This article is a bit of a weird structure. The idea is you could read it in a variety of orders.
(Refer to “The Structure”)
So nominally this is the section where I would talk about plot holes and things like that. The problems you didn’t notice with honest bees. The weird amounts of time it takes characters to get places. Stuff like that. However I didn’t particularly come across any deal breaking problems like that in the Wachowskis’ seventh film. And these problems are ultimately the least relevant to most movies. If Jupiter Ascending frequently indulges in any sin it’s convenience, and pointing to films with overly convenient timing could not be a more quixotic task. It’s just part of the fabric of storytelling the vast majority of the time.
(Refer to “The Pacing”, “Rewatchability”, and “The Action”)
I loved the design of this movie. Jupiter Ascending feels like someone took Dune (the book) and mashed it up with every Tor book cover, then seasoned it with the kind of contemporary science-fiction design that rarely makes it into movies. There are palatial blossom-soaked sprawls, dense urban clutter, wherever it is Douglas Booth lives, grim spaceship interiors, and dangerous floating satellite homes. Most of this is awesome looking. The animal-human hybrids wandering around the screen look great, the dragon-people are pretty neat, the robots are unique. Mila Kunis’ series of evermore elaborate raiments are nifty, and help compliment the visual aesthetic of the worlds we see. One of the few pieces of design I didn’t like much – the spaceship exteriors. These tend to be too reliant on disparate floating elements, which make no sense and look way too busy. Some of this business actually adds to the overall world. It feels very complete and realized, especially when you get weird characters like the sparkly birdman and moving-tattoo-having anime chick wandering around the edges of the film. They’re notably odd and original, and each feels like they’d have interesting stories behind them.
(Refer to “The Structure” and “The Characters”)
There have been a lot of accusations levied at this movie in reference to the character of Jupiter Jones. Basically she’s a normal human who ends up in a massive scale space fantasy, a lot like Luke Skywalker. This was part of a deliberate choice the Wachowskis made to have Jupiter be a fairly non-physical protagonist. She’s not Aliens era Ripley (unrelated to my feelings on that film, the general insistence that it’s the be-all-and-end-all of gender equality in science fiction films is a bafflingly limited take on what makes for a good character). However this does mean Jupiter Jones gets rescued a lot. If anything though that’s more problematic from a structural argument, and definitely underplays her positive features as a character. Jupiter Jones makes hard, compelling moral decisions all over this movie and continually propels the plot. She even gets one or two moments of physical badassery. She’s not exclusively a Princess Peach objective, and while that might be a legitimate take away from the film it still seems like an overly simplistic one that misses a chance to celebrate what makes Jupiter an interesting character.
(Refer to “The Plot”, and “The Pacing”)
In my head I figured I’d rank these sections in some semblance of an order based on significance. So maybe structure is more important than its ranking would imply. Jupiter Ascending is a slightly flawed movie when it comes to structure. The movie suffers from a sort of fairytale, storybook, episodic structure. The latter portion of the movie sees Jupiter Jones visiting each of the three Abraxas (“Abraxas hydroplane, massive / Catch this flight flow / Rainin’ madness”) siblings. Abraxas is an Egyptian god of destruction, for those wondering. Or more accurately he might be Egyptian, and was a part of a Gnostic pantheon. Old drawings make him look like a dude with a chicken on his head, something I kind of wished the Wachowskis had copped. Imagine Eddie Redmayne’s voice oozing out of a rooster head. This visiting of the three siblings is a troubling structure. Each segment feels slightly disconnected. They might be individually appealing, but there’s a sense of independence that never really gets surmounted. I’m not sure that, personally, this structure is actually bad though. For one it’s incredibly common in the genre the Wachowskis are riffing on. Just like how in Interstellar they visit three planets each with unique problems and gimmicks, the Wachowskis want to show you three worlds with different empires and expand the world building. This is another one of those movies that feels like it might be drawing on Vladimir Propp’s fairy tale structure the same way Star Wars drew on the Hero’s Journey. It’s not a one-for-one adoption of Propp’s checklist, but it seems like it might have come up at some point in the process.
