– By Paulie Spiceflow –
It is hard to believe the same geniuses behind The Matrix were behind this flop. This “Cinderella in space” movie lacks substance, which is becoming an annoying trait of science fiction movies these days. Rather than make a truly great sci-fi film, the Wachowskis seemed to have spent the bulk of their time on the visual effects of Jupiter Ascending, without bothering to tell a compelling and original story.
Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, the daughter of Russian immigrants who spends her days as a cleaning lady working alongside her mother and aunts in Chicago. As you’d expect she hates her impoverished existence and seeks a way out. Well, it just turns out she’s actually the genetic reincarnation of a space queen. Channing Tatum plays Caine Wise, a disgraced warrior and genetic hybrid called a splice. He is sent to Earth to find her and lead the way for her to claim her title as owner of Earth. Standing in her way is the opulent Abrasax family, which use Earth as a farm. Humans are seeded, grown, expand, and are then harvested to produce a life-extending serum. With it, the Abrasax family has extended their lives into the tens of thousands of years.
The interstellar politics were interesting but the movie rushes through them, throwing Jupiter Jones into one life-threatening crisis after another. The visual effects are incredible, especially the landscapes of alien worlds and ships. There are AI servants, intelligent human-animal hybrids, and a lizard race. The movie provides background into the origins of the human race and its destiny as raw material for the production of the serum. Jupiter, as owner of the Earth, can decide to forgo the harvesting and protect the planet.
The existential crisis of Jupiter and humanity as a whole was interesting as well. We exist as livestock, nothing more. Our existence is due to the intervention of others, who are preparing to harvest us, once we have overwhelmed the planet. God is truly dead and there is indeed nothing innately special or unique about us. The religious and moral implications are stunning but never examined. The galaxy is a realm dominated by mercantilist interests fighting one another for access to worlds to be seeded and harvested. There is an insanely inefficient bureaucracy, and an impotent police force all painting the image of a galaxy that is much like a Charles Dickens novel.
Unfortunately these insights are lost in an unoriginal story. Jupiter Jones is essentially a Disney princess who is in constant need of her prince charming (Tatum) to save her. She is like a peasant girl lost in the universe of the wealthy, opulent royals who seek to exploit her ignorance yet acknowledge her special blood. It is really a combination of Princess Diaries, Cinderella and Twilight. The talented and funny Kunis is sadly given one flat line after another. Tatum is also underused, reduced to a charmless oaf. Both are likable but are far from the truly special characters of other great science fiction movies. On a positive note, Sean Bean lives through the whole movie.
The villains come straight from young adult vampire fiction: immortal, beautiful, wealthy, ruthless, and spoiled. Eddie Redmayne does a terrific job as the eccentric sociopath Balem Abrasax.
As much as I loved the visuals, many looked familiar. The scenery of one planet reminded me of Naboo from Star Wars, with its Mediterreanan landscape, Tuscan marble and limestone chateaus, and lush flowery forests. Some of the gadgets and aliens also seemed to come from Halo the video game. The costumes also looked like hand-me-downs from The Fifth Element or Chronicles of Riddick. Don’t get me wrong, it all looked great but I couldn’t help but think I’d seen it before. I also could not help but notice the city of Chicago was the victim of another violent alien encounter. Leave the Second City alone!
The Wachowskis gave the world one of the most stunning science fiction classics in The Matrix. With that one trilogy alone, their legacy is secure. Yet, I cannot help but be disappointed that their past few movies have been far short of expectations. Cloud Atlas, another visual stunner, was a meandering and often confusing story that bombed at the box office. I think Jupiter Ascending will do better because it appeals strongly to younger audiences, particularly young girls who love princess stories and a shirtless Channing Tatum.