The Wachowskis today pretty much have quite a similar reputation and backstory as director M. Night Shyamalan who also fell from glory rather quickly.
Whereas one of their first directorial efforts, The Matrix, turned out as one of the most revolutionary action movie blockbusters with its cutting-edge special effects work, extremely well choreographed action and philosophical subtext, all of their following works however slowly made them descend more and more in terms of directing and screenwriting talent.Starting off from the heavily underwhelming Matrix sequels, over the twisted Speed Racer, to the muddled Cloud Atlas. But even considering that their movies mostly seemed to turn out as big critical failures, the Wachowskis still always somewhat managed to at least show that they are willing to take risks with their movies and stories in order to deliver their own ideas to the big screen.
The Wachowskis newest film, Jupiter Ascending, seems to also deliver greatly in terms of visual spectacle. Taking place partially on Earth and partially on other alien worlds, the Wachowskis sure took on a very ambitious project with this one. But now that it's released after a year long delay, did it pay off?
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) was born under a night sky, with signs predicting that she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning toilets and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along - her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.
Right from the start it gets obvious that Jupiter Ascending is a movie that loves to give exposition. Jupiter Ascending is another Wachowski movie that shows that there indeed are a lot of interesting ideas of a unique sci-fi universe in it. That being said, it's therefore pretty unfortunate that none of the many ideas and lore the movie throws at its audience are presented in a nearly as logical or reasonably deep way as the movie seems to think they are.
Jupiter Ascending's story in itself is a very predictable one. Focussing on Jupiter Jones who at first doesn't know that she herself is actually of royal alien heritage, it's clear that this is yet another one of those stories that focus on "THE ONE hero who doesn't know that he is about to save the universe". But seeing that THE ONE now is portraied as the fragile female Mila Kunis, an accompanying male lead in the form of Channing Tatum is thrown into the story in order to protect her...or in other words: to make the action scenes work.
|BEHOLD! GREAT DESTINY AND ADVENTURE AWAITS!|
However, from a sheer narrative standpoint, the Wachowskis somehow didn't even manage to sell this very stereotypically structured main story in a functional enough or satisfying way. Among many other things, the biggest reasons why Jupiter Ascending's story fails to really invest viewers are first and foremost the lack of a good pacing and given context to care about what's going on.
The pacing in Jupiter Ascending is a big problem. While the movie tries to confidently enough start off with a pretty enjoyable and quick pace with just enough exposition and action scenes mixed together, after the first third of the movie, the story seems to drop into a big hole in which the pace slows down tremendously with way too many supposed story twists and nonsensical lore thrown together in numerous clicheed dialogue scenes. On top of that, many of the characters, most notably Jupiter, feel very unrelatable and unable to even remotely connect to the audience who by now doesn't even really care for Jupiter's fate (aside from the fact that the audience knows that she is going to be saved by hero Channing Tatum in the last minute anyway).
|Don't worry. We all know Channing is going to save you.|
Through its predictable nature and unrelatable (and 2-dimensional) characters, Jupiter Ascending fails to evoke necessary tension throughout to make its most dramatic scenes the least bit investing or exciting.
The biggest victim in that case are the action scenes in the movie. The action scenes in Jupiter Ascending are without any doubt technically very impressive showcases of imaginative art design and computer related special effects work, yet dramatically they absolutely miss their goal to make the viewer's heart pumping.
Ships, gadgets and worlds certainly do look cool but action scenes seem to appear without any good build up or creative choreography, leading to most of the action scenes simply consisting out of dogfights between spaceships shooting lasers at each other like crazy or Channing Tatum being chased by flying enemies who (you guessed it) also frantically shoot lasers at him.
It just comes down to even the action in the movie, which basically is only apparent at the start and ending of the movie, not serving a dramatic but more of a functional nature, meaning that the action scenes are just there to just be there...and then end. Tension or real danger for the heroes is never present or at leat depicted effectively.
|Don't expect any great action choreography.|
Jupiter Ascending is furthermore a movie that, as already mentioned, puts a whole lot of time into exposition to present viewers the Wachowski's newest vision of an alien inhabited sci-fi universe. And even though many aspects in the frequently explained lore throughout the movie's dialogue scenes are indeed interesting, the fact that random facts about the alien culture are just thrown at the audience without essentially delving into it deeper to make it sound more realistic and comprehensible destroy any credibility in Jupiter Ascending's supposedly fascinating world. But even worse, without this necessary depth, all of the ideas in Jupiter Ascending sadly come off as bland and in the worst instances even laughably idiotic.
Here are some examples to underline what i am trying to get at:
-Many of the aliens in Jupiter Ascending's world are supposedly hybrid-cross-breed-warriors consisting of half human and half animal DNA. Why then is Channing Tatum still looking so much human and so little like a wolf when he is supposedly far more wolf than man? And why are all crossed animals Earth-animals?
