If you’re a savvy moviegoer, then you’re familiar with the lure behind Jupiter Ascending. The latest film from Andy and Lana Wachowski was meant to be a big blockbuster science fiction franchise starter for Warner Bros., but the movie studio got cold feet and decided to dump it in February instead of giving it a prime spot during the summer season. While the new movie has the trappings of the big summer blockbuster, with its all-star cast (including Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, and Eddie Redmayne), giant special effects, and heavy action, Jupiter Ascending is actually something quite different. It’s a very sprawling tale of warring intergalactic families and the search for true love wrapped in the science fiction genre and presented as a fairy tale.
From its story and characters to its creature design and world building, there is nothing cookie cutter and generic about Jupiter Ascending, which is quite refreshing in the current formulaic action blockbuster landscape. Jupiter Ascending follows Jupiter Jones, played by Mila Kunis, a lower class maid who is tasked with cleaning the toilets of the rich and powerful. There’s nothing extraordinary about Jupiter, except her genetic makeup, which makes her royalty in the larger unknown universe.
While Jupiter Jones is the driving force of the film, the larger story follows the three rival siblings of the House of Abrasax, the most powerful family in the universe. Kalique, Titus, and Balem Abrasax, played by Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Booth, and Eddie Redmayne, respectively, are cut throat and evil space aristocrats, who divvy up the planets of the universe for financial gain and profit, with the Earth being the most valuable commodity because of its natural resources, mainly human beings, who are slaughtered to be converted into glowing time potions to extend the lives of the super wealthy. If anything I just describe turns you on, then Jupiter Ascending is the movie for you.
Channing Tatum plays Caine Wise, a half-human/half-wolfdog bounty hunter, who is tasked with bringing Jupiter Jones to Titus Abrasax, so he could marry her and inherent the Earth because, as it turns out, she is the rightful queen of the planet. Now I know that sounds nutty, but Jupiter Ascending dives deep into bizarre ideas and crazy situations that feel, surprisingly, authentic and well conceived. It’s a movie that’s not afraid to get lost and dizzy, while delivering amazing action set pieces and chases throughout space. In fact, there’s a chase/escape scene that takes place in Chicago that is reminiscent of the highway chase scene from The Matrix Reloaded.
Jupiter Ascending is messy and silly at times, Andy and Lana Wachowski still don’t know how to convey human emotions on the big screen, which is probably why they’re more interested in aliens, computer programs, and cartoons than their characters, but the siblings’ ambition in storytelling and world building should be applauded. Jupiter Ascending is Hard Science Fiction with hefty ideas about the universe, humanity, and the role of capitalism in society. Much of the film shows off intergalactic bureaucracy at its finest with an extended scene of paperwork and long lines that rivals that of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. While the House of Abrasax is cut throat, they are, first and foremost, business minded with contracts, rules, and red tape. The Wachowskis successfully make these scenes and moments interesting and fun to watch. While George Lucas was boring viewers with trade disputes and political back-and-forth with the Star Wars prequels, the Wachowskis successfully navigate through government bureaucracy with ease and a sense of urgency and fun.
Jupiter Ascending is the type of science fiction film that’s so dense that it needs more movies and perhaps novels to properly explore the ins-and-outs of its universe and characters. It’s the type of science fiction we should be championing as moviegoers instead of generic summer blockbusters that Hollywood movie studios seem to be churning out these days. There was no way any bit of Jupiter Ascending was made by committee and feels totally like a pure vision from two smart filmmakers. It’s also the type of science fiction film that I feel will not be appreciated in its time, but new generations will discover it at midnight screenings in college towns across the country, something like Dune or The Visitor. Jupiter Ascending is a blast!