The worst part about hating Jupiter Ascending is that I was really rooting for it. I’m not a Wachowskis super fan or anything (I barely know of their work outside The Maxtrix & Speed Racer); I just liked the movie’s basic concept & attributes. The idea of a sci-fi action-adventure with a female lead hit a lot of my sweet spots right out of the gate, but every one of those elements in the final product fell embarrassingly flat. The female lead, played by Mila Kunis, is for the most part a passenger & an observer while the action swirls around her (she’s a literal princess in need of saving, even). The action itself alternates from occasionally engaging to just painfully awful, anchored mostly by an against-all-odds unsexy Channing Tatum figure skating through the air (thanks to some kind of goofy laser boots) while terrible CGI obstacles crash & burn in his wake. That leaves the film’s sci-fi concepts to carry the load, which they occasionally do in a Richard Kelly kitchen sink fashion, but even those fade to long stretches of unimpressive action sequences. In short, Jupiter Ascending is a failure, when I really, really didn’t want it to be.
I’m just one dude, though! There’s a lot floating around in the film for people to latch onto. Beautiful, futuristic landscapes & architecture are populated with (unbelievably dumb-looking) alien weirdos like CGI lizard minions & humanoid owl things (that look like Ron Perlmen in Beauty and the Beast). Eddy Redmayne gives a (laughably) memorable performance as an evil alien dictator (who is just a wig & a sashay short of a killer drag routine). The aforementioned Richard Kelly brand of too-plentiful ideas contrast an undocumented immigrant’s life as a servant on Earth with distant & lavish alien aristocrats (who cares). There’s some (mildly amusing) honey bee worship (à la Upside Down) that results in the line “Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty.” Other lines like “Your Earth is a very small part of a very large industry,” and “Time is the single most precious commodity in the universe,” also have a sort of a staying power (even if it’s as a joke). There’s a whole lot to love in Jupiter Ascending, but if you’re like me and have problems arriving on its wavelength, that excess gets ugly quickly.
If I had to boil what’s wrong with Jupiter Ascending down to a single fault it would be that it’s just so thoroughly uncool. I could be wrong and the movie’s late 90s Hot Topic raver aesthetic could be vintage enough to be cool again (if it was ever cool), but from my POV it just feels painfully outdated, like watching your stepdad desperately try to be hip. Imagine if The Fifth Element arrived 20 years late, dead serious (or at least not funny), and about as exciting as The Ice Pirates. Maybe a list of the character names will give you an idea of what I’m describing here: Jupiter Jones, Titus Abrasax, Phylo Percadium, Gemma Chatterjee, Stinger Apini, etc. If these names belong anywhere (and I’m not sure that they do) it’s on a TV screen, clogging up a low-rent Battlestar Galactica knockoff. Much of the film operates this way, feeling like a television show whose special effects budget was afforded way too much money and not nearly enough time to get the details right. I sincerely hope that there are people who have positive experiences with Jupiter Ascending, as I do find it interesting in concept, but it’s a movie I would love to never see or think about again. This might work out just fine, as even while I was watching I felt like it had been released nearly two decades ago.