Know this going in. JUPITER ASCENDING isn’t for everyone. In fact, if this movie makes a profit, I’d be very surprised. The story is, to put it bluntly, nuts. It’s as if a Hollywood producer went to a playground and recorded the science fiction rantings of an ADD-addled, sugar hopped, caffeinated 8-year old. “And then the dog-man saves the galactic space queen, and they go to the house of the bee-man, but the alien bounty hunters follow them and shoot rays at them but the dog-man has these magic gravity boots that let him skate everywhere and the queen is really her reincarnated ancestor and at some point an elephant person flies a starship!” Then said producer made a $200 million movie. This is the kind of science fiction movie that pre-teen boys lose their minds over, before their pituitary glands kick in and tell them to start thinking about girls and stuff. I have no idea what audiences will think of this movie if they decide to see it - if my screening is any indication, 10% of the audience will be laughing at the sheer audacity of it all while the rest of them scratch their heads, if they aren’t actively angry at the innate camp of it all. JUPITER ASCENDING is all over the place.
Fortunately for me? I was in that 10%. I had so much fun with JUPITER ASCENDING, and when I wasn’t marveling at the incredible visuals and set design, I was laughing at lines like “Your Majesty, I have more in common with a dog than I have with you.” “I love dogs. I’ve always loved dogs.” Channing Tatum as Caine Wise, a hybrid dog-human who designates himself as Jupiter Jones’ (Mila Kunis) protector, turns in such an earnest performance that he makes the role work through sheer will, even over the crazy dialogue. Unfortunately Kunis can’t keep up - she’s far too often the damsel in distress when her character, a reincarnation of the patriarch of the Abrasax family, a dynasty that “owns” the Earth, should be much more pro-active. We also get Sean Bean (or Beean) as a human-bee hybrid who decides to assist Caine and Jupiter in their quest - and even now, I’m not exactly sure what that quest is, except to run away from the villainous Abrasax siblings. Eddie Redmayne is Balem Abrasax (Lord, these names), the would-be heir to Earth had his mother not willed her inheritance to Jupiter in a way that’s a bit too convoluted to explain here. Redmayne plays Balem like he’s a Pixies song - soft, soft, EXTREMELY LOUD, soft, and he seems to be in on the joke.
The Wachowskis, however, don’t treat anything like it’s a joke. That sense of earnestness, that commitment to their story, is what makes JUPITER ASCENDING work (at least for me, like I said, I’m pretty certain I’m in the minority on this one). The look of the ships, the art direction, even the alien design are all inspired and JUPITER ASCENDING looks pulled directly from the covers of every pulp science fiction novel ever written. The ships, especially, are beautiful - no gray, used future aesthetic here. The gorgeous designs reminded me quite a bit of the work of Chris Foss, full of color and gloss. The Wachowskis also haven’t forgotten how to direct action, even if it gets a little repetitive - seeing Tatum gravity-surf gets a bit old after the third time or so - with kinetic, colorful sequences, and flights of fancy, lasers blasting everywhere. JUPITER ASCENDING is also full of the many ideas that are the Wachowskis’ trademark. In fact, it’s so stuffed with interesting concepts and ideas that the movie doesn’t take much time to examine them. The result is that JUPITER ASCENDING, while never dull, blasts forward with such rapid pacing that it almost becomes incoherent. It’s a movie that feels far bigger in scope than its running time allows.
But what I responded to the most in JUPITER ASCENDING is just how weird the movie gets. JUPITER ASCENDING is almost punk rock in just how goddamn nerdy it is. There are laser battles with evolved dinosaurs in it, people. There's a particular cameo, during a particular sequence, that had me laughing my ass off. And I was the only one in the theater doing so, although more movie-savvy geeks will get it, and hopefully have as much fun with it as I did. It’s not every day that a movie pays homage to… well, that would be spoiling, but it was such an odd and unexpected sequence that I couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer guts of it. Michael Giacchino wrote his score before seeing the movie, and it’s a spirited score that perhaps amps scenes up more than they needed to be, but that’s probably to be expected when you make the movie towards the score and not the other way around.
There are lines in the dialogue so campy that as a critic I should write them off as awful choices, except these are the kind of choices that filmmakers take that are truly risky - going for broke and taking a chance at looking ridiculous. Sometimes it comes across as silly. And sometimes, they work. JUPITER ASCENDING is truly daring in that regard. So what if it doesn’t work some of the time? I admire the bravery of the Wachowskis to even go there. So many blockbuster films ask us to turn our brains off and enjoy the ride. JUPITER ASCENDING gives us the ride, but the Wachowskis never ask us to turn our brains off, and that respect for the audience gets a lot of points from me.
Yeah, it’s safe to say I loved JUPITER ASCENDING, and I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about it. I’m actually thinking about going again this weekend. For a movie that was supposedly written off by the studio, I admire the Wachowskis and how they commit to everything silly, odd, weird, and strange about it. In a world where cookie-cutter blockbusters flourish, I’m thankful that I got a movie this unique and adventurous. I don’t know if the Wachowskis will ever get a budget like this again, and I’m glad I was there when they threw everything and the kitchen sink through my theater screen.