Out of Orbit: A Review of Jupiter Ascending

In theaters today is a film that should be the epic space opera that action and science fiction fans have been yearning for. Today should mark the return of duo directors Andy and Lana Wachowski to the amazing original storytelling that changed American filmmaking in 1999. Today, I should be remarking on how visually exciting the Wachowskis’ new film Jupiter Ascending is … but I can’t. I cannot.

Sadly. This “wandering star” is falling quickly out of orbit.

Following the sad reality of a young Russian immigrant named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), the universe is quickly turned upside down when it is discovered that she is a “recurrence” or reincarnation of the matriarch to the powerful and industrially important Abrasax family. Now in danger, a race is on to save (?), kill (?) or use her new claim to fame in order to take ownership to the ever important jewel of the galaxy, Earth. Along the way she meets a half man, half wolf named Caine (Channing Tatum), a swarm of bees and a whole new way of life.
Sound good? It’s not.

Mired by a continual need to jump from location to location (Chicago, space, new planet, another new planet, a space cruiser, a new planet, a space cruiser, Earth again and on and on and on) with some pretty poor-looking special effects, cringe worthy dialogue and poor acting in almost every scene, Jupiter Ascending never comfortably finds its ground. While I really enjoyed the overall “world-building” aspects of the film, almost everything else left me scratching my head and asking, “Is this it?”

The story, overall, is just a mess. I am fairly certain that very soon, this film is going to be the focus of the How Did This Get Made Podcast. A symptom of so many location changes, the story requires so much exposition that most thing are never fully clear. For example – Jupiter Jones. While she is called “royalty” and a “queen” it is never defined as to what she is the queen of. Yes she holds ownership of planet Earth (along with a host of other planets that are completely overlooked and/or not mentioned). Yet, as we learn from some extremely heavy exposition (again), there are a ton of people that own planets and several competitors to the Abrasax family business … so … what is she queen of? Why is she royalty?

Along with that, as a “damsel in distress,” Jupiter needs to be rescued in this film not once, not twice, not even three times, but five times. Not until the final act is she allowed to be anything more than an object. Annoying, ridiculous and very poor storytelling.
I won’t even get started on the wings.

In terms of the acting, I’m not sure where to begin. Eddie Redmayne as the main baddie Balem Abrasax is annoying, ridiculous and near unwatchable. Redmayne’s whispery delivery is both hard to hear and far removed from anything else in the film. While I get the whole notion of him being above everyone else and blah, blah, blah … it’s just silly. At the same time, his strange outbursts and tantrums reduce him to nothing more than a laughable cartoon versus the mega-villain he is supposed to be. Similarly, Tatum is directed to pout his way through every line of dialogue which completely works against his charm. His ever-present brooding make him a never fully complete caricature of some other character in some other film. Both of these actors are much better performers than this.

While I would not say Kunis does a poor job, I would say that the her character is so undefined that even she doesn’t know where to begin.

On the flip side, I really enjoyed Tuppence Middleton and Douglas Booth’s portrayal of Kalique and Titus Abrasax. By far their presence is underused and sadly are left on the sidelines for most of the film. Had they been the focus of this film, I am confident the end product would have been far superior.

As far as the special effects … eh. While there are times that there are spectacular visuals at play and some (please note some) gorgeous costume designs, the rest is just kind of OK. For the most part, everything that is computer-generated in a scene with a human actor, looks computer-generated. It’s almost as if this film were using technology from 10 years ago versus the last two years. At the same time, I have heard other reviewers raving about the fight scenes. I don’t get the hype. They were difficult to follow, blurry (mainly because of the 3D) and nothing new.

One particular effect was, in my opinion, extremely silly – the flying boots. Or better yet, the skate boots. It was like a watching a science fiction version of Xanadu without the disco music. Tatum air skates his way throughout the film and I couldn’t help but feel like this concept was stuck somewhere in the late seventies to early eighties.

Jupiter Ascending is honestly a mess and a miss from the Wachowskis. I was hoping for much more and instead audiences have received a clumpy mash-up of ideas that adds complexity to something that, if simplified, could have been the new Matrix for this sibling pair. I would also not recommend seeing this film in 3D. The 3D version I screened was atrocious and I am convinced that 3D is just another way to get you, the audience member, to pay more and it is not worth it. This weekend, do yourself a favor and just go outside, look into the night sky and marvel at the amazing universe around us. By far that will more satisfying than seeing Jupiter Ascending.

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