I admit it. I walked into the theatre completely biased. I was not expecting to like this film. Honestly, I haven’t really liked a Wachowski (Andy and Lana) film since the first Matrix film and I still think their best film is Bound. I think their visual style is impressive though, even if I don’t like their story-telling (In this respect, I feel about them the same way I feel about Tim Burton). So it was with low hopes I went to see Jupiter Ascending, a science fiction story about reconstituted genetic sequences, lost heirs and a dog (there’s always got to be a dog).
I was disappointed. Jupiter Ascending didn’t suck. In fact, it was fun, if forgettable. And the problem, honestly, was a problem The Wachowskis tend to have a lot – a case of thinking more is more when in fact, less here would have served them much better. The plot, a tale of three siblings fighting over their mother’s inheritance gets slightly complicated when said mother is reincarnated in the form of Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) an Earth woman, Russian immigrant, housecleaner who wants nothing more than to replace the telescope stolen from her father the night he was killed by Russian agents before she was born and her mother gave birth to her on a ship in the middle of the ocean. That’s the first 5 minutes of the film. From there things get really complicated and we discover the Earth is really just a farm of sorts and the essence of people are distilled down to make an elixir to give everlasting life (we’re told this is the only thing in the universe worth fighting for – this becomes the reason for the shenanigans to follow).
In the middle of all this comes Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), the aforementioned dog (well, gene-spliced canine bred for war except this one is an albino with a soft streak defect, but you get the point) who has been hired to retrieve the girl for one of the siblings. There are also dragon people, cyborgs, an elephant dude, cliche “grey” aliens and Terry freaking Gilliam in a small, but pivotal role. Can you start to see where the problem comes in? There’s so much going on you barely have time to register it before you’re off again in a new direction. When you add in the required set pieces of huge, alien industrial area explosions and building destroying battles in the skies over Chicago, which are beautiful (but I this I did expect) you barely have time for the characters.
Thing is, this isn’t a plot driven plot. There’s no mystery. There’s not enough intrigue to care about the political minutia. There’s not even the palace backstabbings we might expect from one of the galaxy’s royal families. Without a lot of plot, we should have characters to hang our story on and we just don’t. We never rest long enough to care about anyone. No one changes because of their adventure, and no one, except the bad guys (Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, and Tuppence Middleton) seem to have solid reasons for anything they do. Okay, Sean Bean as a disgraced cop with a sick daughter does, but it’s so blatant and obvious it hardly counts as motivation.
It seems that what The Wachowskis were relying on is the acting chops of their performers. Sure, they’ve got Eddie Redmayne, who is up for an Oscar for his work in The Theory of Everything, but he’s too busy chewing scenery to develop a character. Bean is always good, even if he’s working with an accent strange to us, so that works. Then there’s Kunis and Tatum. They’re in a completely different film from everyone else, possibly even from each other. They have so little chemistry they could be in one of Walter White’s high school classes. Personally, I think Tatum took the gig specifically so he could play an intergalactic roller-skater (his primary form of transportation is a pair of anti-gravity hiking boots which propel him through the sky just like a pair of Disco is totally not dead quad skates).
So yeah, it didn’t suck. The story made sense even if it was as shallow as the toilets Jupiter cleans and action was exciting, even if there was no point in cheering for either side. If you don’t have a horse in the race, it’s just fun to watch for the joy of watching.