'Jupiter Ascending' Movie Review: Learn the Secret to Enjoying the Wachowskis' Latest

jupiter ascending
The empty beauty of Jupiter Ascending. Warner Bros. Pictures

The secret to enjoying Jupiter Ascending is to see Seventh Son just before (check out my review). Both are perfectly 2015 movies, each standing for two prongs of the exploding genre scene. Both are not very good movies, but Jupiter Ascending does a lot more for science fiction than Seventh Son does for fantasy. With Jupiter Ascending you get a thoughtful take on abduction by alien greys, more planet-hopping than Galactus, winged lizard men, and too many funny H&M outfits to count. Just like Speed Racer, Jupiter Ascending is confirmation that the Wachowskis know how to push CGI spectacle to places that can still surprise, even if the cost is in authenticity. Unlike Speed Racer, Jupiter Ascending isn’t secretly good.

Jupiter Ascending Trailer

Jupiter Ascending opens with a family origin story right out of Middlesex or The World According to Garp, as, deep breath, Jupiter Jones is born in a mid-Atlantic shipping crate to a mathematics professor fleeing the Old Country after thugs murdered her astrophysicist husband, Jupiter’s Dad, for a telescope. It’s an odd start, one that imagines specificity and tailored details to be a replacement for emotional substance. Read as an omen for the rest of Jupiter Ascending, Jupiter’s why-the-hell-should-we-care birth presages the emotional hollowness of the whole movie. Jupiter’s family, whose fate becomes a major plot point, is downright unlikable, but our knowledge of a battery of familial quirks and eccentricities is meant to keep us invested.

But no one is watching Jupiter Ascending for the truthfulness of its family drama. Jupiter Ascending is about fights between Dune-like alien dynasties, sleek spaceships, wormholes, and a shirtless Channing Tatum wearing dog ears and rollerblades. Trouble begins when quibbling space siblings discover their mother has been science-reincarnated in Jupiter (Mila Kunis) and has a legitimate claim to a chunk of Abrasax family wealth, including Earth. Titus and Kalique Abrasax want to secure Jupiter for themselves, each with their own schemes for gaining control of Earth. 

Another Jupiter Ascending Trailer

Why Earth? Because our approaching over-population is evidence that we’re nearly ready for harvest, when all of humanity is converted to immortality goo for the space vampires (the Abrasax would deny it, but Jupiter calls out the obvious Lifeforce parallels right away). While Earth’s owner, butthole brother Balem (Eddie Redmayne giving a perfect genre performance as a whispery, rich kid creep), just wants Jupiter dead, a rival family member hires dog-soldier Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) to bring her in alive.

The movie depends on the relationship that develops between Caine and Jupiter, as Jupiter struggles to understand her place in a huge universe, clinging to humanity against a destiny that is larger and more corporate callous than even the Star Wars Empire. It’s too bad this mainly means Jupiter getting snared in various princess traps until Caine can rollerblade in topless to rescue her.

Mila Kunis as Jupiter gets some obligatory chances to control her own destiny, but they feel like consolation prizes in the face of yet another scene with Channing Tatum killing everyone. Jupiter Ascending is just self-conscious enough to push hard for a Leia and Han Solo dynamic, but becomes too enamored with spectacle to put in the effort needed for us to care about Caine and Jupiter’s blossoming cross-caste love. 

Yet One More Jupiter Ascending Trailer

Despite a few too many flying buttresses (only one sequence, on a Brazil-like bureaucracy planet, could be called *shudder* steampunk) the design in Jupiter Ascending is worthy of daftly visionary scifi classics like Logan’s Run, The Fifth Element, and Fantastic Planet. There’s something that just works about classical statues on a spaceship (Fhloston Paradise has finally met its gaudy match in Jupiter Ascending). Environments are just as impressive, from the tornado-interior wormholes to the secret base buried in the red eye of Jupiter.

Andy and Lana Wachowski still know how to stage an action scene. Channing Tatum sky-skating in balletic orbit around the Sears Tower, dodging fire from alien fighters, is both gripping and fanciful; the matchless imagination of the Wachowskis on full display even in a lesser outing. In keeping with Jupiter Ascending’s many deficiencies, it also features one of the worst action scenes in recent memory, an incomprehensible Playstation 1 mess of squared off pixels as hero-partners Caine and Stinger (Sean Bean) suicide dive through a defensive torpedo field to stop a space wedding. That’s the thing about Jupiter Ascending: even the worst parts of the movie sound kind of amazing.

The movie most similar to Jupiter Ascending may just be Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. Jupiter Ascending has all the weaknesses of the Lucas Prequel Trilogy, including a hollow romance, a hammy sense of humor, and over-complicated politics standing in for a plot. Still, Andy and Lana Wachowski are the masters of spectacle and genre atmosphere that George Lucas was in the 70’s and Jupiter Ascending has too much sci-fi madness to dismiss outright. Again though, you’ll have a better time if you watch Seventh Son first.

Join the Discussion
Top Stories