explained away as Channing says the aliens will ‘wipe’ everyone’s memory and although some people will remember what happened, no one will believe those people. Meanwhile, everyone else in the city has no memory as to why half the city is blown up! And if you add in the assumption that some people would have videoed the battle and the aliens don’t have the sense to erase data on smart phone, well, you see why this is a plot hole. (I would also like to add that the 8-minute long battle over the skies of Chicago feels much like watching your friend play a first-person shooter game while you eagerly wait your turn. Of course, you never get to play.)
As far as casting is concerned, the movie might as well have been cast by a deaf and blind mute. Mila Kunis plays Jupiter (“Just call me Jupe,” she says to her subjects upon discovering she’s royalty. REALLY?), a down on her luck 20-something who wishes she was royalty and then discovers she’s royalty. Naturally, upon discovering she owns the entire friggin’ Earth, doesn’t want the responsibility and really just wants to go back to her family of poor Russian immigrant stereo-types. Unfortunately, Kunis cannot act worth a lick, making the far-fetched Cinderella plot device all the worse. Meanwhile, Channing Tatum reluctantly plays Caine, a half-wolf ex-space marine bad-ass hoping to redeem himself and get his feathery Victoria’s Secret angel wings back despite wearing a pair of gravity-defying roller skates that would seem to be more handy. There is no denying Channing was simply picking up a paycheck with this movie as he waited for the Magic Mike sequel to go into production. Then there’s Sean Bean cast as Caine’s mumbling father figure while Eddie Redmayne plays the evil Balem Abrasax, a character even more mumbly than Sean Bean who occasionally musters enough strength to scream, “Kill her!” The rest of the cast is ancillary, whose careers are probably over after appearing in this movie.
Then there’s the visuals. Are they good? Frankly, they’re too good in that there is often so much going on on the screen at times that you can possibly process it all. The visuals then were perhaps a means of distracting viewers from the movie’s attempt to critique capitalism but for which it offers no solution. Cue the scene of Kunis navigating the space-DMV in order to claim her inheritance with help of a roboticly gay assistant. Groan.
“Ambitious failure is at least worth talking about,” says critic Martin Roberts. He is right; Jupiter Ascending qualifies as a movie so bad that it is good, insofar as one can enjoy the movie on a comical level, mocking the movie’s poor execution despite the honorable intentions of the movie’s producers. You clearly get the sense that the Wachowski Brother’s thought they had a good story on their hands but once the movie went into production, it seems as though they saw how bad it was going to turn out but had already crossed the point-of-no-return and therefore had to finish production. This ‘fact’ is no more evident than in the dialogue, which seems at times written by complete strangers who didn’t bother to communicate with each other about what the characters in the movie were saying to each other, much less how they were saying it.
All of this is a shame as the underlying premise, the very reason Earth is at risk, is actually somewhat interesting: The planet is just one among thousands in which its inhabitants are ‘harvested’ to produce a life-extending drug for the alien royalty. It’s a good enough premise to construct a story around, so perhaps the remake in five or so years will be better. But that movie would have to be because when your expectations are low, you have nowhere to go but up. And that is how anyone with the guts to sit through this movie should approach this cinematic Titanic.