Dissecting Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending

Zac: Jupiter Ascending is big, fun and weird sci-fi from the Wachowskis that entertained me from start to finish; shortcomings and all.

Lauren: Poop jokes are entertaining too, but at the end of the day they’re still just a pile of excrement. Jupiter Ascending is a big ol’ pile.

**Warning: Spoilers littered throughout**

Zac: Set in a reality where Earth is basically a low level feeder planet for the more advanced human beings that roam the “Verse”, a lowly girl, Jupiter, gets wrapped up in an intergalactic family rivalry over the fate of the planet. Before Jupiter knows it her family is at risk, three sets of bounty hunters are on her tail, and only a spliced ex-militant Caine can help her save Earth.

Jupiter Ascending would be an excellent double feature with The Fifth Element. This isn’t because they are two of the most epic original sci-fi films of the last thirty years, but because they both have their tongues firmly in cheek and know exactly what they want to be.

Lauren: So this film wanted to be garbage?  I think comparing Jupiter Ascending to The Fifth Element is a complete disservice to Leeloo and your multipass shall be revoked immediately.   It’s like I don’t even know you anymore…  Like when you gave a good review to the fourth movie in the Twilight Saga.  That movie wasn’t tongue in cheek, as you claimed, and neither is this.

I don’t even know where to start with how bad this movie is, so why not start with the namesake?  Jupiter is an idiot, plain and simple.  There is innocence, naivete, and gullibility, and then light years away from that is where Jupiter resides.  I think all those chemicals she uses to clean toilets has done a number on her cognitive processes because she is one of the worst female characters I have seen in a long time, and this is coming in a movie created in part by a woman.  Seriously, does Lana Wachowski think so little of her own sex that she would create one of the worst damsels in distress ever?  In other words: “The princess is in another castle,” and I just don’t know if she’s really worth saving after a certain point.  She believes every stranger she meets even when all signs should be brightly flashing with a big “Oh Hell no!,” she doesn’t make the connection of the human population to the miracle substance that adds years onto your life even when it is spelled out for her the first time, and she falls for a wolfman right away. I can understand falling for Channing Tatum, I can even see past that horrible blonde hair, but the way she expresses her interest is so horribly written that I can’t even give this movie the Romeo and Juliet pass.

Zac: Ok, now I don’t know where to start. So lets start here, no Jupiter isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed (the glowing goo is people?), but I don’t think she is some abomination of a female character. She has agency and always makes decisions on her own throughout the film, and is unfortunate to be put in multiple situations where someone else life is put on the line for her to make her decision. But in the end, she is willing to sacrifice her life and her family to save Earth, a pretty noble act last time I checked. She isn’t a damsel in distress, she is a damsel trying to rapidly learn and navigate a world she doesn’t know all while holding the fate of Earth in her hands.

Lauren:  Yeah, and if she needs to believe that one of these evil new people is better than all the rest and marry him within minutes to save the world even though obviously she shouldn’t be trusting people at this point, so be it.  How can you not think of Jupiter as a damsel in distress!?  All the movie is is a repetition of Caine needing to come save her!  That is the definition of a damsel in distress!  And I would hardly say she always makes decisions on her own considering she is constantly being manipulated.  She may think she’s choosing, but it’s far from it in reality.

Zac: She isn’t asking for help or wanting to be saved. That is a requirement to fit the damsel in distress mold; they must be helpless and she is far from that. Caine is coming for her because he likes her and wants to see her safe, she doesn’t ask for his assistance once.

When it comes to the attraction thing, again, she is the pursuer and the one making the moves. She isn’t dopily in love with Caine, she just thinks he is hot (which Tatum is) and kind of just wants to jump his bones. Where is the harm in that? Yeah, her little compass speech was a bit of an eye roll, but in that moment Jupiter is basically telling us how awkward she is with dudes and Kunis’ performance throughout the film is constantly and knowingly aware of how silly this all is. I don’t know how anyone can watch this movie and think it is taking itself all that seriously. This is why I want this double featured with The Fifth Element (a much better film than Jupiter Ascending) they both just want to have fun in this big sci-fi world, and boy do the Wachowski’s have fun.

Lauren: No, no, no!

Zac:  This film is full of imagination and is just absolutely gorgeous at times. I want to see the three hour version of this movie that just gets to breathe and lets us soak up all the world building that is happening here. So much world building, and I was eating up all of it. The Wachowski’s do an amazing job of cramming in everything they do into a two hour runtime, and for that I can roll with the corners they had to cut story-wise just to keep this thing at two hours. The set-pieces are all fairly inventive and a lot of fun, and while I wish there was maybe one more of them I can’t imagine that Chicago chase scene not standing up to be one of the best set pieces of the year when it is all said and done.

The film’s willingness to just embrace the weird also endlessly delighted me. The lizard dudes, elephant pilot, ret-conning alien and vampire mythologies and taking a five minute trip into a Douglas Adams/Brazil like bureaucratic dystopia were all things I can fully get behind. Also, apparently Terry Gilliam was the dude who gives her that glowy tattoo, so that’s cool too. I didn’t notice in the theater.

Lauren:  There is a longer version of this movie?  God help us all.

Zac: I don’t know if there is, I just want one.