(Refer to “The Structure” and “The Characters”)
This is, of course, tied to the structure. There’s maybe more of a natural progression to these subjects than there is a ranking. The problem with a fairytale structure in Jupiter Ascending is simple – the rest of the movie doesn’t match. The pacing is pretty high energy. The film keeps moving quickly, constantly dumping new information on our laps and filling out a surprising amount of its runtime with long action scenes. The result is rarely boring. In fact it feels a little breakneck and could maybe have done with a slightly longer runtime. That might have helped parts of the movie from feeling like a colourful blur, something it fell into on occasion.
(Refer to “The Pacing”, “The Action”, and “Rewatchability”)
Generally there was some decent character work in this movie. Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis were both likeable as the leads of the film. Sean Bean was gruff and bee-loving. Eddie Redmayne was great as the unbearable moist villain. There aren’t many other characters that make much of a lasting impression, unfortunately. Lots of good little performances, but there’s so much going on at any given moment that they’re not always given the spotlight they might deserve. Of course none of this is as important as the main character-related complaint I have. Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis are meant to be the heart of this film, and the movie never convincingly sells me on their burgeoning romance. The two leads certainly have chemistry, but it feels a little like Kunis goes from zero to declaring her everlasting love in no time at all. If we’d had a little more time to get to know these characters and see them interact with each other in a few more scenes it would’ve gone a long way. Look at how much you can forgive in Guardians of the Galaxy purely based on how much you like those characters. That kind of increased likability would have really helped carry the audience through the rest of the movie, and it feels like skimping on developing that is quite possibly the biggest misstep Jupiter Ascending makes.
(Refer to “The Characters” and “The Pacing”)
The action in Jupiter Ascending wasn’t that good. It sort of pains me to say this, but the Wachowskis’ action scenes in this film might actually be the worst part of it. I certainly enjoyed them the least. In fact the only time I really started to border on feeling bored during this film was during some of the bigger action set pieces. Some of the initial scenes of ground level combat, mainly the stuff still on earth, were actually good. Tatum leaping around the alien infested operating room was cool, as was the fight at Sean Bean’s cornfield and bee surrounded house. However most of the film’s big set pieces are spaceship based. These blow. The first comes way to soon in the film to provide the audience with any real sense of drama. It also never uses this lengthy beat for character development, which seems like a seriously missed opportunity (think of how the first couple of fights in Guardians of the Galaxy are all about getting to know these characters). Instead we get a fight scene with only one goal – look cool. And it does, but not so cool that it justifies its presence. The other problem is the difficulty I have telling the identical spaceships apart. That makes everything much trickier. The other rather pointless comes close to the finale. Two spaceships fly and blast their way through a space-field made up of pointy satellites. It’s nothing but bright moving colours and explosions. None of the significance makes any sense, none of the action is cool, none of the stakes are effectively dramatized. It’s a really lousy sequence that, like the other disappointing fight, goes on too long.
(Refer to “Rewatchability” and “The Characters”)
As always the Wachowskis are incredibly direct with their themes. Something I love about them. Jupiter Ascending is clearly and passionately about the shitty class structures and mentalities that go along with capitalism. Hence the interplanetary government they explore and focus the movie on revolves around an economy that makes the idea of exploiting the people at the bottom of the social pyramid literal. A lot of this movie’s stranger elements make a lot more sense when you look at them through this thematic lens. The focus on rules and regulations, Jupiter being a poor illegal immigrant, the hilarious legal parade part way through the movie, the film’s focus on wealth and inheritance and resources. All this stuff is part of the really well realized thematic core of Jupiter Ascending. I’m not necessarily crazy about the ending of the film, thematically speaking, but I still think it’s making the point the Wachowskis want to make. I just think it comes off slightly hackneyed.
I’m inclined to give this movie the benefit of the doubt. I have this sneaking suspicion that the overwhelming info-dumps at fast pace will become less and less distracting on repeat viewings. When the initial noisiness of this movie is no longer the focus I don’t wonder if more nuances will appear and help soften some of the film’s problems.