Jupiter Ascending

Movie Information

The Story: A lowly Cinderella-esque drudge turns out to be the rightful owner of the Earth. The Lowdown: It's big. It's goofy. It's highly imaginative. It has a little something on its mind. And it's fun. In other words, it's a film from the Wachowskis.
Score:

Genre: Baroque Sci-Fi Space Opera
Director: Andy and Lana Wachowski
Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton
Rated: PG-13

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I should state upfront that my main — really my only — problem with the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending is that the fight scenes almost without exception go on too long. That’s my way of telling you straight off that I am not in the anti-Jupiter Ascending camp. Here we have yet another film that was set up to fail by what, frankly, looks more and more to me like our collective tendency to root for failure. I think this is exacerbated by the way everyone has become an expert — hanging on every report of trouble, of every delay, following “insider” tracking charts, seizing upon every shred of gossip and every claim of “buzz” — to a degree where these armchair moguls can tell that a movie is bad and help create a self-fulfilling scenario of doom — all without the messy business of actually seeing the movie. The days of seeing a trailer, some colorful poster art and the basic excitement of knowing that we’re getting a new film by a filmmaker we like are long gone, and I do not think we — or the movies — are the better for it.

 

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The Wachowskis told us from the onset that this was a space opera — in other words, a horse opera (cowboy picture) in space. That is also what they delivered. And in spades. They’ve given us a big, somewhat gaudy, colorful sci-fi adventure that is tethered to nothing other than their imaginations and influences. This is not to say that Jupiter Ascending is — as many have claimed — hard or impossible to follow. (A friend of mine came out of the theater complaining about the story structure. Now, this is a person who dotes on the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, which in my book means he has given up any right to bitch about story construction.)

 

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Jupiter Ascending has a very simple story. Yes, it requires that the viewer just go with it while it doles that story out in between the action — sometimes during the action. And it requires the viewer to take a great many fairly preposterous things on faith. But, hey, this is sci-fi fantasy, not gritty realism. Moreover, it takes place in a world that belongs to the filmmakers — their game, their rules. In that regard, it is perhaps remarkable that the film is coherent at all. But essentially it is. It’s not a whole lot more than a fairly standard royal intrigue story told in utterly fantasticated terms — and with a Wachowskian leftist liberal bent. Seriously, who else would conceive of a royal family who are essentially the heads of a giant corporation that is geared to only one thing — profits? Yes, on a thematic level, this is the one-percenters in space. The threat to their dominance comes in the form of Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), who — through a fluke of nature — is the exact re-creation of the mother of the bickering corporation heads. Oh, yes, she also — by right of deed — owns Earth, a most desirable piece of real estate because it’s ripe for “harvesting.” (According to the Wachowskis’ myth, it was always planned that mankind — the herd, seeded there by the corporation — would exhaust the planet’s resources. It’s at that point that the planet is ripe for “harvesting.”)

 

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All that probably makes the film sound more serious than it is. At bottom, this is a big, goofy action spectacular. That is at its heart. I mean, this is a movie where the female lead is in love with a genetically-engineered hunk (Channing Tatum) who just happens to be part canine. Her entire response to this is, “I love dogs. I’ve always loved dogs.” It’s a movie with Eddie Redmayne as a thoroughly evil, mincing, hissing villain. This is even a movie that so wears its fondness for Brazil (1985) on its sleeve that it brings in Terry Gilliam to play a bureaucrat in its own ministry of information. Yes, it has some serious overtones, but you’re most likely to come away from it with images of its fantastical worlds and the image of Channing Tatum zipping around on anti-gravity roller blades. In other words, it’s meant to be eye-popping spectacle and engaging foolishness. It succeeds. Rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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14 thoughts on “Jupiter Ascending

  1. T.rex

    I atlest give them praise for doing a movie thats fresh and not a remake or comic book yarn.

      • T.rex

        I must confess the trailers do nothing for me and not big on the “acting” of Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis. If I do see it it will be for one reason only….Terry Gilliam cameo.

        • Ken Hanke

          Both Tatum and Kunis are past due for you to take those quotation marks off acting.

  2. DrSerizawa

    I call it “idiot analysis”. That’s the information overload on social media that accompanies movies. By the time the idiots are done with it there’s probably not one movie that could survive the anal exam. And it is idiotic. It’s like saying that beer tastes awful because you thoroughly researched what it’s made off and how it’s produced. So you never try it.

