According to interviews, Andy and Lana Wachowski’s screenplay for Jupiter Ascending was originally more than 200 pages long. Assuming the usual metric of one page in the script being about one minute on the screen, that means they chopped 40% from it. And boy, does it show. Many expositional details — heck, even a few entire scenes — are included despite being ultimately irrelevant, while other elements go unexplained. It’s a muddled, confusing hodge-podge of a sci-fi spectacle that presumably made more sense in the original screenplay … and which I almost thoroughly enjoyed in spite of itself.
They swung for the fences on this one, that’s for sure. It’s the story of a Russian immigrant named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) who works as a maid with her mother and aunt in Chicago. You can ignore most of what we’re told about Jupiter in the first 20 minutes (she wants to sell her eggs; her sleazy cousin is acting as egg pimp; her dad was an astronomer) because it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she is the genetic reincarnation of a dead alien queen whose three children — whispery fey camp villain Balem (Eddie Redmayne), princely conniver Titus (Douglas Booth), and nondescript because I think her whole subplot got cut out Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) — are squabbling over their inheritance. Specifically, the Earth, which belonged to Mom and now belongs to Jupiter (the girl, not the planet) because she’s the reincarnation of Mom and that’s just how it works, OK?
Explaining it won’t help. The important thing is that these three highly advanced aliens who look like humans (well, except Redmayne) all have strategic reasons to want Jupiter either dead or captured. A bounty hunter named Caine (Channing Tatum) is dispatched to Earth to collect her, but he becomes her friend and protector instead. (Jupiter is the protagonist, but she’s also a girl, so she needs to be rescued a lot.) Caine mentions that he’s genetically part wolf and part albino, to name just two more details that could have been omitted because they’re never mentioned again. He skates around, sometimes shirtless, on nifty gravity boots. He has a friend named Stinger (Sean Bean) who’s part bee. Did you know bees can recognize royalty? That’s a “thing” with them.
I should stop telling you details. It will make you think the movie is more flat-out bonkers than it really is. Only Redmayne’s performance approaches the level of trash masterpiece; everyone else is more or less on the mark, giving it their all without tipping over into cheesiness.
The impressive variety of alien creatures scattered throughout the film, from skittering little gremlins to hulking winged dinosaur-men, along with the “gee whiz!” sense of adventure that permeates the story — along with, sure, Michael Giacchino’s bombastic score that features vocal choruses — puts a person in the mind of Star Wars. Other elements suggest Dune and Brazil, including an amusing sequence of surreal intergalactic bureaucracy that’s a direct homage to the latter. A chase scene in the skies over Chicago is thrillingly realized. There are imaginative touches in the sets and costumes, and in the peculiar details of alien society.
The bureaucracy sequence is entertaining but adds nothing to the story. That’s because there’s nothing to add to. For as big, bold, and fun as the film is, it has very little depth, no weightier things on its mind. That’s quite a change from the Big Themes of The Matrix and Cloud Atlas, and I’d be curious to know whether the fuller version of Jupiter Ascending had more meat on its bones. It lacks a fearsome villain, too, which is a critical miscalculation. If your story is ultimately no more complicated than “good versus evil,” well, your evil ought to be well represented, don’t you think?
Say what you will about the Wachowski siblings — for example, Speed Racer is unwatchable even on second try — but one thing is beyond dispute: they’re fully committed to their nerdy, insanely detailed sci-fi stories. That enthusiasm is infectious. Jupiter Ascending is bold, silly, and messy, but it’s sincere. Watching it, you get the feeling (even though you know this isn’t the case) that Andy and Lana don’t care if it makes money, that they’ll happily spin their adventure yarns for whoever will listen. For me, that separates this from something prefabricated like, say, Seventh Son, where you can tell the primary motivator was that someone wanted to launch a lucrative franchise and didn’t care if it was any good. You might not think Jupiter Ascending is good, but you have to see that the Wachowskis at least wanted it to be.
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