Back in 1999, the Wachowskis were seen as invincible when they released The Matrix in theaters. Due to The Matrix’s success, the Wachowskis made three more sequels packed with more philosophical jargon which got mixed to negative reception. Despite these flops, they never seemed to learn their lesson. Even after their Matrix fame, the Wachowskis have made hit or miss films, with Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas being prime examples. But perhaps their biggest flop has to be none other than 2015’s Jupiter Ascending!
Jupiter Jones (played by Mila Kunis) is a janitor who hates her life. According to her mom, she is born to do great things. One day, she is attacked by aliens when a space warrior named Caine (played by Channing Tatum) arrives to save her. The two get into a chase with the aliens and Caine is injured. Caine goes to his friend Stinger (played by Sean Bean) to get help. There, Jupiter begins to learn about the truth about herself and her role in the universe. However, she is now the target of the heirs of the House of Abrasax: Balem, Kalique, and Titus (played by Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton and Douglas Booth, respectively) who want her for the rights she unknowingly has as a recurrence, or someone who is genetically identical to another person. Because of this she owns the Earth, which is meant to be a resource world whose population is culled to create a serum that restores youth. Thus, Jupiter must now navigate a complex web of manipulation in order to keep herself alive and safe.
If you thought that plot synopsis was convoluted, the film is even worse. I had no idea what was going on the entire time, despite the film being extremely formulaic. Jupiter Ascending is both predictable, yet at the same time is completely incoherent. One major weakness of the Wachowskis is that they often rely too much on exposition dumping. Rather than showing the audience what is going on, they tell us instead. This is not how you tell a story at all, As such, Jupiter Ascending suffered from the curse as much as The Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions.
It also doesn’t help that the dialogue is dry as hell and not compelling to watch. This is a serious problem when the plot leans heavily on dialogue to work! It is done through mostly stationary scenes that are as boring to look at as they are to listen to. The actors don’t do much of anything to make this watchable and even though they try, the direction just doesn’t give them any help with emoting. Honestly the flaws in the dialogue are very comparable to the Star Wars prequels in that it is either laughably bad (e.g. the line involving bees and royalty) or just dull.
If weak dialogue and a difficult to follow plot wasn’t bad enough, the characters leave much to be desired. Jupiter is more of a vehicle for the plot to occur than a fully fleshed-out protagonist and despite some teased traits and implied development, I cannot for the life of me say what her character is like as a person. Caine has a backstory and brooding personality but he doesn’t stand out in any meaningful way aside from being the one doing the heavy lifting in action scenes. In fact, most of the cast are not too interesting despite the script attempting to make them so. The cast doesn’t do a bad job, but they don’t elevate themselves to anything special…with one exception. Eddie Redmayne is bad in this movie. Really bad. From mumbling most of his lines to his sudden shouting which leads to laughter more than any sort of intimidation factor. He fails in a special way that makes me more certain of the Star Wars prequel comparison, as his performance should be an internet meme with its lack of quality.
One thing that the film tries hard to do is to create a sci-fi universe that captures the energy of Star Wars and The Matrix. This can easily be inferred as the film progresses, with a lot of exposition about how the world works. However, while the themes of this universe (consumerism and indulgence) are interesting and could easily be very interesting to watch, the world just doesn’t stick the landing. The film overuses exposition and effectively skims over any wonder the universe has. Like the Matrix sequels or the Star Wars prequels (comparisons that continue to fit perfectly with the film) the universe has depth but the film makes it feel boring.
In terms of special effects, the film actually does a good job. However, the effects are very generic and don’t have any distinct features to separate it from any other sci-fi setting. The creature designs are uninspired, from the lizard men to those small generic-looking gray space alien things. The only standout design would be that elephant pilot, and it is only memorable for its comedic absurdity. The sets look good, but don’t stand out in any meaningful way, looking like they would be in any other sci-fi film.
Finally, the action is just standard. It does the spectacle part pretty well, and looks good. However, none of the scenes are actually intense or very interesting. The characters never feel like they are in danger for most scenes, which considering one scene involves an airborne fight scene around the skyscrapers of Chicago where our main character could plummet to her death and another involves a two on five thousand space fight, is a problem.
Jupiter Ascending could have been good. If it were a TV show, maybe it would have had more room to breathe and steadily expand the universe. However, as the film is, it fails to be a good movie. The plot is overcomplicated, the dialogue is bad, the effects and action scenes don’t ever become anything special, and Eddie Redmayne’s performance is legendarily bad. While it has hints of interesting themes and world building, it is buried among a sea of problems and poorly-thought out dialogue and exposition. The film has the upside of being unintentionally funny, especially any scene with Eddie Redmayne, but the film offers little else other than failed ambition. Quite fitting for something once described as a cross between The Matrix and Star Wars.