  3. MENTD

    Every movie that gets rave reviews (The unwatchable Gravity, the awful CGI blood infused
    John wick) ends up being garbage. What I don’t understand is how do these movies get past
    the lines of hating idiots who won’t try the beer? And ALL the marvel and comic crap gets free passes.

    • Ken Hanke

      I think the claim that “every movie that gets rave reviews ends up being garbage” is a little extreme, but the easy answer is that most of these have some kind of built-in fanbase that something like Jupiter Ascending doesn’t. (Also, I didn’t think Gravity was unwatchable, but I did think it was a serious waste of time for the guy who made Children of Men.)

      • MENT

        My problem with Gravity is the same problem I have with all the “cgi crap fests”.
        It was like watching my 10 year old nephews sitting at a game console.
        How are people “awed” by this type of lameness? It looked awful.
        It looked exactly like what it was… A video game with Cloony and Bolluck’s faces
        superimposed on top of it. Not an ounce of it felt real.
        I have a 3DTV and I own the NASA SPACE STATION video in 3D.
        It’s one of the demos I like to show off the capabilities of 3D.
        So I know what real outer space in 3D really looks like.
        What I’m sick of is these inferior computer drawings that people keep giving
        free passes to. I could not understand the Gravity praise whatsoever.
        Or the Planet of the Apes remakes praise. It’s like Saturday morning cartoons.
        The entire skill level and creativity of the past seems to be gone.
        It’s like people have no opinion anymore and as long as the media says
        “groundbreaking” they eat it up. Either way, it’s the media and sheep.
        Plain and simple. They say “this is good” and people buy it.
        They say “this is bad” and people don’t.

        • MENT

          Sorry to post twice, you can edit this to one post if you’d like but I need to clarify.
          I agree with you that in many cases, it’s about the built in fan base.
          With Marvel stuff for instance. But kids don’t follow directors.
          They don’t know who Alfonso Cuarón is. In the old days, we knew.
          I knew a John Carpenter or a Ridley Scott film would be good, regardless of
          if it was Sci Fi (The Thing or ALIEN or BLADE RUNNER) or a historical epic
          like Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut (probably the last great epic ever shot
          on film). It’s the digital world imho which is ruining everything.
          Why has something like Blade Runner still not been equaled 30 years later?
          How can we dare praise what is out when it can’t beat stuff done 30 years
          ago with worse technology? Seems to me the emperor has no clothes.

  4. DrSerizawa

    Well, I liked it. so did my wife. It gets extra points from me because it emphatically isn’t Star Wars XXXVIII or Star Trek XXVII. I liked the concept that the universe would be dominated by arrogant and decadent aristocrats since that’s the usual state for humanity throughout history. The decadence shows nicely in the aristocrats’ art. I have to sheepishly admit that, even though the movie Indepencence Day was very stupid, I think that for once Roland Emmerich actually depicted a far far more likely motivation for aliens to visit earth. The same holds here for the Wachowskis though Jupiter Ascending isn’t stupid. Even Mila Kunis’ character eventually got a clue. So more extra points to the Wachowskis for jumping out of the expected future SciFi meme that has come to bore me to tears.

    I read that a lot of people in the industry thought that making JA was “too risky” because it isn’t part of a franchise. Think about that for a minute. That actually explains what we are seeing from the studios. Eternally repeated franchises, plots and characters. All sanitized to appeal to a broad an audience as possible and thus very short on creativity or life. So sad. I’d rather chew on roofing nails than sit through another derivative Speilberg, Lucas or JJ Abrams CGI-fest.

  5. Xanadon't

    The Doctor’s got it right. Nice to see this get a fair treatment here. This movie was definitely a breath of fresh air that did far more right than wrong. Not to say it was Great- though it was at moments- but this is a case where I question whether someone who hated this even likes movies, period.

    It’s nice to see that this has done much better overseas than domestically. Maybe it will find a more affectionate audience as the years pass. If a hard R cut of this film existed it would surely achieve cult status. But I’m content with the goofy, friendly PG-13 picture it is.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I am certainly glad to see this getting some appreciation. I question whether a lot of people who hate this movie actually have seen it.

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