When trailers were first released for JUPITER ASCENDING, I couldn’t have been more excited. Here was an action-packed space opera based on original IP and supported with a hefty budget. It looked slick and I was ready for it. Sadly, as the release drew near, the buzz wasn’t positive, things got in the way, and I never saw the release in theaters. I’ve always been curious to watch, however, and finally sat down for a viewing. I’m happy to report that the positives outweighed the bad in this ambitious, if flawed, project.
Mila Kunis plays the titular Jupiter, a young woman working as a maid alongside her Russian mother and extended Russian family. Her life goals amount to buying a fancy telescope when she finds herself in the middle of a galactic power struggle. It turns Jupiter is a “genetic duplicate” of Seraphi, murdered matriarch of the House Abrasax – that is, when Jupiter’s very normal human parents reproduced, their genes arranged themselves in an identical fashion to Seraphi. As a result, Jupiter is in line to inherit all of the dead woman’s lands and titles (because putting everything into a trust for the unlikely appearance of a genetic duplicate is what one does), including the planet Earth.
If all of this sounds somewhat absurd, it is. If, like me, you are able to take the premise at face value until you try to explain it to your roommate later, you’re in for an enjoyable movie. If not, please exit the vehicle now. For the rest of you, enjoy the ride as Channing Tatum rides to the rescue as hired mercenary Caine Wise, a genetically spliced human whose DNA has been mixed with a wolf. Tatum is in his element as the soulful Caine, who over the course of the film goes from “This is just a job” to “I will love Jupiter from afar but rip apart every single person who tries to harm her.” Mila Kunis, however, isn’t a pure damsel in distress, making some difficult self-sacrificing decisions while struggling to protect Earth in this complex political arrangement, and physically fighting to the best of her untrained abilities when the time comes. The set pieces are a delight to watch, in particular making great use of Caine’s grav boots, which allow him to skate through the air and over surfaces. The fight sequences do run a bit long, which is a shame because they eat up time that could have been used to resolve some dangling plot threads.
That is the heart of the problem with JUPITER ASCENDING: enormous set up without the payoff. You can see the potential for a grandiose world and more machinations than can fit in this two hour movie. I found myself on multiple occasions wishing that someone could write a book in this world and flesh out what had been written. Caine and Jupiter’s romance, for instance, fell a bit flat, with the audience supposed to just glom on to them as an OTP without any real build up (despite earnest efforts from Tatum and Kunis). But one storyline in particular drove me up a wall with its lack of resolution. We learn early on that Caine had been exiled by House Abrasax for maiming a noble, but Caine can’t remember the attack or why he did it. And that’s it. We never get an explanation about what happened. I have my theory about the backstory (and some internet digging shows that I’m not alone in my conclusions) but don’t expect this film to give you an answer.
JUPITER ASCENDING may have some head-scratching logic, but it never made me angry. The Wachowskis clearly had their heart in this film, and I applaud their efforts. While I wish some of the plot had been handled better, I nevertheless enjoyed the Saturday morning I spent watching it, and would happily watch it again.