Film Review: Jupiter Ascending

by Chad Liffmann on February 6, 2015

A Jupiter-sized mess (and Jupiter is big).

Channing Tatum "surfing" around shooting and being shot at.

Channing Tatum “surfing” around shooting and being shot at.

There’s a line in Jupiter Ascending where a former alien soldier stationed on Earth tells a newly-discovered woman of royalty, “Bees don’t lie.”  With or without context, you should get a sense of how ridiculous this sounds, because it is.  Completely.  Ridiculous.  Jupiter Ascending, from the Wachowskis, whose credibility is descending rapidly, is a silly overwrought mess.  Too much is packed into too complex a premise.  The tone shifts back and forth between silly and serious, imaginative and derivative, from The Fifth Element to Dune (minus the intelligence).  When a movie gets pushed from a summer tentpole position (May-July) to the cinema graveyard shift (January-February), it’s obvious that something is wrong.  In the case of Jupiter Ascending, it has all the makings of a sci fi summer blockbuster, but fails to execute on all fronts aside from some nifty special effects that look quite pretty.

Okay, the plot.  The plot.  Um, okay, so a cringeworthy voiceover begins the film by introducing us to a nerdy couple that have a kid who will grow up to be Mila Kunis, or Jupiter Jones (the father was an astronomer, you see…).  Now grown up and hating life as a housecleaner, she passively deals with her awkward dysfunctional family, including a somewhat sleazy cousin trying to convince her to sell her eggs for money.  Yup, I’m gonna move faster through this — alien bounty hunters are hired to kill Jupiter by a whiny participant of an intergalactic dynasty inheritance battle and the other participants also hire other alien people-finders to get to Jupiter first because a lot of wealth and power is at stake for Matrix-ey reasons.  Don’t try re-reading the previous sentence to understand the plot.  It’s easy enough to follow while watching the film, but heaven forbid you ask the question, ‘Wait, why?’. To ask that question during Jupiter Ascending is to unravel the entirety of the script, which seems to rely heavily on coming up with excuses on the fly for showing cool looking things.

And what a waste of talent.  To have Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum acting beneath their skill level may not mean much to many, but to also have Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne so easily wasted is a downright shame.  Could the decision to postpone the release of this film have to do with Redmayne’s Oscar chances for The Theory of Everything?  You bet.  But I digress. Sean Bean is a reliable scene stealer and does well here, and Redmayne is actually quite sinister with his psychotic whispery tone of voice (‘Wait, why?’).  Terry Gilliam even pops in during a sequence obviously paying homage to a far superior film, Brazil.  Needless to say, the Wachowskis seem to still have their pick of the actor talent pool, but showcasing them in something worthwhile is becoming less and less their strong suit.

Jupiter Ascending is also a case where I feel bad for the special effects teams, who obviously put monumental effort into making this film look the way it does.  Like the Transformers trilogy, Jupiter Ascending can’t and shouldn’t get by on its visuals alone.  Yet I should give them their due.  The action sequences are entertainingly hyperactive.  Channing Tatum’s character, Caine Wise, surfs through air between buildings in gravity boots and it’s all actually rather fun to watch.  And there are a lot of slick gun fights, glowing shields, space battles, alien worlds, and winged reptilian creatures who look like they just arrived from the set of Rango (‘Wait, why?’).  It’s all a colorful spectacle for sure, kind of in the same way that holding your breath until you see stars is a fun spectacle.  Manage your time wisely because Jupiter Ascending is unlikely to create any positive buzz.  And remember, bees don’t lie.

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Jupiter Ascending opens in theaters today, February 6th.

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