Jupiter Ascending is an interesting anomaly of a film.

by Steve Pulaski

Just two weeks ago, I spoke about how puzzled I was that despite Johnny Depp’s films’ lackluster box office performances, Depp still managed to get financial backing for big-budget disasters like Mortdecai. I begin my review for the Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending with the same question; after tremendous success with three Matrix films, the Wachowski’s have struggled to be financially dependable on anything that didn’t involve the pioneering science-fiction film. Their adaptation of the popular cartoon Speed Racer lost a catastrophic amount of money, Cloud Atlas, which was predicted to be something of a minor hit at the Academy Awards, received no such nominations and struggled to even break even, and now, their latest film, Jupiter Ascending, was doubted by many (myself included) before its release on whether or not it could turn around the Wachowski’s post-Matrix track record. A push-back from the prime moviegoing season of summer 2014 to February 2015, justified by unfinished special effects work, only seemed more evident that Warner Bros. was losing faith in the film and simply had no idea what to do with such a lofty project on their hands.

Jupiter Ascending
Directed by
The Wachowski’s
Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne
Release Date
6 February 2015
Steve’s Grade: D+

If Jupiter Ascending predictably bombs hard, or even struggles to barely break even, this could mean the future of big-budget, original science-fiction projects are a thing of the past. Over $200 million was invested into Jupiter Ascending, marketing costs included, and a return on investment of about $400 – $500 million would deem the film a marginal success in Hollywood accounting terms. With that goal likely not being reached, studios are pragmatically more hesitant to release films boasting original content and will presumably continue to cling, perhaps more heavily, towards established franchises or work to reboot classics, like Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones. Jupiter Ascending is a thoroughly risky, questionable film; while it’s not that great, it should still be supported for the sake of optimism in seeing more original content in Hollywood.

The film creates a world where Earth’s inhabitants are unaware that a countless number of other planets have been claimed by wealthy aliens with the goal of harvesting evolved living creations upon reaching a state of perfection achieved by social Darwinism. This will produce a breed of youth serum that will effectively make them immortal. With the death of the matriarch of the House of Abrasax, one of the top alien dynasties to ever rule, her children Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth), and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) bicker for her inheritance, with Balem taking possession of a production complex on the planet Jupiter and Titus bearing his own plans to corrupt the plans for the youth serum.

With that, we focus on Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), conceived by astronomer Maximilian Jones (James D’Arcy) and Aleksa (Maria Doyle Kennedy) shortly after the death of Maximilian after a home invasion. In her adult years, despite believing she was destined for greatness, Jupiter is stuck as a janitor for wealthy people. In a desperate attempt for extra cash, Jupiter is nearly killed by doctors and nurses turning out to be agents sent by Balem to kill her when they discover her motivations to disrupt the social order of the planets. Jupiter is narrowly saved by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a genetically-engineered fighter, who vows to protect Jupiter during her mission of discovering her origin within a mythical and limitless world.

If this sounds confusing or perplexing, it’s because it is; Jupiter Ascending is only two hours long, and for a film attempting to create its own world, compile it with rich, detailed backstory, and focus on a vast array of characters of varying motivations, that’s a very short runtime. The Wachowski’s have never had an issue with ambition, as all of their films are conducted on a grandscale, fearlessly operating with a sense of narrative immunity to convention. The issue is in detailing their central points, like their characters and the clarity of the film’s plot. Large amounts of ambition and a vast scope can’t mask the fact that Jupiter Ascending‘s peculiar casting decisions and lack of character development/interest work against the quality of the final product.

Mila Kunis hasn’t been an actress who has been able to take on a daring lead role with conviction, despite some success in Friends With Benefits. She has a woodenness to her that prohibits any kind of character sympathy. Meanwhile, Channing Tatum is like that shy guy at the party who you know is fun to be around, but when he’s in the wrong social setting, as he is here, he shrivels up and becomes almost anemic and unrecognizably bland. Combine that with the entire feeling of emptiness in their characters and you have the strongest vessels of the screenplay unable to establish a connection to carry such a weighty project.

Jupiter Ascending‘s visuals, however, are stunning. The film is kaleidoscopic, boasting a wondrous palette of colors, vibrant textures, and boundless atmospheres, all of which are Oscar-worthy or at least worthy of some recognition. The world that the Wachowski’s and an army of special effects specialists create almost makes one forget what they’re watching is a film that is middling on most other fronts besides visuals and art direction. Again, Jupiter Ascending is an interesting anomaly of a film; it’s a film that isn’t worthy of great praise outside of obvious visuals, but if we want originality and any hope for a future that is open to the possibility of new ideas, we must support this effort with our pocketbooks. The decision, as always, is up to you, consumer.

You can read what Randy Krinsky had to say about Jupiter Ascending here.