Wesley Emblidge ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Movies Editor
Say what you will about the Wachowski siblings, but you can’t call them unimaginative. After hitting it big by revolutionizing sci-fi movies with The Matrix (and two decent if lesser sequels), the two went off to make Speed Racer in 2008, Cloud Atlas in 2012, and now this year Jupiter Ascending. Those later movies all have three things in common: they’re expensive, they’re ambitious, and unless Jupiter does especially well this weekend, they’re massive box-office flops. And while their new film doesn’t invent a new CG filmmaking style or intertwine five radically different stories, it’s still packed full of more ideas than most of last summer’s blockbusters combined. Do those ideas work? That’s more up for debate.
The first and most important thing to know going in is that Jupiter Ascending is silly. It’s a big, bold, goofy space opera and it knows that, so don’t expect it to apologize for crazy costumes or campy performances. It starts grounded enough, with Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) cleaning toilets with her widowed mother (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and aunt on Earth. But quickly she’s discovered to be the reincarnation of the galactic heir to Earth, which means the current owner Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne) needs her dead before she’s able to claim it. Fortunately, she’s able to get help from a human-wolf hybrid named Caine (Channing Tatum) who brings her out into the galaxy on a massive space adventure.
One could argue Jupiter Ascending purely as a huge middle finger from the Wachowskis to anyone who was blown away by how weird Guardians of the Galaxy was. Sure, they had a talking raccoon, but Jupiter has a whole slew of people bred with animals (Gugu Mbatha-Raw for example, shows up with huge mouse ears), lots of talk about royalty and destiny, and a performance so over the top from Redmayne it makes you forget he’s up for the Oscar later this month. Not all of it works, for sure, but the movie is so jam packed with ideas that as soon as you realize how bad a moment is you’re on to something else. Powered by Michael Giacchino’s epic score, the film is almost too fast-paced, as it blows past a lot of seemingly important exposition in an attempt to keep things moving.
Ultimately, the Wachowskis don’t really have any problems building this huge world (the effects and production design here are incredible) or crafting some top notch action sequences (one chase scene in the skies of Chicago is bound to be one of the year’s best); their biggest problems are really with casting. Tatum seems to have left all the charm he found in recent films and reverted to being the wooden action star he was five years ago. Kunis is out of place (somewhat purposely), cracking wise about how strange all this is, and she and Tatum have absolutely no chemistry rendering their seemingly inevitable romance laughable. Redmayne’s even goofier than the movie itself, which makes scenes between him and Kunis completely bizarre to watch.
That’s where Jupiter Ascending falters most; is has so many moving parts and many just don’t mesh together. At times the movie showcases the Wachowskis in top form, but at many others it’s worse than anything in the Matrix sequels. For fans of the directors and of big wild sci-fi movies this is very worth seeing, but others probably won’t find much to like.
Overall Grade: C+