A 7-month delay and a deflated premiere? Oh, boy. Even so, I still stand by the Wachowskis’ latest, convincing myself the date shift is necessary and Sundance was the wrong place for big-budget fares. Two hours and 7 minutes later… I guess it was better to heed the red flags.
The film begins with the stars, not among but beneath them, the place where Maximilian Jones (James D’Arcy) and his soon-to-be wife Aleksa (Maria Doyle Kennedy) are at. After the former is killed by robbers, Aleksa escapes to the U.S. on a freighter ship. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is also born here. People say she’s meant for great things, but a life of waking up at 4:45 a.m. day to day, cleaning toilets and facing money matters proves otherwise. However, strange beings from outer space arrive to kill her, as is the half man/half wolf soldier Caine (Channing Tatum) to save her, because Jupiter is the reincarnated Queen of the Universe.
“Out of this world” – literally and figuratively – is the kind of material the Wachowskis are attracted to, and subsequently the reason why they’re one of the most interesting filmmakers out there. First the lesbian crime caper Bound, then the reality-bending The Matrix, Speed Racer being the closest we’ll ever get to a live-action anime and finally the insanely ambitious Cloud Atlas. As soon as the sibling filmmakers are at the helm there’s a promise that the world you’ll see on-screen is a unique one. Once again, the siblings succeed. Despite the outrageousness of it all – Earth isn’t the only planet with life, was “seeded” by an alien industry and is an asset in said industry’s interplanetary real estate business – the Wachowskis build and sell Jupiter Ascending’s universe so well it’s highly believable. As a result, the disappointment that comes upon realizing the inhabitants of this world are outright dull is made more real.
Memories of The Fifth Element and The Tourist remake rush through my mind while watching Jupiter Ascending. Like the former, it’s neat to know there’s a lightheartedness to the film – the humor and intentional cheese factor – though not all the gags feel natural or well-delivered. Like the latter, Kunis and Tatum show no chemistry, resulting in a case of “two cool performers standing close to each other” à la Depp-Jolie in the Venice-centric romance thriller. The ingredients for Jupiter Ascending to make a killing are there, but the lack of coherence in content and characters, cause the film to commit suicide instead.
Speaking of suicides, many claim to be witnessing the sinking of Eddie Redmayne’s career. A bit harsh, to be honest, because he’s competent in being intimidating and threatening, not to mention this role is so different to his acclaimed portrayal of Stephen Hawking. Though marketed as the film’s central villain, more time is spent on Kalique – the second heir of the Abrasax family and a lot more on Titus – Balem’s brother and the youngest heir of the Abrasax family – only for them to be no longer mentioned once they’re introduced. It’s baffling to see how fractured the story and unfocused its players are; the oddly inelegant editing seems to suggest a lot of material has been left out.
As a visual spectacle, however, Jupiter Ascending will not disappoint. Every time you see a ship or a planet, prepare to have your breath taken away. And had the film been released during awards season, the ravishing costumes from Wachowskis’ regular Kym Barrett and opulent sets from Peter Walpole would have collected all sorts of statues. Even cinematographer John Toll, who prior to Cloud Atlas and Iron Man 3 is CGI-shy, amazes with vibrant colors and dazzling angles. Topping all these elements is Michael Giacchino’s epic brass and choir-heavy score that splendidly highlight the stakes and the importance of claiming one’s destiny, basically two things the Wachowskis might have forgotten while writing Jupiter Ascending.
In a time of sequels and remakes, something original and, yes, weird like Jupiter Ascending is much needed. Despite setting out to covet what the titular planet and its eponymous characters have to offer, the film can only portray and get lost in the storms. This is a crash landing of the most mesmerizing kind.