FILM REVIEW: Jupiter Ascending

An original blockbuster film, not based on any known property, is hard enough to come by. But a decent space opera type of adventure would be virtually non-existent in this time and age. For whatever reason, the audiences lost interest in outer space and wondrous possibilities it could offer (unless we count Star Wars, of course). Once a source of amusement and entertainment in things like Barbarella or Flash Gordon, now it is often labelled as childish fare for underdeveloped brains. It is largely true, of course, but people who say that often give superhero things rave reviews. Go figure.

Even with all things considered, you can’t help but think everyone made up their minds about Jupiter Ascending long before it even appeared on big screens across the world. And that has nothing to do with its quality (or lack thereof). Warner Bros. must have thought it wasn’t too be any successful because there was no real effort to market it and get people excited. Good or not, there are worse examples of that made huge amounts of money and it’s a shame studio wouldn’t even make an effort to sell this.

The film itself is incomprehensible. The Wachowskis’ jammed every single frame of their latest fresco with… well, pretty much everything one could think of: space battles, expansive sets, fairy tale elements, campy comedy, bizarre creatures of various sorts. In their baroque excess, there were no efforts made to make it any coherent. Quite the opposite – as we explore the latest universe courtesy of this notorious duo, the boundaries between conventions, or even genres, become blurred and, ultimately, non-existent. It then comes as no surprise Terry Gilliam himself makes an appearance.

The story itself involves humble Russian immigrant janitor Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) being unsatisfied with her life and wanting to change things. As it happens in these types of things, she gets involved with the intergalactic intrigue of epic proportions. Turns out the humble girl is an exact genetic reincarnation of one important royal figure in grander universe. As soon as her identity is revealed, the girl becomes the target of assassination and an ongoing bargaining chip in a conflict between three heirs to Abrasax family’s inheritance. That is when Channing Tatum comes in playing, well, Channing Tatum in flying boots and with funny ears. He saves the girl at least dozens of times, while trying to atone for sins of shady bestial times and reclaim his wings. Literally.

The performances from two main actors are not exactly the most convincing. Tatum’s Caine Wise is a likeable character but devoid of any real personality. By the end of the day, it’s really hard to name a single unique trait of this character, other than his physical appearance. His sole purpose seems to be serving as a convenient plot device to get out female lead from yet another ordeal. Mila Kunis seems completely lost in this production. Not only she doesn’t seem surprised in the slightest by all astonishing things that are happening to her but she doesn’t even sell the basic love story very well.

But these two are not the worst Jupiter Ascending has to offer. That honour would go to the trio of villains, each representing a different levels of vanity and caricatures on blasé higher classes. Balem offers a hilarious and anorectic take on Brando and it's very funny to see Eddie Redmayne receive an Oscar for his take on Stephen Hawking while having this hammy performance fresh in memory. The other competing sibling of Abrasax family is Titus (Douglas Booth) who presents an eternally nonchalant Bond villain with a Dorian Gray touch. Marie Antoinette-like Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) doesn’t even fulfil any real role in this overcrowded script, save for delivering a portion of heavy exposition. One has to wonder why is she even in the film at all. Truly, all those characters are as likeable as their names and best illustrate what’s wrong with this space opera as a whole; a lack of focus.

One might say that Jupiter Ascending is impressive visually. Not really. At this day and age there is actually nothing imposing about extensive use of CGI and how it finds its way into every corner of the frame, often for no reason whatsoever. We see that virtually every two weeks now. Having said that, the Wachowskis manage to stage several impressive and well-choreographed action sequences, of which the early chase across Chicago cityscape is most energetic and fun.

The production design of this film serves as its strongest element, even if it only contributes to the growing overall cinematic mess. But it’s nice to look at and manages to impress for its own sake. The design for certain space ships seems to, funnily enough, resemble those from John Carter (of Mars), another “disappointing” old-fashioned space opera from recent years. The similarities don’t end there: both were scored by the same composer – Michael Giacchino. But, unlike its predecessor, Jupiter Ascending leans mostly largely on composer’s own dramatic and compositional instincts, rather than trying to be a love letter to other composers and their past great works of old. All of which can be a good thing.

It might be hard to gather from above paragraphs but this this latest opus from Wachowskis, for all its drivel and lack of coherence, manages to entertain. Partially because of its grand ambitions and partially because of its failure to live up to those. In any case, this trashy appeal serves as its strongest asset and one thing that catapults Jupiter Ascending into guilty pleasure status. There is a very retro sense vibe of older, more naïve and innocent, age of science-fiction. Less polished and respectable but also quite refreshing in its unapologetically nonsensical storytelling. And while there is no slapstic visible enough to definitely confirm this, the film feels very much like an intentional play on old conventions and a pastiche. With your brain switched to low mode, you might have some real fun from watching this ridiculous romp.

- Karol

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