The price to pay for a monumental artistic success is that one will always live under the shadow of their own achievement. For the Wachowski siblings this is, and forever will be their own sci-fi opus “The Matrix.”
Despite years of cultural erosion by way of overexposure and satire, the film remains a landmark achievement of cinema– a feat unlikely to be replicated in this lifetime. Yet still the writer-director duo bravely raises the cinematic tentpole high into the air, desperate for the lightning to strike twice. “Jupiter Ascending” reeks of this desperation, a thoughtless mishmash of visual and narrative etcetera. It is a disappointing work, not by virtue of being bad, but for hardly being worth a discussion at all.
“The problem with astrology?– Total bullshit,” says our protagonist, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis).
Jones, an inexplicably gorgeous Russian immigrant maid, slaves away scrubbing the toilets of Chicago’s faceless elite. Little does she know that she is the genetic reincarnation of the Queen of the Universe… or something. We know this because she scrubs said toilets in full make-up, complete with smoky-eyed mascara. It is a Cinderella tale– we come by this analogy because it is is explicitly mentioned within the first ten minutes of the film.
Because very little is actually worth discussing in “Jupiter Ascending,” Jones’ lot in life deserves a second glance. Mila Kunis consistently appears on lad-magazine lists that rank her amongst the top 100 most attractive women on the planet. Yet this film supposes that because she is the daughter of a Russian immigrant, she has somehow been consigned to a lifetime of menial, anonymous labor. It is entirely implausible to believe she would not have been afforded other opportunities based solely on her looks. Yes, it is highly sexist to say that a woman would get ahead in the world because she is pretty, but the fact of the matter is that our culture IS wildly sexist, period.
The actual plot of “Jupiter Ascending” is a corporate thriller. No, it’s a familial drama. Err, maybe it’s a satire on the efficiency of bureaucracy? It sure as hell is not a space opera.
It turns out the universe is a complicated place, run by the Abrasax family, a trio of waxen siblings who harvest all the human beings off of their home planets to distill them into a glowing liquid which permits them to live forever. For byzantine plot reasons that perhaps makes sense with the use of spreadsheet software, all three take turns attempting to both capture and kill their reborn mother. Somewhere in this mess is Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a former “skyjacker” and “legionnaire” (don’t ask) who is sent to rescue Queen Scrubbing Bubbles. Also, he has flying laser boots.
Eventually the pair falls in love, even after Wise describes himself as the humanoid genetic equivalent of a dog.
“I love dogs,” says Jones breathlessly.
“Jupiter Ascending” is a mess, top to bottom. Its aesthetic is inexplicable, its plot baffling with action scenes that are mildly interesting, yet exhausting. It is a shame to watch the minds of such lovely creative people sputter and spin in so open a public venue like film. But where there is smoke there is fire. If you have created a film where Channing Tatum laser-skate karate fights aliens above Chicago skyscrapers and even he looks bored, well then, it’s all on fire.