Box Office Democracy: “Jupiter Ascending”
The Wachowskis might never reach the heights of The Matrix ever again and, as someone who was 15 when The Matrix was released, maybe it wasn’t that good to begin with—but the films are always wildly ambitious. While Jupiter Ascending fails on many levels, and the script would be generously called hot nonsense, I would much rather see the Wachowskis fail than I would like to see Michael Bay “succeed” at his style of filmmaking. Jupiter Ascending is a film full of interesting ideas and while not all of them get properly explored or pay off in the ways I would like they’re frequently fascinating to think about and that’s way more fun than so many of the incarnations of slow motion explosions I’ve seen in movies this decade.
I appreciate all of the world building behind Jupiter Ascending but the way they give us exposition about this new world is maddening. They’re so stingy with details that it feels like we’re halfway through the movie before we have a clear idea of what the plot is. There’s a moment where two people betray their apparent allies that I can tell is supposed to feel momentous, but we knew nothing about those characters except that they were the coolest looking apparent bad guys that the moment has no impact at all. They often want reactions to violations of rules and protocols that are as foreign to the audience as they are to the plucky protagonist (Mila Kunis with the perfect sci-fi name Jupiter Jones). I want to get it; I want to be invested in this plot more, because the things they show me are so incredible. I was so utterly captivated by the idea of a space aristocracy that is also, at the root, a giant corporation. I am an economics major that has loved science fiction as long as I can remember and if I can’t get in to this universe it should tell you that the plot is far too opaque.
While my brain struggled to get to the bottom of Jupiter Ascending it certainly was easy on the eyes. The Wachowskis make good-looking films, the production design is interesting, the effects are top notch, and the action scenes are marvelous. The opening chase through Chicago was worth every day of the reported six months it took to shoot. There are dizzying space fights and while they also suffer from a complete lack of understanding of the relative strength of anything they’re still stunning to watch. It’s the first movie I can remember in some time that made me regret the decision to not see it in 3D. The only exception to the visual mastery was how bad Channing Tatum looked in his half-dog makeup. He looked like he was the evil universe version of Spock. I don’t understand why you would pay for Channing Tatum and then spend so much time and effort making him look so odd.
Because it’s a Wachowski film, there is a heaping helping of philosophy in Jupiter Ascending and it’s just vexing. The movie reads almost the entire way as a condemnation of capitalism, there is a heavy focus on how money and land are not really important and that the only really important thing in the universe is having more time, but it takes a left turn at the end and seems to embrace the idea that there is some kind of inherent nobility in living in poverty. Jupiter is told over and over again that time is so important but she, without complaint, returns to a life where her time seemingly has no value and she runs ragged for a life cleaning toilets. It feels so out of place unless I’m supposed to reject the arguments that time is most important but I would love for that side to be given a voice. It feels like they went for an ending that is consistent with an audience’s narrative expectations instead of one that was consistent with the internal logic of the film so I walked away more confused than satisfied. There’s so much to love about Jupiter Ascending but it gets lost in an endless galaxy of odd choices.