I really wanted to love Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowskis’s latest big-screen adventure. After seeing it in 3D, I couldn’t get over how beautiful it all looked. The futuristic cityscapes, the outer space sequences, and the expansive use of the color palette throughout the whole picture was impressively lush. After those few seconds of grandeur lapsed away, however, I tried to remember something else I liked about the film, only to find that I couldn’t. The plot itself was too thin, and the characters were too one-dimensional: neither of which should happen in a setting as gloriously vast and wide as romanticized deep space. Such is my mistake for anticipating something strong from the creators of The Matrix.
Only two performances connected with me, and neither of them were in the main roles. Eddie Redmayne, the shining star morosely thrust into this pitiful galaxy, plays the extremely temperamental Balem Abrasax. A man desperate to live eternal life, he must harvest his inheritance – the planet Earth – of whatever resource he needs to keep himself young (maybe this story would have been better told through his vantage point). The other performance comes from Sean “Boromir” Bean. He plays Stinger Apini, the former brother-in-arms to Caine (more on him later). Through him, we learn material about other characters that those other characters fail to reveal themselves – again, another writing thing.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t feel that way for the titular heroine and her lycanthropomorphic sidekick. Mila Kunis plays the overtly practical Jupiter Jones as she discovers that she isn’t just some house-maid but instead the reincarnation of a space matriarch. Unfortunately she doesn’t seemed challenged by anything except maybe in her romantic feelings toward Caine Wise, her partner played semi-charmingly by Channing Tatum. Even still, she’s not conflicted in how to act; she just keeps on being the girl she was meant to be and thus fulfills her destiny, and that does not a good character make. Tatum, on the other hand, either by actor’s choice or direction, cuts himself short in this role. One of his greatest skills is comedic timing, but that ability was nil in this film, and he was reduced to the hunky werewolf – and that, too, does not a good, well-rounded character make.
The writing of Jupiter Ascending is what I believe to be the weakest point of the whole film. It wasn’t just that the plot lacked the intrigue to stay interesting once the initial fascination with the crisp CGI wore off; the characters were not written to be strong enough to carry…whatever they had to carry. In fact, they really didn’t have to carry anything; they just had to simply be. The capstone example is Jupiter herself, who just had to be who she already was to save the world. And as endearing as a message we want that to be, it is a toxic one because points to the notion that humans can be good all by themselves – a notion in contention with the foundation of the Gospel narrative.
Jupiter Ascending was the first disappointment of the year for me. I was genuinely excited for something new from the Wachowskis. With The Matrix, they were on the cutting edge of something new within the cinematic realm. Even with Cloud Atlas were they at least trying to break the mold preset by the genre before it. I wanted to leave this film instilled with a sense of wonder that had been solidified by concrete characters and dramatic tension which would ultimately lead to my enjoyment and respect of the film. I left the theater wishing Into the Woods was still out.