Jupiter Ascending


Jupiter Ascending, the latest sci-fi extravaganza from the Wachowski siblings, is, in essence, a visual and plot pastiche of a lot of well-loved, better previous films. Given the number of months this film’s release date had been pushed back and its ominous release in Feburary, typically a month reserved as a dumping ground for films of dubious quality, I both had great hopes for some gorgeously rendered CGI visuals and definite anxiety about the actual story and script. I was not wrong on either account.


First, let us focus on the look: it is GORGEOUS. Film is a visual medium and the Wachowskis certainly know how to craft a glorious and unique eyeful.


The various palaces of the interstellar royals are positively dripping with rococo space louche realness rendered with all the pixels Warner Brothers’ money can buy. There are by gawd crystal chandeliers hanging in the docking bay of royal lounge lizard Titus’s big fancy spaceship. This is a space opera in which Liberace would have felt completely at home commanding the bridge of a giant flying piano. There are soaring futurist gothic cathedrals packed full to bursting with armies of candle bearing androids. The requisite industrial hellscape planets are wreathed in deliciously pulsating clouds of delicate sherbet colored stellar smog. The film boasts an abundance of soaring, swooping, physics bitch slapping epic battle sequences involving a whole flotilla of attack ships that are quite possibly the love children of a Transformers and an lionfish. It is totally two hours of eyeball candy.


Lest those of you who are not so much about the laser battles and all about the red carpet realness worry that this film has left you completely by the interstellar wayside, the costuming and make up are also truly top drawer. No excuse is spared to feature lovely star Mila Kunis in a variety of space couture gowns that would make Mr. Blackwell spit twice and slap his mama. I had to repeatedly bite the inside of my mouth to refrain from crying out “YASSS, LIVING!” as each quasi-futuristic Marquesa on space acid confection hit the screen. And the supporting cast and background extras also win big time in the costume department. For the royal court, I just imagine a dump truck full of paillettes, sequins and rhinestones backed up to the loading bay by the costume department and let ‘er rip with several tons of sparkly embellishments. This costume shit is truly bananas in the best possible way.


Now on to the actual substance behind the style. It’s…there… it’s just…well, ridiculous, which is only sometimes a bad thing. Basically, Jupiter Ascending is a Cinderella story, heavy on the romance, wrapped up in a rock’em sock’em robots space opera. With a pack of wacky Russians thrown in for light comic relief because, eh, why not? If you’re looking for strong character development and to feel something deep and resonant about life, the human condition, etc. in this film, my advice is…DON’T. Cosmos, this ain’t.


The titular Jupiter Jones, played by the always game Mila Kunis, is an illegal immigrant living cheek by jowl with her extended Russian family in an insulbrick sided row house in Chicago right out of central casting. She does daily drudgework as a cleaning lady alongside her tragically widowed mother and salty aunt and, because Hollywood, manages to look better scrubbing a toilet than most of us do dolled up for prom.


In an instant, her humdrum life of domestic drudgery is turned upside down by handsome interstellar beefcake Channing Tatum and his jet propelled, gravity defying inline rocket skates – no, that is not a typo – who literally swoops her up and carries her around through the skies as they evade a group of assassins bent on her destruction. Basically, Mila spends half the film either being carried around like a sack of sexy potatoes or falling through the sky and being constantly caught like a sexy football. Hooray fourth wave feminism?


There’s sort of a plot in all of the CGI beauty – Mila is the reincarnation of the late matriarch of an evil space dynasty who terraform planets in order to harvest the life force of their helpless residents so that they can make a special youth and immortality serum and live forever like some high fashion space Skeksies. Insert plenty of random veiled anti-capitalist, damn the man and his income inequality subtext. There is a glorious ten minute homage to Brazil that features an actual heavily made-up Terry Gilliam cameo (oh, so subtle, you Wachowskis, I see what you did there) while our heroes end up stuck at the equivalent of the space DMV. It made me wish the whole movie had been placed in that setting and tone, but, alas, no. Time for more explosions and space skating and giant CGI set pieces.


Bottom line: it’s a fun couple hours at the multiplex and worth seeing on a big screen, preferably at one of those theaters where you can have an adult beverage, to get the full sensory experience, but it’s pretty much all icing and no cake. If you liked the style but want a little more actual substance, I would suggest watching the following:


Ever After for a much better reimagining of Cinderella with a ton more girl power

Flash Gordon for, well, everything, not to mention a far superior evil space lord coerced wedding scene

Dune because royals don’t come much more louchely evil than the Harkonnens and, hell, it’s David Freaking Lynch

Brazil because the future’s so bureaucratic, I’ve got to wear green eyeshades