Jupiter Ascending was supposed to be a big Summer release last year before getting a last minute delay, and this caused some concern. Months later the film is finally set to unleash on the masses, though it doesn’t quite live up to the lofty potential it has. Even so, it just might be worth your time. Come inside to check out my full review!
Let me just get this out of the way first, before I really dive into the nitty gritty of this review. I really enjoyed Jupiter Ascending. It’s definitely “high” science fiction, and presents some neat ideas. That being said, I can absolutely understand why it’s putting some people off, and why so many won’t connect with it. Frankly, it kind of bums me out as it’s one of the few entirely original big budget films coming out this year (not a sequel and not based on a book/comic). But it’s downfall is it’s own fault, so it’s tough to push off on viewers. Anyway, let’s get down to business.
So Much to Do, So Little Time
One of the things I’ve always loved about the Wachowskis and their approach to sci-fi, is that they don’t assume audiences are stupid. Rather than wasting screen time explaining the tech in great detail and holding our hands, they dive right into the craziness and you kind of figure it out as you go. For storytelling, this is something I love, as it helps me get closer to the characters, because you’re discovering things at the same rate they are (for the most part).
Jupiter Ascending isn’t any different in this regard, and on the whole, the universe they’ve created in the film is a vast and intriguing one. The biggest problem, however, is that the film presents a WEALTH of new ideas and concepts. It introduces us to a galaxy spanning bureaucracy and fiefdoms controlled by a ruling upper class. The universe is populated with aliens, genetically manufactured races, and technology that’s both beyond the imagination yet seemingly plausible.
Sounds awesome right? For the most part, it really is and visually it’s all represented in neat ways. Sadly, though, you only get to see these elements for the teensiest amount of time before you’re moved on to the next part of the story or area. The film covers a LOT of ground, going between a few planets, rival characters/factions, and even a governmental agency before wrapping things up. That’s a lot for a two hour film, and the rush is what ends up hurting the film most.
While all the ideas and plots are interesting, there’s not enough attention given to any specific one to make it shine. Instead, it feels more like a hodgepodge of things thrown together into one movie without any ONE idea getting the time it deserves. Think of it this way, it felt a lot like watching a mini-series edited down into one movie. Each section of the film felt like it’s own mini-story before moving to the next one, each part connecting to an overall storyline. Since it’s all presented as one movie, however, the result is more messy than anything else. I remarked to a few people that I felt as though I had watched Jupiter Ascending Part 1, 2, and 3 all at once.
Without spoiling anything, here’s how it essentially breaks down. Jupiter (Mila Kunis) discovers she’s something important to the wider galaxy and as various bounty hunters (for lack of a better word) try to capture or kill her, she struggles to find a way off planet while coping with her new reality. Jupiter is captured and taken off planet by one of three feuding heirs to a family fortune. Here she learns more about her place in the galaxy, how it works, and meets up with a galactic police force and the central governing system that allows her to officially interact with her new status quo.
Next she’s captured by ANOTHER member of the family and learns about the seedy side of the shiny new galaxy she’s been introduced to, while being offered a “choice” (though it’s a ruse) to try and save people. Essentially this serves as a call to action for a higher purpose for Jupiter, putting the focus on what she should do with her newfound influence.
Lastly, she’s basically captured by the third and final family member and must figure out how to deal with the problem that kicked off the entire adventure to start with. Each of these sections are punctuated by their own little subplots, new characters, and big action set pieces. Each of these ideas sound incredibly fun and like a great setup for a sci-fi series. Sadly, it’s all crammed together in one shot, with no ONE section feeling like it got enough time to gain traction.
The film’s story was way too condensed. Many of the ideas presented needed far more room to breathe in order to feel significant. If the story had been split up over a couple of films (or presented as a mini-series even) I think it could have been genre defining. People are going to look at it as a film that’s all over the place, however, and can’t quite seem to pull off all the potential it has. And make no mistake, this film shows a lot of potential and promise in both the ideas and characters within the universe. I’d be more than happy to see more done within this universe (games, books, comics, sequels), but it needs to be more focused than this first outing.
As mentioned, Jupiter Ascending got a last minute delay from the Summer, and those extra months in development show in the film’s visual effects. Quite simply, they’re stunning and polished throughout the entire movie. There are several moments where you’re looking at the screen and just marveling at how pretty it all looks.
Say what you will about the Wachowski’s, but there’s no denying they have a great visual style that they bring to all of their films. The design of the species, worlds, and starships are all quite impressive and harken back to the days of old-school science fiction tales, while incorporating their own brand as well. All at once it feels like something familiar and new, and it’s rendered so incredibly well that you can’t help but gawk.
I’m not just talking about the visual effects here either (though that’s what many will instantly notice), but the entire design of the film feels solid and impressive. The action scenes are played out perfectly, despite utilizing gravity defying technology in the process. It’s hectic, fast-paced and covers a lot of ground, but not once did I ever feel lost in the action as happens a lot with other big action directors (i.e. Michael Bay). From an audience perspective, this gives the film a number of “holy crap” moments in the film, where you’re drooling over the action and visuals you’re seeing in front of your face.
As far as the spectacle goes, Jupiter Ascending doesn’t skimp on the goods, and it’s easily one of the most dazzling and best looking films you’ll see in a while. The soundtrack goes right along with it, hitting all the right beats throughout the film, giving it that proper “space epic” feel to it.
On Characters and Such
In general, I have to say I really enjoyed the characters in Jupiter Ascending. Much like the problems with the story, however, none of the characters are really given enough time to resonate with audiences. As far as performances go, I think all the actors did a great job and felt ultimately believable in their parts of the story. Where some people might get hung up is on the pacing.
Jupiter is thrust into a very surreal situation in a short amount of time, and it felt a little strange to see how quickly she accepted the situation and went along for the ride. While her character isn’t necessarily bad (and I genuinely liked Kunis in this part), she didn’t have enough time in the script to develop. Thus her acceptance feels rushed and she adapts just a little too quickly to all that’s happening.
That same can be said of pretty much all the characters. Channing Tatum’s Caine has an interesting backstory and grizzled past, and while we learn about it, there’s not a strong enough emotional connection to make you care all that much. The three siblings who serve as the antagonists all have their own motivations and quirks, but aside from being portrayed as generally greedy and crummy, we don’t get to know all that much about them. Like I said, all of the characters felt interesting and like people I wanted to know more about, but the condensed story didn’t give me the time to see them as much as I wanted.
Given a longer run-time or even being split up over a couple movies would have turned this adventure into something much more. As it stands, Jupiter Ascending is still enjoyable and offers plenty of spectacle for fans of the genre, but it simply can’t live up to all it could have been. At the very least, I would say head to the matinee viewing.