The Anticipated: Jupiter Ascending

In All, Movies by David

What’s that? This has really gotten ridiculous. Where the hell have all The Anticipated’s been? Well… yeah, about that… umm… sorry?

We good?

Awesome. So, you might remember last year’s list had Jupiter Ascending on it. Well, soon after that, Jupiter Ascending’s released date was moved to February 2015, and thus now occupies a weird place on The Anticipated list. That doesn’t mean I forgot about it. It just means it is just really, really late, but don’t fret, it’s here now. So did Jupiter Ascending recapture the Wachowskis’ movie magic, or was it another misstep for the sci-fi duo? Let’s strap on some hover boots and find out.

Spoilers Ahead (Probably) 

Jupiter Ascending (February 5th, 2015)

How was it?

Better than I expected, certainly, but considering I had quite low expectations, that isn’t saying much. Still, I found I enjoyed the movie as a whole, which was something I definitely didn’t expect. Jupiter Ascending isn’t a good movie, it just isn’t a bad movie. This may sound like waffling, but I have had a hard time deciding where I stand with this movie, and even after all these months I am still not entirely sure. Maybe writing about it will help. On the plus side, this movie is gorgeous and the Wachowskis prove once again that they can create original and vibrant worlds if they want to. The cinematic world and universe of Jupiter Ascending is rich and engaging—when the film actually has time to deal with it. In a lot of ways, it is possible this film would have been better as a TV show, where it would have had space to really flesh out its universe and ideas. There would have been a trade-off in looks due to a much lower special FX budget, but that wouldn’t have been as much of a problem as you might think. A lot of what made the film so beautiful were its fantastic costumes, production design, and cinematography, none of which would have to suffer too badly from a television budget. Some of the shots in this movie are truly breathtaking, to the point where by themselves they almost make a viewing worth it. Also, the action in this movie is mostly on point; you can usually tell what is happening quite well and what you see is often breathtaking. Caine’s fight against Greehan (Ariyon Bakare) near the end of the movie works especially well. This is of course all ways of saying that the production quality of the film is its greatest strength.

You two don’t even have chemistry in this still frame.

At the same time, the script for this movie is simply dreadful. The plotting sucks, and the film both miscasts and misuses Mila Kunis (Jupiter) and fails to utilize Channing Tatum (the brilliantly and ridiculously named Caine Wise) correctly by failing to give him almost any comedic material. Kunis is especially problematic, because this just isn’t the movie for her. There are times when the film is not trying to be a sci-fi epic, and there she is perfectly fine–even good, when she is allowed to be grounded and funny. Her scenes on Earth work really well, as do any scene in which she is primarily just bantering with others. But anytime the film decides it needs to be a sci-fi movie, Kunis is just way out of her depth. Plus, the chemistry between Kunis and Tatum is laughable, which makes a rushed romance between the two even more problematic. The film also manages to waste Sean Bean, although I guess it gets points for not killing Bean’s character off (a small victory to all Sean Bean enthusiasts everywhere). Then there is Eddie Redmayne’s Balem Abrasax, who is both the worst and best part of this movie. There are times when it seems like many of the actors are phoning it in during this film, but that can never be said about Redmayne. His puts on a master class in scenery chewing, which allows him to bring a presence that the other actors just don’t have. Sure, he is over-the-top extreme at times, but man does he commit, and it is glorious. He manages to have scenes that ping pong between cringe-inducing brilliant, and his commitment to the role can only be commended (even if sometimes you just can’t help but laugh at it).

Isn’t this based on…? 

Nope, it is completely original, baby (well, as original as any idea can be). It was bound to happen again eventually.

Did it warrant its selection on The Anticipated?

Hmm… sort of, but this is a really weird film to evaluate. This film being an original idea and sci-fi cannot be dismissed, as both are becoming increasingly rare in Hollywood. More importantly, this film centers around a female perspective, which is something not really done in the genre. Sci-fi has long been the domain for men to tell stories about men. The gender scripts are flipped even further because Jupiter’s love interest, Caine Wise, spends much of the movie shirtless and is more or less meant to be objectified the way most female protagonists are in many sci-fi movies (and many movies that aren’t sci-fi, sadly enough). This is amped to the max when Caine is shirtless for a thirty minute sequence of him trying to save Jupiter from bounty hunters, to the point where he literally holds on to the outside of a space ship as it’s flying through space while he’s still shirtless. This kind of gender dynamic is a nice change of pace for sci-fi, and helps Jupiter Ascending stand out in comparison to other films.

Sigh… Why couldn’t you be this badass the whole movie?

The problem is that a lot of this progress is undercut by the fact that, for most of the film, Jupiter is constantly being saved by Caine. She just isn’t really an active character until the film’s climax. The number of times Caine literally saves Jupiter as she’s falling to her death makes me almost want to call the film Jupiter Descending. This makes what should be a progressive film hard to stomach at times.

From a box office perspective, this film bombed, making only about 47.3 million dollars against a 176 million dollar budget. International sales helped boost those figures quite a bit, but considering that the 176 million figure doesn’t include the marketing budget, this film is definitely going to be considered a financial failure unless Blu-Ray/DvD sales are quite high. This is possible, but highly unlikely because in general the home video bubble has burst and can not reliably be counted on even for much more beloved movies. With that said, due to its progressive nature this movie feels like something that might become a cult classic, just like the Wachowskis Speed Racer or Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim did, so it is possible its financial status is not completely doomed. Still, this does feel like the last time the Wachowskis will ever be given big money to do a big budget sci-fi movie like this again. That might just be for the best, as TV could be the better medium for their style and ideas (regardless of what is being said about Sens8).

Would I recommend it to others? 

If you have a nice TV set up, sure, it’s a fun rental, but if you watch things on a computer or smaller screen, probably give it a pass. What makes the film watchable just won’t translate as well on smaller screens. At the same time, if you never watch this film you won’t be missing out on too much, so it is also fine to pass on it entirely. It isn’t a good movie, just sometimes a fun one.

How would I rate it?

You tried so hard to make this role work, and by God, you almost pulled it off.

On our handy dandy made-up anticipation meter, Jupiter Ascending would rate 5.5 youth serums out of 10, because I enjoyed myself way more than I expected, it wasn’t a complete box office disaster (just mostly one), and it made it clear that original sci-fi still has life in movies—if the script and casting aren’t complete disasters. It’s just too bad this movie didn’t live up to its promise.

For an actual rating: The best thing that can be said about this film is that it isn’t terrible, but, well, when that’s a compliment, your film has a problem. Jupiter Ascending is pretty, original, features Eddie Redmayne’s crazy performance, and a somewhat progressive viewpoint (with great action to boot), but it never overcomes a bad script, miscasting, Eddie Redmayne’s crazy performance, and a lack of chemistry between its leads. So I would give it 2.25 out of 4 stars, which I guess means I liked it slightly more than I hated it. But like I said before, that doesn’t make it a good movie just not a terrible one.

That’s for this edition of The Anticipated. Next up is the action thrill ride, Furious 7. Did this one last ride with Paul Walker deliver, or was it a cinematic mess that couldn’t overcome the many set-backs beyond its control? Find out the answer and more on the next The Anticipated.