“Jupiter Ascending” entertains, but goes nowhere

A great movie ties different storylines together, attaches you to its characters and expands on the creativity of its underlying idea. “Jupiter Ascending” does none of this and instead relies on the strength of its novel premise and stunning visuals.

As Lana and Andy Wachowski’s first science fiction film since “The Matrix” trilogy, “Jupiter Ascending” entertains, but disappointingly fails to live up to the quality of their previous work. There is a little bit of everything scattered throughout this messy roller coaster ride of a storyline—action, romance, cheesiness, plot twists, visuals—and although it is very stimulating, “Jupiter Ascending” lacks the substance to say anything meaningful. As a result, the Wachowskis have flopped on what could have been a stellar film.

The film stars Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a maid in Chicago who leads a modest life until a space soldier named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) saves her from an alien attack. Jupiter slowly discovers why the Abrasax family—a powerful dynasty that owns the earth—is trying to hunt her down. They see her as a threat that stands between them and their empire, whose product is the most valuable in all of the universe: an elixir of life.

The movie hinges far too heavily on the fresh concept of earth’s life existing as a dispensable asset in an intergalactic business. Touching on Darwinist ideals, “Jupiter Ascending” does not provide any significant commentary nor grand conclusion on the ethical dilemma it presents. This lack of insight forced the Wachowskis to fill the void with visuals and a potpourri of action scenes.

Although visuals are not—and should never be—the most important part of a movie, they still prove to make movies all the more entertaining. Consider outstanding movies like Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” and James Cameron’s “Avatar,” which have visuals that elevate them to movie-of-the-year status. In comparison, mediocre films with great visuals can also be enjoyable, and those who are able to disregard a shoddy plot in the presence of gorgeous space landscapes and impressive CGI reptilian extraterrestrials will enjoy “Jupiter Ascending.”

The elegant animal-inspired spaceships and the luscious Abrasax residence immerse us deeply in the film with every heart-stopping pan of the camera: This is a feat not commonly achieved in today’s science fiction movies. The Wachowskis spoil the audience with breathtaking panoramic shots of different planets, including Jupiter. We experience a sense of grandeur as the film takes us through the supermassive cyclone that is the Great Red Spot.

That being said, many of the action scenes were unnecessarily prolonged, while Kunis’ and Tatum’s romance scenes were cheesy and seemed disingenuous. Kunis and Tatum were acting as well as they can, drawing on spotty chemistry that never builds a strong enough bond for a catharsis at neither the climax or the end of the movie. Additionally, while Jupiter’s Russian family is entertaining at times and have an interesting dynamic, they end up seeming unrealistic. These issues arguably arise from a script designed for the typical formulaic American action blockbuster. This leaves us feeling less invested in Jupiter and Caine, and therefore less emotionally involved in the movie.

Coming into the movie, we expected something among the likes of “The Matrix” and “Cloud Atlas”—both Wachowski creations—but were thoroughly disappointed. “Jupiter Ascending,” while spouting interesting ideas, is just another action blockbuster movie that had the potential to say so much more than it did.

Film: “Jupiter Ascending”
Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum
Rating: 2/5 stars