“Jupiter Ascending” is incomparable to the Wachowskis’s earlier films, such as “The Matrix” and “Cloud Atlas.” The most obvious departure is that it is undeniably a teen flick, directed at a younger audience more enraptured by stunning special effects than winding and intricate storylines. But the Wachowski touch is still there: the grandeur of scope, the uplifting message, the lush visuals. As a result, the film’s failures are all the more disappointing. The Wachowskis, who have never been known to be feckless storytellers, have at times polarized audiences with their films, but the criticisms leveled at their films have labeled them as aiming too high or being somewhat inaccessible, not being incogent.
“Jupiter Ascending” is in some ways the Wachowskis’s most ambitious project yet; while other teen films such as “The Hunger Games” or “The Maze Runner” have the benefit of a world already created within a popular book series, “Jupiter Ascending” attempts to create a similarly complex universe within a standalone film, with little success. The plot of “Jupiter Ascending” is neither captivating nor sensical. The film, set in the distant future, revolves around fatherless house maid Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), whose unglamorous and menial lifestyle introduces her as a modern-day Cinderella. The story continues in the most predictable manner possible, introducing Channing Tatum as Caine Wise, a stony-faced werewolf who swoops in from the stars to change the helpless Jupiter’s destiny and crown her queen of the universe.
From the opening of the film, the one-dimensionality of its writing is its weakest point. Its two-hour runtime proves too short to establish the intricate setting the story requires; in particular, the scientific details of the film, necessary background for the rest of the movie, are never clearly elucidated. They are touched on only in an overly artificial scene in which a bewildered Jones asks Wise a series of questions that Wise answers carelessly and unintelligibly. This dialogue and others like it, although they only last for a matter of seconds, nonetheless stand out as awkward attempts to ameliorate gaps in the plot that unfortunately end up detracting from its continuity and credibility. Uncontextualized, these discrepancies appear ridiculous and completely lacking verisimilitude, exemplified by moments like one episode in which half-bee, half-human Stinger Apini (Sean Bean) takes Jupiter aside and confides without explanation, “Bees are genetically designed to sense royalty.”
The film’s weakness is further reflected in the characters. The cast is a conglomerate of tropes from the science and teen science fiction canon: werewolves, elves, and dragons all live in relative harmony in a “Star Wars”-esque world. One of the most disappointing characters is Jupiter herself, who spends a good amount of time following the film’s fairy tale introduction being carried on Wise’s shoulders. Wise himself spends his time fighting off various villains, including the paranormal “keepers” and other extraterrestrial pursuers. The emptiness of these characters is exacerbated by unconvincing acting. In one particularly memorable scene, brothers Balem (Eddie Redmayne) and Titus (Douglas Booth) Abrasax discuss their ulterior motives in such an affected manner that they sound more absurd than malicious.
“Jupiter Ascending” makes a final, half-hearted attempt to redeem itself by flooding its viewers with flashy special effects, particularly during the its extended fight scenes. Though the scenes use the distinctive Chicago skyline, River, and architecture in a thorough and organic way, they ultimately come off as a gaudy series action film clichés rather than transitional, narrative, or even clearly sequential. The latter half of “Jupiter Ascending” is stuffed to the brim with these scenes, whose uninspired quality makes the movie drag for 127 unbearably humdrum minutes.
It is hard to say that the Wachowskis are out of their comfort zone on “Jupiter Ascending” because the film shows no restraining of their idiosyncrasies, especially in its writing. However, the transition from action thrillers to what Lana Wachowski calls “a science fiction space opera” directed at young adults is not seamless. Pressed to fit their prolific imaginations into a restrictive, teen romance formula, the duo runs out of gas in their latest work. Though the Wachowskis may yet release a movie that rivals their previous filmography in complexity and mesmerism, “Jupiter Ascending” is an unoriginal attempt to release a more palatable film, which, to Wachowski fans, may be the hardest part to stomach.
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