Jupiter Ascending (2015)

2015 #169
The Wachowskis | 127 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA, UK & Australia / English & Russian | 12 / PG-13

Ah, the Wachowskis. They made Bound, and no one much cared. Then they made The Matrix, and they were the biggest thing in blockbusterdom since George Lucas took us to a galaxy far, far away. Then they made the Matrix sequels, and no one cared again. Following a period when I don’t think I was alone in wondering if they were ever going to make anything else, they managed to return to the realm of mega-budgeted sci-fi action (I guess the Matrix sequels cleaned up at the box office and that’s all that matters). First there was Speed Racer (which I called “a candy-coloured masterpiece”), then Cloud Atlas (which I haven’t got round to still), and most recently Sense8 (which I certainly haven’t got time for — there’s way too much promising telly to spend time on a show I haven’t heard anyone talk about since its release day).

And earlier this year there was Jupiter Ascending, best known (as far as I’m aware) for provoking speculation it would cost Eddie Redmayne the Oscar for Theory of Everything because it came out during voting season and he was so gosh darn bad in it. And it’s also known for being just generally dreadful and universally disdained.

But, hey, look — Channing Tatum! 2015 is (as mentioned) the year of Channing Tatum for me. And this is a big sci-fi blockbuster, so chances are it would cross my visual cortex eventually regardless (though there are so many sci-fi blockbusters these days that they don’t feel nearly as precious as they did even ten years ago). And the universal disdain wasn’t actually universal — I have actually seen some people praise this film. I know, right?

Sadly, I still thought Jupiter Ascending was awful.

The plot… oh, do I have to explain the plot? It’s some rubbish about a cleaner (Mila Kunis) getting attacked by aliens and some alien crossbreed in magic flying shoes (Channing Tatum) coming to her rescue, and taking her to a half-bee man (Sean Bean — there has to be a “Sean Bee-n” joke here…), and then into space, because she’s… nope, not the Chosen One (makes a change, at least) but a reincarnation of someone important, and her surviving family members (Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Eddie Redmayne) have a vested interest in her — which may or not be that they want her dead (again).

You might thank me for clarifying that, because it’s mindbogglingly messy in the telling. A sheen of originality, partially aided by world-building so dense it’s conveyed in massive infodumps that blur into incomprehensibility, tries to mask the fact that Jupiter Ascending is immensely derivative, including of the Wachowskis’ own work. One of the best bits, a gently satirical sequence of red tape and bureaucracy, is all but lifted wholesale from Hitchhikers or the films of Terry Gilliam — who turns up in a cameo as if to underline the point. Elsewhere you might recall David Lynch’s Dune or The Fifth Element — the latter in particular, although there the campiness was deliberate.

Some praise the visuals, claiming the film at least looks fabulous. Parts of the film carry a level of extravagance and detail thus far found exclusively in a certain genre of sci-fi novel cover art, presumably because CGI has finally reached a point where it can replicate all that on screen in motion. I guess it works for some people, but while it’s not bad, it also didn’t do much for me. And every time something almost works, something else undermines it, like Tatum’s make-up, or his flying boots, or Redmayne’s bizarre, affected performance. Though, to be honest, I think he’s so bad he’s good, a phrase you often hear bandied around but rarely see actually happen.

All things considered, the worst part of Jupiter Ascending is its first half-hour or so. Once it gets past that dreadfully messy first act, it settles down into something that works as passable entertainment. Sure, you might spend the rest of the time (and it does feel like a long time) playing “spot the influence”, or wondering just how exactly Redmayne’s performance came about, or, if you’re versed in British TV, going, “oh, it’s them, from… um… that other thing!” (Eventually there’s a whole spaceship full of “people off British TV”.)

But hey, at least it’s not dull.

2 out of 5

Jupiter Ascending debuts on Sky Movies Premiere tonight at 4pm and 8pm.

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8 thoughts on “Jupiter Ascending (2015)

  1. I think that’s a fair comment. I was willing to give this one a chance, and the Wachowksis have certainly generated my goodwill (I too really like SPEED RACER) but I didn’t really enjoy it all, just a bit of a mess all told. You did mention not having watched CLOUD ATLAS, which is understandable given its length, but I liked it a lot and would happily offer a recommendation. A good mixture of humour, violence and some efforts at profundity. One thing you could say about CA, like SR and definitely THE MATRIX, is that they all offered things you’d never seen beforehand, but sadly with this one I thought it was a little too generic if anything.

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    • Yeah, I was hoping the bile it received would turn out to be misplaced, which is rather what happened with Speed Racer (not to mention plenty of non-Wachowski films). Not to be, unfortunately.

      Glad to have another recommendation for Cloud Atlas. It’s on The Pile, but has slipped into that no man’s land between “new releases” and “older films I really should have seen”.

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  2. Hey, I admit I quite liked it at the cinema, but then again, I think that was around the time I saw the Transformers films and frankly, Jupiter Ascending is High Art compared to the Baymeisters epics.

    Haven’t seen it since so will have to give it a rewatch. I remember it being batshit crazy and thinking it due some credit for that. And it looked pretty good. And I adored Cloud Atlas so am inclined to forgive the Wachowskis anything after that.

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    • My comment about people who liked it was much ruder before I re-read your review… In seriousness, though, I think there are some decent-enough elements here, but it feels wildly out of control. If they’d reined it in early on, kept it streamlined on Jupiter, it… well, it would’ve solved some problems. The space-set stuff is so much better than the Earth crap with her friends and family.

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      • Sometimes even a bad film can catch you in the right mood and get a too-kind response, just as a good film can catch you in a bad mood, leaving it with an overly-harsh review. And sometimes bad films can be interesting while good films bland and playing it all too safe. Which is sort of saying its a bit of a crapshoot.

        Regards Jupiter, it clearly is a mess. I appreciate the Wacky(sic)owskis ambition but really its far too out of control. Surprising how often that happens to different degrees: Prometheus went awry and so did the Hobbit films. Sometimes pushing it works, sometimes it just goes nuts. I’m wondering what I’ll think of Tomorrowland second time around…

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        • The fact all of those films are from well-established names shows how much experimentation (at least in the big-budget sphere) is limited to those who can really push for it. Unfortunately, studios seem to treat original ideas like female superheroes: as soon as one flops, it means they all will.

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