reviewed by Tom-Tom
One thing the Wachowskis traditionally do well is Sci-Fi. The Matrix Trilogy (well, most of it), the futuristic parts of Cloud Atlas, V for Vendetta (as writers although that is more political than Sci-Fi). Even the basic principles of the underperforming Speed Racer were essentially good. The siblings thrive on action and coolness, stylization and affectation. This is true here where the action is pretty solid and the visuals are jaw droppingly beautiful. Having only ever seen Channing Tatum in comedic roles, I thought he was an effective brooding action hero in Jupiter Ascending and Mia Kunis’ natural tongue for comedy and being the everywoman are fully functional. Eddie Redmayne remains an effectively scary nemesis for most of the film lending his Academy Award winning acting chops to the fray. The underlying plot encircling the secret behind the seeming eternal youth of three of the characters is horrifying and applicable somewhat to the oligarchy found in certain powerful countries today. What, then, went wrong? How do all of these juicy, succulent, well tried ingredients not work? Here’s how.
First, the attempt to turn the heroine’s origin story into a kind of fairy tale is such awkwardly bad. We get an overly sentimental meeting of Jupiter Jones’ (Mila Kunis) parents who are dressed like characters from a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky novel. Russian gangsters foil their happy romance and Jupiter’s mother is forced to flee by ship while pregnant with Jupiter to the States with her very large extended family. Fast forward to the present and Jupiter wakes up at 4:45am and cleans toilets for a living with her aunt and cousin complaining how she hates her life. She’s the only one in her entire family without a Russian accent. Her family is quite likable in a light, My Big Fat Greek Wedding sort of way although no one person stands out with as much character as in the aforesaid masterpiece.
Meanwhile, across the galaxy, three siblings are meetings in the ruins of a blue sanded planet. “What was this place called before it was harvested?” one asks adroitly. We realize something terrible has happened on this beautiful place and somehow, these three have benefited from it. Apparently, they are brothers and sister of the Abrasax Family who each own galactic real estate including…drum roll…the Earth. They are Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth), and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton). They also speak of the passing of their mother whose genes have been recirculated and reborn in the guise of someone and therefore, may lay claim to much of the prime galactic real estate belonging to Balem, the oldest (and most devious). Despite the outlandish attire and somewhat poorly presented circumstances, there is something really deep and cool here, the way Speed Racer had an innocent message of self-determination conquering whatever devious machinations the world throws at you, Jupiter Ascending really comes close to greatness. The (in Dune terms) “Spice” in this film is a liquid, whose terrible origins I will leave you to discover, which enables its user to essentially live forever much like the healing medical bay in Elysium. I thought this was a great political comment, as strong as anything they tried to do in V for Vendetta. The top %1 benefiting from the suffering of the common man and woman. It’s not a spoiler to say that this entire system is left out of the “conclusion” of the film completely, which itself is the main reason this film is a flunker for me.
I don’t mind reptilian lackeys or dog eared muscle men. I don’t mind extravagantly overdone weddings in counterpoint with space battles. I actually loved the bureaucratic maze Jupiter has to go through in order to fill out some rather important galactic paperwork (everything sounds better with “galactic” in front of it, doesn’t it?) All of Eddie Redmayne’s soft spoken sneers and hints at malice including the obligatory execution of his lackey for failure lead up to…a fight with lead pipes? Roller skating in the sky on your days off from cleaning toilets? I raised my hands up asking “What? Why?” to the room at large. No answer came back.