If anything has defined the Wachowski’s previous film projects, it has been depth. The Matrix was a creative exposition of the postmodern theories of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. V for Vendetta explored fascist regimes, and what might be required to overthrow them. What many filmgoers expected from their new film Jupiter Ascending was nothing less, and what fans didn’t expect the same social commentary at least expected a really cool action film. Unfortunately, Jupiter Ascending disappoints on both fronts.
At first glance, it appears that little can go wrong. Connection with Jupiter (Mila Kunis) is quite easy, Caine’s (Channing Tatum) air roller blades are really cool, and the design of the outer space world in general is nothing short of astounding. And all three of those things work, not to mention a really great performance by Sean Bean. But when you start trying to figure out just what the point of this movie was, your brain just might be blue screen.
In fact, what’s most maddening about the movie is that it routinely spoils opportunities to make deep points. Jupiter, as the trailers infer, is a “reincarnated” queen of the planet (although the way in which this is presented is not reincarnation as we would typically think of it), at which point we might think the film is telling us that every insignificant person is important. Then it switches gears to show Caine’s animalistic side, as if to explore a theme of self-control. Then it refers to racism, and how Caine’s kind (a product of DNA manipulation) is hated. Then we discover a kind of parasitism with these space beings, leading us to think of exploitation. But in the end, with all that breadth of material, the film fails to actually explore any of them. They’re briefly referenced, then dropped, all in turn. That leaves little worldview to analyze because the film can’t make up its mind exactly what its worldview is, except maybe to say that killing people is bad. Hardly revolutionary.
There are times when a film isn’t very deep, but you can still enjoy it because of a fun adventure. This is not one of those times. There a few enjoyable moments, including a quite comical moment with the family that I won’t spoil, and the cool sci-fi action elements cannot be overstated. But it’s cool in a way that makes a viral video on the Internet, not in a way that makes a movie successful. There’s little depth to go along with it, not to mention a love story that’s more forced than stuffing an extra-large pizza into a toaster oven. As a friend of mine who went to see the movie with me remarked, it became really repetitive, with Channing Tatum coming in with his space boots to save the day over and over again.
That all really is a shame, because the special effects really are incredible. This is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen, and I’m willing to say that it’s worth renting on Redbox, especially if you have a nice TV, just for that. There are also some good performances, though not by any means all around. Mila Kunis does a very good job with her part, and what cringe-worthy moments exist are on the part of the writing, not her performance. Sean Bean’s performance is also note-worthy – his parts were the most enjoyable parts of the film. But Channing Tatum’s part never rises above average, and Eddie Redmayne’s performance is just plain awful. He just walks around mumbling in a hoarse voice and looking depressed for about ninety percent of his screen time. Not exactly an intimidating villain.
So while there are a few enjoyable moments that slip through, the film is overall a bit of a mess. There are some reasons regarding the content to be cautious as well: two scenes contain brief female nudity, one of those including a head-to-toe view of a woman from behind. Channing Tatum’s character also goes shirtless for a while, and there’s the typical PG-13 smattering of profanity. All things considered, it’s just maybe worth a rent, but certainly not a $15 drop on a ticket and popcorn.