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.
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.)
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.”)
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.