Jupiter Ascending (DVD)

mila kunis and channing tatum over the sky and cityscape
The Wachowskis
5
Sunday, Oct 2, 2016

This movie is crazysauce, that’s all I can say. Crazysauce poured over an amazing sci-fi spectacular with a generous dose of cheese and a side of over-the-top drama, and those with a healthy sense of the ridiculous will eat it up with glee. If you are not a fan of campy fun, it may not be your cuppa. But if you enjoy stylish space opera with a capital O, cult classics like Labyrinth and Dune, or fangirl over broody heroes, this movie will be your catnip. The Wachowski siblings have created a true extravaganza of beautifully designed worlds, costumes, aliens, human hybrid breeds, gadgets and action sequences, and for all its “damsel in distress” and “plucky young chosen one becomes the most specialest of snowflakes” plot trappings, subverted a surprising number of gender and genre stereotypes.

Mila Kunis stars as eponymous heroine Jupiter Jones, whose life of drudgery cleaning toilets is offset by the wackiness of her Russian-American family. It says something about our current state of filmmaking that I was at first baffled I couldn’t find the book, comic, or character Jupiter was based on, because that’s right folks, this is all original material! Hallelujah and thank you Wachowskis! Kunis’s abundant personal charm makes Jupiter a character the viewer can root for, even when the script rather lets her down.

Channing Tatum plays Jupiter’s love interest Caine Wise, who embodies every single paranormal romance hero cliché imaginable. He’s a human-wolf genetic hybrid with pointy elvish ears (I’ll pause to wait for the groans regarding his name), an albino (at least they say so, although he just looked to me like Channing Tatum with blonded hair and a little frosty makeup, not Powder), an ex-military soldier-for-hire, a loner with a shady and dangerous past complete with rumors of instability and murder, wears leather and broods, sports tattoos as well as a brand (I know!), and has what appears to be the only pair of totally awesome anti-gravity boots in the universe. Oh, and—wait for it—he had angel wings, but they were cut off. Cue the angst (and the shirtlessness)!

The romance between Jupiter and Caine is somewhat wooden, but can be forgiven in the face of everything else the actors have going on. I think the movie supposes that when two single and beautiful protagonists meet the romance is basically a foregone conclusion, especially when more scenes spent developing them together would have taken away time from another one of the awesome space battles or outfit changes that the Wachowskis clearly couldn’t resist. Our couple’s dialogue together is spectacularly bad, as the infamous dog quote and the trailer can attest, but clearly the filmmakers knew it was bad and totally went with the cray-cray, elevating it from merely bad to so-bad-it’s-funny. It helps that I watched it with my husband and we’re both MST3K aficionados, so we reveled in the ridiculousness.

Eddie Redmayne, who plays the villainous Balem, totally steals the show every time he’s onscreen. If you have not seen him before, go watch him now. You will love him. His scenery-chewing villain can go from zero to crazy in .03 seconds, and he affects a sort of 90 year old man voice that is wrong and creepy and ultimately wonderful. My hubby and I broke out in laughter whenever he appeared, and I said, “If they ever remake the Harry Potter movies, he’d be perfect as Voldemort.” To which DH replied, “He already is. He’s more Ralph Fiennes than Ralph Fiennes.”

There is a side villain, Titus, with creepy Oedipal overtones that prompted us to muse that wanting to murder the reincarnation of your mom makes a whole lot more sense than wanting to marry her. Maybe he exists to make the main villain look better? But Jupiter gamely goes along with his plans because the script calls for a wedding scene so a wedding scene we will get. And it is indeed gorgeous, reminiscent of Seymour and Yuna’s wedding-that-wasn’t in Final Fantasy X mixed with Queen Amidala’s fashion sense.

Sean Bean is also here and wonderful as usual, but I won’t spoil whether he kicks the bucket or not. He plays bee-hybrid Stinger (because why not?) and we desperately hoped there would be a stinger after the credits with him. (Note to filmmakers: totally missed opportunity!)

My only criticism of the film is that in all the pageantry the filmmakers forgot one thing: character interaction. This is a common complaint of mine, so your mileage may vary. If you found the second Hobbit movie to be a non-stop thrill ride of good times, then you will have no problems with Jupiter Ascending. If you watched the Lego Movie and thought “It’s so awesome how they build stuff in midair while they’re escaping!” then you will love the similar scene in Jupiter Ascending (at least, I think that’s what happened in that scene). If, however, you long for scenes where characters actually talk, and find yourself baffled and a little bored by endless action sequences where the special effects and gadgetry are so in evidence that it’s hard to figure out what’s going on, you might want to steer clear of the Wachowski’s latest. Or at least prepare to zone out a little. But when your only complaint is that you want more, it’s hard to find too much fault with the film. After all, it’s got a lot to do in its two hours and seven minutes running time.

There were so many ideas stuffed into this movie that none were ever fully explored, making it perfect fodder for sequel-bait. I can see the titles unfolding like a YA trilogy: Jupiter Waning, followed by Jupiter Exultant. Or maybe a quartet based on astrology: Jupiter Midheaven, Jupiter Descendant, finishing with Jupiter Imum Coeli. Unfortunately I don’t think it was successful enough at the box office to warrant a continuation, but one never knows.

I must say that despite what seems like a lot of mockery, the movie was excellent fun. It is totally predictable and cheesy, but still a feast for the eyes and the funny bone, and overall a rollicking good time. Recommended for you—that’s right, you know who you are! If you made it to the end of this review without being baffled, we are clearly likeminded amigos and you will love this movie. Enjoy!

Amanda H.

Written by Amanda H.

Fun fact: My lifelong goal is to completely memorize the Dewey Decimal System. Go ahead, test me!