Cinephilia: Jupiter Ascending doesn’t reach great heights

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Two years ago, Cloud Atlas was released. Andy and Lana Wachowski made one of the best films of the decade. Now they have made one of the worst.

You may have seen the trailer for Jupiter Ascending, advertised as “by the creators of The Matrix.” This is technically true. The pair of directors exploded into popular culture with that trilogy of inventive entertainment. The siblings have gone on to make critically divisive movies like Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, separating most viewers into two camps: the haters who think the directors are pretentious hacks who make dumb, loud blockbusters, and the lovers who argue they are misunderstood genre artists that make baffling avant-garde cinema.

I am a lover — or at least I used to be.

Jupiter Ascending seems to fit with the Wachowskis oeuvre thematically, but qualitatively it resembles sappy YA adaptations and trite Marvel movies. The Matrix changed the generic style of action setpieces and Speed Racer’s disorienting racing sequences achieved a unique candy-coloured poetry.

With the exception of a breathtaking first action scene that is rhythmically edited and meticulously shot, Jupiter Ascending’s CGI design is on par with other space operas like Guardians of the Galaxy. For once, the siblings seem to be behind their competition.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Like The Matrix and Speed Racer, this film’s protagonist is yet another Chosen One with special abilities. This hero must overturn an evil capitalist system that turns human beings into commodities to be exploited. The villains are a quarrelling alien family fighting over Earth’s property rights. When the mother of the family is killed, her genetic material is reincarnated into a working-class orphan named Jupiter (Mila Kunis) — a young woman who cleans toilets for a living. This proletariat Cinderella is soon swept off her feet by a hunky alien police officer sent to protect her (Channing Tatum).

He’s dreamy, ripped, and half wolf; the latter is for you, Twilight fans. Jupiter’s insignificant life as a working-class maid on Earth becomes an epic adventure when the greedy alien landlords try to capture Jupiter so that she can sign over her planetary possession.

People are constantly double-crossing each other, and key characters randomly disappear. Exposition spews from the characters, but it hardly helps the viewer understand what has transpired. The world-building, plotting, and characterization are not developed visually with nuance, but instead progress with forced, unbelievable dialogue. Jupiter Ascending was scheduled to be in theatres last summer, but Warner Bros. delayed the release to perfect the visual effects and clarify the plotting by reshooting multiple scenes.

Had the plot made sense, I wouldn’t have cared anyway, mostly because none of the actors can sell the hokum. Mila Kunis appears disinterested while Eddie Redmayne, the Oscar-nominated actor who showed talent in The Theory of Everything, has no range here. He’s either whispering so lightly that we can’t hear him or screaming so loud we can’t make out what he’s saying.

Ascending descends because of bad performances from good actors and bad storytelling from good writers. This is the worst kind of horrible film: not a fun-bad movie but a bad-bad, really bad movie. Jupiter Ascending is the most unbearable experience I have had at the cinema in 2015. Don’t let it be yours.