Before I get started, I want you to take a moment and think. I want you to count how many brand new Sci-Fi or Fantasy films have been released by major film studios. I’m talking about things that aren’t sequels, reboots, or adaptations of other media. If you’re like me, you are probably shamefully drawing blanks. Bear this in mind as we go through this review journey together. Jupiter Ascending is something new and original. We don’t get that nearly as often as we deserve. Now, take a deep breath. This is going to be a bit of an adventure.
Let’s do a quick, spoiler-free synopsis to get you all on the same page. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) cleans people’s homes for a living alongside her mother and aunt. It’s, apparently, part of the family business. One day, she finds out from dog-man Caine (Channing Tatum) that she’s actually a space princess who has people hunting her. Meanwhile, there’s some scheming going on between three siblings regarding their inheritance. There’s Flirty One, Creepy One, and The Girl. They belong to the super-important Abrasax family and their names are actually Titus (Douglas Booth), Balem (Eddie Redmayne), and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) respectively. Let’s appreciate the Sci-Fi awesomness of their names for a moment before we go on.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Balem wants to harvest the Earth and Jupiter is the only thing standing in his way. This, of course, is bad news for our titular heroine. Caine has to call on some help in the form of his ex-commander, Stinger Apini (Sean Bean, again with a fantastic name!) Things get a little complicated. Space battles ensue. Stuff explodes. There’s love, death, and betrayal. All standard issue space opera shenanigans.
Okay, folks, I’m going to level with you. If you’ve glanced at any other reviews or even just seen their headlines, you know that this movie hasn’t been well-received. There are a few legitimate problems with the film. Firstly, and most notably, the dialogue is frequently awful. It’s not all terrible all of the time, but there are just some very wince-worthy moments and other moments that just made my father and I laugh. I will note that we were the only ones in the audience who were similarly amused. It’s just clunky and awkward. The most grievous dialogue offenders belonged to the moments of romance between Jupiter and Caine.
Here’s an aside just for people in the story-making business as it’s applicable to all kinds of media. If you are going to have a romance between two characters, please give us a reason as to why they are into each other. Don’t just assume that your audience is going to buy it because they are two hot people of similar ages. “Of course they’d be into each other because why wouldn’t they be?” We kind of want a reason why someone is going to risk life and limb for another person. We want to see what makes them get all dopey over each other. When you skip past that step, the romance feels forced and out of left field. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate seeing hot people kissing. If I wanted to just watch hot people kissing without having some emotional investment in their relationship and plot, I’d just watch some porn.
Now that we’ve dealt with the dialogue, let’s take a second to look at pacing. This movie’s pacing wasn’t all that terrible. It was just uneven. Sometimes things moved forward too quickly. Other times it was like languishing under the hot sun and waiting for that drop of action water. That said, I never once got bored and glanced down at my phone to see how long we’d been sitting there. I was fully engaged and engrossed in the gorgeous scenery on screen.
Oh my goodness, folks. This movie is flat-out beautiful. Seriously. The work that must have gone into creating each magnificent costume and set piece had to be immense. There is nothing half-assed about the quality of visuals. It’s space fantasy at its finest. Even the minor characters are magnificently crafted. There are all kinds of crazy aliens from space elephant people to space satyr. Okay, she wasn’t really a satyr. I didn’t really get a close look at her legs, though. She could have been.
A lot of people have complained about how the plot is an incomprehensible mess. I don’t know what movie they were actually watching because I managed to keep track of what was going on. It’s not like my experience with Cloud Atlas. Don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy that movie. Years later, though, I still don’t exactly know what the hell went on in that film. With Jupiter Ascending, I always knew where I stood. Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up with David Lynch‘s Dune.
Speaking of which, I originally thought that the film may have benefited from a Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen) style voice over at the beginning to establish where things stood in the universe. Upon reflection, I think finding out the expanse of the universe and its denizens when Jupiter did made a lot more sense.
Sorry for that little digression there. I just can’t help but comparing the two properties. They just felt so similar to me. Let’s go ahead and get back to the review.
