Family Movie Review: Jupiter Ascending (PG-13)

JupiterAscending ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 127 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. The sci-film is heavy on the action scenes, so there are creepy, murderous aliens who can alter your memory; winged, fanged lizards sent to kill humans; the consideration of the human race as financial capital; and fistfights, shoot-outs, high-flying chases, and other general violence. Also a romantic subplot, some kissing, some shirtless men and a woman seen in lingerie, a bare male butt and a bare female butt, the suggestion of an orgy (but with no nudity), and a female character considers selling her eggs for cash.

'Jupiter Ascending' is a goofy film overstuffed with ideas, but its visuals are beautiful, its thematic content clear, and its world-building thorough and enthralling. The film's earnest, unceasing ambition is both its greatest strength and its primary downfall.

By Roxana Hadadi

Where to even begin with "Jupiter Ascending"? The latest film from siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski, who have jumped all over the sci-fi genre with previous films like the hyper-successful "The Matrix" trilogy and the sadly overlooked "Cloud Atlas," is a distillation of practically everything the Wachowskis like—for better or worse. This is a movie full of so many ideas that become too many ideas, but it's impossible to disrespect. It's creative and original and thrilling and imaginative, and although the plot certainly cuts corners, "Jupiter Ascending" generates a good amount of genuine delight. 

If you've seen any of the Wachowskis' movies, whether it's their original work like "The Matrix" or their adaptations of other media, like "Speed Racer" or "Cloud Atlas," you know the themes they're interested in exploring: the inherent corruption of capitalism, the nature of inherited power and wealth, the humanity present in every person, the possibility of reincarnation, the eternal nature of the soul. Some of their films explore certain themes better than others ("The Matrix," about power and humanity; "Cloud Atlas," about capitalism and the soul), but "Jupiter Ascending" tries, to its detriment, to consider absolutely everything.

The film talks about nationalism and immigration, capitalism and labor, genetics and reincarnation, love and loyalty, bureaucracy and business, class structures and hierarchies, on and on and on. It's not feasible to do this successfully in 2 hours, and often "Jupiter Ascending" feels like a 4-hour movie slashed apart, or like two or three films' worth of ideas compressed into one. The plot is rapidly laid out and the characters suffer for it (especially the protagonist Jupiter, one of the weakest female characters the Wachowskis have ever created), but to their credit, at least the siblings have a strong point of view and make up for the narrative issues with beautiful visuals, a strong eye for production detail, and coy social commentary. Those things go a long way.

"Jupiter Ascending" focuses on Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis, of "Annie"), the daughter of physics and mathematics professors whose space-adoring father is murdered during a home invasion in Russia when her mother is still pregnant with her; years later, as undocumented immigrants living in Chicago, Jupiter and her mother clean houses and barely get by. But while she's frustrated with her existence ("I was born without a country, without a home, without a father ... I hate my life"), Jupiter is appropriately shocked when she's swept up in an extraterrestrial legal showdown—turns out that she is an exact genetic copy of a murdered 91,000-year-old alien queen who owned Earth. Since she's a "recurrence," that means Earth is hers, which angers the children of the Abrasax matriarch very much: eldest son Balem (Eddie Redmayne, of "The Theory of Everything"), who was supposed to inherit the planet after his mother's death; middle daughter Kalique (Tuppence Middleton, of "The Imitation Game"), who wanted to challenge Balem's claim; and youngest son Titus (Douglas Booth, of "Noah"), who mostly only cares about having a good time.

So they're all looking to sway Jupiter, whose life is saved by bounty hunter Caine Wise (Channing Tatum, of "The Book of Life"), a half-human, half-wolf "splice" who can fly through the air on levitating, rollerblade-like boots; who used to be a soldier of sorts ("Space cops, sure," Jupiter deadpans when she finds out); and who was disgraced after attacking a member of the "entitled" class. As Jupiter struggles to figure out what it means to be a "recurrence" and how that determines her self-will; why the Abrasax family is so obsessed with her claim to Earth; and how this whole intergalactic royalty thing works, she realizes that her father was right: There is much more out there than just their planet. But not everything out there cares about Earth the way humans do—in fact, just the opposite—and Jupiter owning the planet puts her in danger she can't even fathom.

All that stuff I described? That's only the first 20 or so minutes of the film! And it only gets more bonkers from there, with a script full of complicated alien names and jargon that you don't need to remember; a romantic subplot you can see coming a mile away that is never truly developed or justified; and a fantastically campy performance from Redmayne as the film's main villain, who alternatively whispers and screams his intentions and threats against Jupiter. Some things you'll just have to laugh at and some things you'll just have to be disappointed by, like the characterization of Jupiter, who never really does anything but only has things happen to her. Coming from the Wachowskis, who are normally quite good at developing strong-from-the-get-go female characters, Jupiter's general inactivity and passiveness is a surprising shortcoming.

But there are plenty of other things that are beautiful and thought-provoking. The graceful way the action scenes and chases are shot, with clear fight choreography, fantastic costumes, and stellar production design (a highlight being the ships, which are modeled after how lobsters and birds move, with wings that redesign themselves in mid-air). The depiction of a literal "ruling class" who prey on the ignorance of others ("The Earth will belong to you ... all you have to do is close your eyes," Kalique tells Jupiter) and find ways to commodify abstract concepts like time or youth for financial gain. A great sequence where Jupiter is led by an android lawyer through the irritatingly familiar layers of space bureaucracy to solidify her claim on Earth ("Congratulations, Your Majesty, and my deepest condolences," says a typically dry and disinterested government employee). And, unsurprisingly but still interestingly, discussions about the meaning of life, whether it's defined by the lies we tell ourselves or the lies we tell others, what we consume or what we let consume us.

Undoubtedly and undeniably, the Wachowskis are trying to do too much with "Jupiter Ascending," and so the script leans too heavily on exposition, and Caine's constant rescuing of Jupiter gets old fast, and the film tries to walk a line between seriousness and campiness that it doesn't quite master. But what it does well, "Jupiter Ascending" does with fun and zeal and total commitment, and there's no reason to criticize that.

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