Jupiter Ascending’s candle budget, exorbitant.
Few films shook the sci-fi world to its core the way The Matrix did. It was a seminal film, and it put the Wachowskis on the map. That was 16 years ago, and the duo has never been able to recapture that magic in sequels or subsequent films, such as the sprawling Cloud Atlas. Their latest directorial effort is Jupiter Ascending, originally set for release last summer before being pushed to this past February to accommodate the vast number of visual effects.
Now it’s ready to hit store shelves on Blu-ray and DVD. Is it the start of a great franchise? Or is it another underwhelming effort from the Wachowskis? Let’s find out.
Jupiter Jones (played by Mila Kunis) hates her life. Her father, who loved the stars, was killed before she was born in a robbery, and her mother named her “Jupiter” to honor him. She works as a housekeeper with her family and, desperate for money to purchase a telescope, agrees to sell her eggs under an assumed name to finance it. While undergoing the procedure she’s attacked by aliens disguised as humans but is rescued by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum).
Wise, a genetically modified human spliced with a wolf, was hired by Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth) to track down Jupiter and bring her to him. Extraction doesn’t go smoothly, however, and he enlists the help of a former comrade, Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), to complete his mission. It’s here that Wise and Apini realize that Jupiter is royalty, and she’s entitled to ownership of the Earth — a fact that doesn’t sit well with the planet’s current owner, Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne, who won the Best Actor award for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything).
Their plan to protect Jupiter fails when she’s abducted by bounty hunters, and it’s there that the film really hits its stride as we’re whisked from one world to the next and given explanations as to Jupiter’s birthright, the Earth’s true purpose, and just how far and wide the human race has traveled as Jupiter’s fate is decided.
It’s hard not to marvel at some of the film’s special effects. Part of it is the shear spectacle — the vibrant colours, the intricate designs, the visualization of what the universe’s super rich would look like — but the film also still manages to ground much of it in some semblance of reality. Those aren’t CGI versions of Kunis and Tatum fleeing across Chicago on a pair of rocket skates, those are the actors (or in some cases their stunt doubles) getting pulled on cables and then having CGI added. It really makes a difference.
When you think of The Matrix the first thing that comes to mind is the impeccably choreographed fights between Neo and Morpheus (and Smith), and the introduction of bullet time. That lineage is on full display here with several exhilarating fight scenes.
It’s difficult to create fiction from scratch and then apply it to a massive world, but the Wachowskis have done a good job in many aspects. The concept of humanity’s origins and time in the universe is interesting, the widespread practice of splicing (which should be familiar to BioShock fans) and its various permutations is cool, and a lot of the tech/weaponry is unique looking. Granted, not everything feels fresh — Earth’s true purpose, the entitled heirs, etc. — but we bought into it enough that a sequel might capably build on what’s been put in place here.
Channing Tatum is a generally likeable actor, and while some of his romantic build with Mila Kunis is more than a little cheesy, he’s still an easy character to root for. Oh, and those dragon people that work for Balem… awesome.
It’s safe to say if we never hear another actor deliver lines the way Eddie Redmayne does as Balem we’d be OK with that. He alternates between clench-jawed whisper and high-pitched shriek, and, well, it’s just pretty terrible — we struggled to make out 90 percent of his dialogue and then went scrambling for the volume control for the other 10. Given that Redmayne is an Oscar-winning actor it’s hard to believe he wasn’t told to deliver his lines exactly that way. Ugh.
While we appreciate that Jupiter Ascending doesn’t have a Hobbit-esque run time, it did feel as though the film should have been longer, or alternately maybe a section or character should have been pulled. Plotlines seem to just end without definitive conclusion, specifically those relating to Titus and his sister, Kalique (Tuppence Middleton). In fact, we’re still not sure what her motives were. She just sort of brings Jupiter up to speed and poof, she’s gone.
Granted, extended versions and Director’s cuts are overdone, but Jupiter Ascending could benefit from another 15-20 minutes of content to flesh out some of the tangential storylines. And if they really didn’t want to extend the length, they should feel free to drop the whole “DMV in space” scene. It’s played for levity, but it comes off as a less interesting version of things we’ve seen done better in films like Hellboy (Troll Market) and Harry Potter (Diagon Alley).
THE BONUS FEATURES
Not only is there not an extended edition, there aren’t even any deleted scenes. There are, however, some featurettes that help explain some aspects of the story via character profiles. They’re all well produced and worth watching, especially since you can blow through them all in under an hour.
Based on some of the things we’d heard around its release you’d have thought Jupiter Ascending was a complete train wreck. It isn’t. It’s a popcorn flick that would’ve fit right in during the summer months (when it was originally scheduled to release) with its blend of action and effects. There are definitely some weak points, but if you like action sci-fi it’s worth checking out.