In 2011 I started a new tradition: Watching a new movie release in the cinema on my birthday. This year, for whatever reason, I thought that it would be a good idea to make “Jupiter Ascending” my birthday screening (albeit, just this once, actually a day before my birthday). In my defense, when I sent out the invitations three weeks earlier, there were no reviews out yet, and while I didn’t expect another “Cloud Atlas”, I had high hopes for the new movie by the Wachowskis, who – despite one or two missteps (“Speed Racer” comes to mind) – are one of the more interesting filmmakers working today. And even when the first reviews started to drop in a couple of days prior to the screening, I remained hopeful that the impressive visuals would bail it out, at least in my view. After all, it wouldn’t have been the first time that I ended up liking a movie that got mostly slammed by critics. Unfortunately, in this case, I’m afraid they got it right.
“Jupiter Ascending” is the movie that I feared “Guardians of the Galaxy” would be, and that it probably would have been with a less talented director at the helm (as my friend Peter pointed out). A convoluted mess from start to finish, it randomly jumps from one scene to the next, without any flow and/or tension, and never amounting to a convincing, coherent whole. The beginning – usually with a movie like that, which introduces us to a new world, my favorite part – was boring as fuck, the action scenes, while shot competently, went on way too long and never really managed to grip me, and the romance didn’t work for me at all. There’s no chemistry between Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum, and the script likewise failed to convey their mutual attraction. When Jupiter finally confesses her love, it came totally out of the blue for me, and felt completely functional; they fall in love simply because the script demands it. The story itself doesn’t fare much better, relying far too heavily on well-known tropes as well as one of the favorite motives of the Wachowskis: humans as natural resources (see: “The Matrix”), which also starts to feel a little worn out by now. Probably the worst part of the movie, though, was the dialogue, which offered many unintentionally funny scenes, like the now-infamous “I’ve always loved dogs”-line. I couldn’t believe my ears.
Michael Giacchino definitely is one of my favorite film composers working today, and on its own, I also loved his work for “Jupiter Ascending”. Unfortunately, his music and the movie sometimes didn’t gel, feeling a little bit too pompous, trying to give the movie gravitas and weight that wasn’t really there on-screen (The best comparison that I can come up with on the fly is the swelling hero theme in “Kick-Ass” when he’s doing nothing more exciting than putting on his costume and posing in front of the mirror; however, there the discrepancy between the scene and the music was intentional). I also was quite disappointed that for a very long while, Jupiter Jones gets reduced to a simple, typical damsel in distress, spending most of the movie getting rescued by Caine. She’s a cue ball, getting thrown around between the different factions, without really actively doing anything. Thankfully, the Wachowskis finally give her two strong scenes near the end, but by then, it was already too late for me to overcome my disappointment in how they used her character.
Lastly, the acting unfortunately wasn’t all that good. Don’t get me wrong, Mila Kunis is always a pleasure to look at (the day I grow tired of looking at her face is the day that you’re officially allowed to euthanize me), and overall, I think she’s a competent enough actress. However, in “Jupiter Ascending” she seemed to be modeling, instead of acting. Channing Tatum fares slightly better, but the more I see him, the more I think that he’s more suited for funny movies like “21 Jump Street” than in dramatic roles like this. And Eddie Redmaynes portrayal of the main baddie – which seemed like a bad impression of Gary Oldmans Zorg in “The Fifth Element” – was absolutely terrible (even though I lay the blame for that mostly on the directors). He can really be thankful that most Academy members probably didn’t care to check out “Jupiter Ascending”; otherwise, he could have kissed his Oscar goodbye. Ultimately, the one actor who leaves this mess unscathed is Sean Bean, who is the only one on-screen who seems alive, and who arguably brings more to the role than there was to it on paper.
Having said all that, it’s not a complete disaster. The visuals are just as impressive as I expected them to be, offering up some hauntingly beautiful images. Also, there are a couple of nice ideas in here, as well as the occasional entertaining moment. And let us not forget the fact that at a time where Hollywood is dominated by sequels, remakes and adaptations, to actually have a big budgeted blockbuster that’s not based on a previously established franchise is a rare (and very welcome) commodity. That’s definitely something that works in its favor. Ultimately, though, originality will only get you so far (we have an axiom in german that roughly translates to “It’s better to steal well than to invent badly”). One would think that with my preference for Science Fiction, “Jupiter Ascending” would have been right up my alley; but quite to the contrary, I actually felt incredibly bored, getting more weary of the movie with every passing minute – thus, I have zero interest in ever watching it again. I can’t think of a more damning thing to say about a movie that, in the end, wants nothing more than to simply entertain.