- At another point in the movie, it is explained that Jupiter naturally attracts bees, who follow her and don't harm her (like a Disney Princess), because bees naturally sense royalty... - So then, why exactly bees and no other queen-led insects like ants? And why exactly do bees sense royal ALIEN heritage/blood and no other royal human being or royal creature? It's not like Jupiter possesses any remarkable superhuman alien powers or anything that would make her any more special than any other "royal" creature.
The list goes on and on...
Jupiter Ascending's world and ideas sure might seem creative (to some extent) at first glance but quickly reveal themselves to be nothing more than a surface of goofy gimmicks to masque the fact that little or barely any deep thoughts were actually put into them.
The fact that some of them even come off as shallow rip-offs of ideas from other far better sci-fi movies like Men in Black or Wachowski's very own The Matrix, only makes the director duo's attempts to make the lore of Jupiter Ascending feel deep and fascinating even the more pathetic in the end.
|So, bees can apparently sense royal heritage...Are you serious?|
The quality of acting performances pretty much just completes Jupiter Ascending's overstuffed, mostly ridiculous and self-absorbed style.
On the forefront we got Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum as the two main protagonists of the flick. While both are never really annoying or remarkably bad at acting, it's simply the thin screenplay that prevents any of them to build up a unique and 3-dimensional personality.
Channing Tatum's character Caine lacks any really interesting backstory that transcends the clicheed "lone-wolf" archetype that we already saw a bunch of hundred times already. But the biggest miss between the two goes to Mila Kunis' character Jupiter. The movie constantly tries to establish her as the everyday hard-working, toilet scrubbing, poor girl, yet Kunis never sells this character realistically like that to us. Revelations to her that the world is influenced by alien life, her being an intergalactic princess, etc. all don't really trigger a realistic reaction from her. The vast majority of the time she just seems way too passive or calm towards mind blowing twists and life-threatening situations. Making matters worse is the fact that (unlike other "the one"-characters like Matrix's Neo) Jupiter never questions the reality or truth behind her everyday life. Her only thoughts and worries mainly surround her own future and the well-being of her family. This makes it only the more confusing when Jupiter suddenly seems to be all too instantly invested in her role as a galactic princess during the second half of the movie when she just only hours ago was told about her royalty.
Either due to simply bad and thin writing or even because maybe much of the movie was cut out during the post-production process, Jupiter Ascending's protagonists' motivations are rarely presented in a comprehensible or satisfying way to the viewer.
And regarding the supposed romantic chemistry between Caine and Jupiter...don't even get me started. The romance between the two feels so heavily forced into the plot with Kunis coming off as so overly horny, that romantic conversations between the two would easily qualify as cheap intro sequences for a softcore porn movie.
|When the only wolf-like features of your wolf-human hybrid are the ears.|
But the true marvel of badness all centers around one specific character - Eddie Redmayne as Balem Abrasax.
It sure will be a hard task for anyone to come up with a more over-the-top silly and laughably ridiculous villain performance than Redmayne's depiction of antagonist Balem. Aside from his motivations being mainly rooted in him just being a spoiled royal brat, his laughably fruity looks and tendency to drastically and spontaneously jump from calm and menacing line delivery to full-on frantic screams will undoubtedly make for a great number of unintended laughter in the audience. Balem Abrasax' character is barely really given any real insight into, but seeing how often this exact same villain archetype was already used in countless other sci-fi movies, there's hardly any person in the audience that would really ask for more insight.
While other villainous and shady characters in Jupiter's treacherous galactic royal family are also present in the movie's plot, their importance and screentime are mostly so limited that it doesn't even matter to really talk about them here.
|Forget the movie's numerous flat jokes. THIS is the real comedy right there.|
Overall, Jupiter Ascending is yet another Wachowski sci-fi flick whose admittedly impressive visuals and art design (except the make-up) are probably the only true positives in the entire movie. Featuring a predictable "The One will save us"- plot, gimmicky lore without any real depth, unrelatable protagonists, and ridiculous (but funny) villains, there's barely anything really worth seeing in Jupiter Ascending.
Though the movie occasionally hints at a creatively designed universe with an own backstory and lore, it all just reveals itself as a shallow surface to masque the fact that the entire movie's selling point simply remains the CGI-overstuffed action scenes. But seeing that even those fail to evoke any sense of tension or excitement for the viewer, since they are weakly choreographed and build up to, even action-wise Jupiter Ascending isn't really recommendable.
Though the movie's trailers might do a respectable job in somewhat presenting the movie as an epic adventure, Jupiter Ascending is a big and overproduced misfire and fully deserves its current status as a box office bomb. Only viewers with quite low standards or viewers who have no problem embracing the movie's own stupidity might get some fun time out of it. Otherwise, this is just another overblown waste of time that just further underlines how much the Wachowskis have fallen from grace since their only big hit, The Matrix.
Final Verdict: 2 out of 10