Lauren: That makes one of us.  I will agree that some of the action was pretty cool, but on the long list of horrible choices, Caine’s gravity boots was one of them.  The explanation of them was enough to warrant full on jet boots, but instead a large percentage of the movie was Tatum miming rollerblading.  It just looked so silly and took away from certain scenes where Tatum was doing his BA thing with an awesome shield and fighting skills that in no way resembled what I would expect a part wolf to do.

There were definitely parts where I will say the tone lapses into something trying to embrace the weird, which you can definitely see in the character design, and the neverending path needed for Jupiter to become a royal was one of these instances.  It felt like Harry Potter seeing the wizarding world of Diagon Alley and Gringotts for the first time.  There was an overabundance of stimuli to absorb, and the guide had his moments as he too suppressed his infuriation at the system, but then Jupiter would constantly look back over her shoulder at Caine and before long she is having one of her horrible moments of word vomit about relationships (if a girl is talking about falling for someone, that’s more than just wanting to jump their bones.  Just FYI, Zac.) and I just wanted to light all the scripts on fire.

I’m sure Eddie Redmayne wouldn’t mind warming himself by that fire.  He doesn’t need something like this to detract from the focus on The Theory of Everything during this buildup to the Oscars.

Zac: Eddie Redmayne is fine. The performance is weird and over the top totally on purpose. I have a hard time thinking the Wachowski’s were like, “God, this guy is acting crazy, but I guess we are stuck with him.” What’s funny is The Theory of Everything is the only film I have ever really liked him in; he isn’t horrible here, but I wasn’t enamored by any means either.

Kunis could have also sold that silly tone just a bit better as well, but I got what she was going for. She also just doesn’t quite have the action chops either, as she looked a little awkward in the final set piece a couple of times. I like Kunis, though, and she tries her best to sell some of the cheesy laughs.

Tatum is an action specimen here, but Caine’s story doesn’t really seem like it is going to kick in unless a sequel gets made. All of his inner turmoil is delivered to us in a line of exposition by Sean Bean (Sean Bean!) late in the movie about his inner desire to join a pack. I don’t know how you really visualize that emotion, but I was OK with watching Tatum be an effective action hero who is trying to deal with emotions for the complicated Jupiter.

Lauren:  Complicated!?  HA!

Zac:  And I was totally on board with the gravity boots. I liked how quiet they were so he could be sneaky. I will agree, there are a couple of weird shots where Tatum looks pretty silly trying to sell the skating around, but I think the Wachowski’s made the most out of the idea with Caine doing a lot of cool things because he had those on. Floating up and spinning around rooms, getting parallel to the ground at break neck speeds, and for all the awkward shots there are dozens more where Tatum makes it look like he has been doing this for years.

I just don’t see how you can’t appreciate the original sci-fi world building and how successful the Wachowski’s and their design team were at making a gorgeous and varied universe to play in. There are shots in here that are as gorgeous as any sci-fi film released in recent years, and the creature design had all of the variety and imagination you thought was lacking in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Lauren: Don’t even get me started on the dumped-in-bright-paint design choices of GotG!

I can appreciate the world building in Jupiter Ascending to an extent, but when I don’t agree with you on the tone it is hard for me to fully get on board for a cheesier Star Trek design that slams you in the face at times.  Take the bounty hunters we’re introduced to early in the film, when we first meet Caine.  They looked completely ridiculous with their glued on eye pieces and focus-stealing hair styles, like something you might see decades ago on Power Rangers or something like that.  Maybe if I was a child I wouldn’t take notice in a negative way, but when these styles look so different than other character designs it loses the illusion of a cohesive world design to me.

But hey, I guess this is just what I should expect from a movie that ends by giving Caine wings.  Why would a half wolf want wings!?  Make up your mind on what creatures you are splicing together!  Is he going to mind wipe everyone he meets so that they don’t think he is a weirdo hunchback who wears trenchcoats all day everyday?  Side note – I did like their brief explanation of the rebuilding of Chicago and the people who were missed in the mind wipe becoming those weirdos no one believes about their supernatural experiences.

So yes, in the end there are some elements I appreciated of this film: I thought the winged lizard people were pretty cool and rendered really believably, the special effects used to show the illusion being put on by the aliens to assimilate stealthily into our world was a nice touch, and Channing Tatum is Channing Tatum, but the bad outweighs the good for me by a long shot.  As in the one side of the scale is so heavy that the whole thing falls over and crashes to the ground.  Jupiter sucks, all of Redmayne’s over-the-top screaming vs quiet grandpa voice was obnoxious (though I will agree this is what was expected of him), and the story isn’t always the easiest to keep track of at times (I’m thinking back to the first time she sees the aliens to when they’re trying to murder her at the clinic).  Granted, a lot of my confusion could be because there was an overwhelming number of underdeveloped characters at times that I couldn’t keep track of who is who and whose side they’re on.

Again, at least there was Tatum.

Zac: The plot is over stuffed, but I think it is over stuffed coherently. This is why I want the more spacious three hour runtime, so they can parcel out the plot and not rush through it; only explaining the absolute essentials.

In the end, I am not really surprised the gulf is so wide on this one when it comes to our opinions. You got to be on board with what the Wachowskis are going for, and if you are not, this will all seem incredibly silly in not a very good way. I had a lot of fun and was up for whatever the Wachowskis threw at me. I wish we had more sci-fi that was this big and this weird, and it makes me sad that there are so few directors out there willing to embrace the genre the way the Wachowskis do.

Lauren:  I’m all for more big and weird sci-fi too.  I just hope the creators don’t use Jupiter Ascending as inspiration.

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