I’ve been writing this while listening to Michael Giacchino‘s fantastic score for the movie. He’s easily becoming one of my favorite film composers. Right after the movie ended, I whipped my phone out and bought the soundtrack. I couldn’t resist. It’s epic and sweeping, perfect for this over-the-top space opera. I’m a sucker for epic scores so this was an easy sell.
While we’re on the subject “over over-the-top,” I want to say that this movie wasn’t over-the-top enough.
You’re probably staring at the screen right now and trying to figure out how that even makes sense. Look, I know it’s visually over-the-top. It really is. I feel like the whole thing would have gone to that next level if every actor threw themselves into their roles like Eddie Redmayne did with his role as Balem “Creepy One” Abrasax. He chewed scenery in costumes that would make Dune‘s Feyd Rautha (Sting) and David Bowie envious. Look, if you’re going to have such a ridiculous movie, embrace it and just give it all you’ve got. Jupiter Ascending needed that level of off the charts wackiness from all corners.
No, not just needed. It deserved that level of off-the-charts wackiness. Go big or go home.
Look, if there’s one thing The Wachowskis know how to do, it’s make a damn fine looking movie. It’s just a shame that they sometimes seem to sacrifice a lot of substance for that phenomenal style. The movie is a wonder to behold and certainly deserves a viewing on a big screen. That said, go into it with your eyes wide open. The performances are occasionally wooden, the dialogue will likely make you giggle at inappropriate times, and you may get lost at times. All in all, though, I had fun. This movie may not be a cinematic great, but it was all that I hoped it would be. I’m looking forward to adding this movie to my Blu-ray collection.
Usually this is where I talk about some of the spoilery bits. I don’t actually want to get too spoilery here. If I do, I’ll definitely warn you in advance. If you want to go into the movie without even the slightest bit of spoiler taint, stopping now would probably be good. Though, really, Jupiter Ascending isn’t a movie to get worked up about over spoilers.
First: this movie could have the alternate title of: “Jupiter Falls Off of A Lot of Stuff and Screams.” She does that more than once. I get that she’s supposed to be a completely normal person who has been thrust into this wider universe. There’s going to be an adjustment period. It’s understandable. Still, if she’d been a guy who had found out about his secret royal heritage, there would have been far less screaming and falling. Even if there was, I feel that they would have allowed the dude more agency.
It’s just tiring to see another damsel on screen. At least this movie passed the Bechdel Test and Jupiter finally stopped being a damsel toward the end. I guess she just needed the time to get her crap together. I didn’t really expect better out of this movie. It’s just a bummer when my expectations are met in that regard.
Second: I’m glad that as white as the primary cast was, they had a number of fantastic performances by non-white actors on the periphery. It was great to see Nikki Amuka-Bird as Diomika Tsing, awesome commander of some “space cops.” It was also great seeing Gugu Mbatha-Raw as possible-satyr girl as well as Doona Bae as a bad-ass bounty hunter. Though their time on screen was annoyingly limited, they still made impressions in their respective roles. You’ll see us complain time and again on this site about the lack of diversity in Western media. We deserve to see more variety in the faces on our movie screens.
Third: Well. I don’t actually have a third thing to say. I just hate leaving it at two. What can I say? It’s just a random quirk of mine. I will say though, you know how to reach me if you want to see how Sean Bean fares in this film. You know what I mean. #SaveSeanBean
Remember how I asked you to keep in mind that this was a completely original movie? For that alone, I want you to go see it in theaters. I want you to throw money at it so the studios will know that this is something we want. All of you people out there who are tired of reboots, sequels, and adaptations? Here’s a chance for you to vote with your wallets. It may not be the best movie ever, but it’s original and that counts for a whole lot. Studios have been too comfortable playing it safe for too long. Jupiter Ascending is a risk and we should reward that. If it does well, maybe they’ll take notice and take a chance on other original properties. Please, go see this in theaters, even if it’s just a cheap matinee. Every little bit helps.