Jupiter Ascending, the latest film by the Wachowski siblings, marks their return to the scifi genre. It’s a romp that sends the titular hero Jupiter Jones across galaxies after discovering that she’s the reincarnation of the matriarch of the Abrasax dynasty, a family of capitalists that produce a youth-restoring solution called Regenex. With the help of a wolf-human hybrid named Caine, Jupiter must tangle with the three Abrasax heirs, bounty hunters, and bureaucracy as she struggles to save not only her family but the earth as well.
If that that sounds like a messy story, well – it is. Jupiter Ascending is never quite sure if it wants to be an epic fantasy or a science fiction takedown of capitalism. What is clear is that the Wachowski’s threw everything in their collective imagination at the wall and kept what stuck. Within the two hours, the audience gets treated to a corrupt, murderous trio of siblings; anti-gravity boots that operate like space-age roller blades; a supporting cast of “spliced” characters who are part human, part animal; Sean Bean sharing living quarters and genetic material with bees; talking space dragons; and what appears to be a steampunk-inspired bureaucracy. This approach doesn’t leave a lot of room for detailed plotting – the Abrasax siblings all clearly want to use Jupiter to their own ends, but very little time is spent with each one and their motivations before the story moves on. What results is an entertaining but somewhat muddled storyline.
However, I don’t find this as much of a problem as many reviewers seem to. Jupiter Ascending has never even pretended to take itself seriously. If you’re in any doubt, one look at the soundtrack, containing tracks such as “Regenex is People!” and “Abdicate This!” should be enough to change your mind. Jupiter Ascending knows exactly what kind of movie it is. It’s not attempting to be the next Best Picture nominee. The movie is much more interested in being a wish-fulfillment fantasy than anything else. Precisely why critics are taking Jupiter Ascending so seriously when they tend to give the “fun” pass to other wish-fulfillment films like Kingsman and Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t clear. Perhaps it’s because audiences have come to expect only high allegory and philosophical ramblings from the Wachowski siblings.
Or maybe it’s because Jupiter Ascending finally gives teenage girls the same kind of fantasy that teenage boys have been given for years. If you look at almost any action movie where the everyman hero discovers his secret destiny as a Chosen One, defeats the bad guy, and gets the girl, you’ll discover a couple things. First, that the plot is often silly and full of holes. Second, that the plot doesn’t really matter because the movie was never really about the plot itself. Rather, it was about fulfilling a certain fantasy aimed squarely at the young male demographic. Well, after reading multiple times that Jupiter Ascending is a 14-year-old girl’s novel come to life, I have to agree. Jupiter finds out she’s a space princess, gets her wolf-man love interest, and goes toe-to-toe with a rasping Eddie Redmayne. I also think that it’s about time. We’ve spent years judging these kinds of movies based on what they were trying to accomplish, and this one should be no exception to that trend.
After all, there are many things to enjoy about Jupiter Ascending as well. The performances are all solid – or at least solidly entertaining. Mila Kunis is both charming and strong, her comedic timing giving many scenes a touch of levity. Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne’s performance is also difficult to look away from, as he uses his limited screen time to bounce back and forth between a scratchy whisper and screaming fits. The visuals are stunning, the spectacle of the created planets and battles well-worth the cost of admission. The level of world-building exhibited by the film is also impressive. Without bombarding us with detail, the Wachowski’s have given the audience enough information to have a working understanding of the universe. The addition of intriguing details beyond those crucial to the plot – like the anti-gravity boots, the different classes of aliens and androids, the trappings of royalty, and even the modes of transportation – also add a sense of depth to their fictional world. The Wachowski’s also included many speaking roles for women and non-white actors. This kind of diversity, which should find a home in scifi, is often sorely lacking in traditional Hollywood genre films. These kinds of details are exactly why this movie is and will continue to be so popular with young women – there’s just enough information to prompt their own imaginations and lead to this film becoming a campy cult classic.
All in all, Jupiter Ascending is one giant, goofy, energetic mess of a movie. Made with a lot of imagination, sometimes plot points are dropped and the dialogue can occasionally be silly. If you’re looking for serious speculative fiction, then you might not like what you find here. However if you’re looking for a fun, slightly gonzo film that will leave you buzzing as you leave the theater, then Jupiter Ascending might just be right for you.