The Wachowskis have always been rather ambitious filmmakers, an attribute that has led them through the highs and lows of their careers. Sometimes their reach appears to exceed their grasp, as we saw in their visually-stunning, but flawed adaptation of “Speed Racer,” and, as some would tell you, in the latter “Matrix” sequels. However, when they are at the top of their game, they’ve delivered astounding masterpieces such as the first “Matrix” film, or the vastly-underrated “Cloud Atlas” (based on David Mitchell’s novel), films that could only have been by someone of immense ambition and talent. With the latter being their most recent film, it’s not surprising that their next feature would be hotly-anticipated, with high hopes of seeing that same level of skill and depth applied to a new narrative that would once again leave a lasting mark on cinema. Now imagine the massive level of disappointment achieved when they instead deliver the likes of “Jupiter Ascending,” a film that most would assume must have come from someone else entirely.
The Wachowskis’ space opera tells the story of Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a maid who spends her days waking up early in the morning and scrubbing toilets all day, that is, until aliens try to kill her. Luckily, a guardian by the name of Caine (Channing Tatum), a hybrid of a human and a wolf, saves her life and gets her off the planet with the help of a former colleague, Stinger (Sean Bean). As it turns out, Jupiter is actually the “reincarnation” of a queen, who was mother to three siblings of a royal house: Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth), and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton). Balem, the eldest, is set to inherit planet Earth, unless Jupiter is able to claim it as her rightful inheritance first. In order to stop him from “harvesting” the people of Earth for a substance which prolongs life, Jupiter takes her rightful place as Earth’s owner, which doesn’t sit too well with Balem, who will stop at nothing to kill her and take the planet as his own.
If that synopsis doesn’t make the least bit of sense to you, then you’ve already discovered what is perhaps the biggest issue with “Jupiter Ascending.” It starts off well enough, with a young woman discovering that there’s a lot more to her life than she thought, but as the film goes on, the narrative only manages to become more and more muddled, right up to the point where you just don’t care enough to follow along anymore (if you’ve been able to follow along at all). If it’s one thing that the Wachowskis know how to do, it’s how to create a universe and populate it with interesting characters, as we saw over a decade ago with “The Matrix” trilogy, but here, it’s as though everything became secondary to the dazzling visuals, leaving us with one-dimensional characters and a plot that even they couldn’t connect all the dots for.
To be fair, the visuals are pretty impressive. Alien worlds, ships, and creatures are brought to life through the magic of CGI and makeup effects, but what is it all for if there’s nothing in the realm of story or characters for us to get engaged with? We should be deeply involved with Jupiter’s journey, cheering for her to beat the villains and save Earth, but leaving her so undeveloped and throwing her into multiple lengthy action sequences is not doing her or the narrative any favors. That’s not even to mention the repetitiveness of said action sequences, and how Caine is always there to save the day by simply swooping in with his anti-gravity boots.
This basically boils down to a film that’s dead on the screen, one that has no personality and certainly no reason for us to be emotionally invested in what’s happening. In fact, Kunis really seems to be the only one who’s even remotely trying here, while Channing Tatum (ironically chosen because the Wachowskis thought he had charisma) and Eddie Redmayne (who can look forward to following up his recent Oscar win with a Razzie nomination/possible win) appear to be lifeless. Whether it’s mainly because of the confounding plot or a severe case of too much mindless, tiresome action, “Jupiter Ascending” represents a low point in the Wachowskis’ career, a failure that we can only hope they’ll learn a thing or two from.
“Jupiter Ascending” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of stunning quality that really allows the visuals to shine, presenting each and every frame of this CGI-heavy space opera in perfect clarity. The 7.1 Dolby Atmos audio is loud and clear, complementing the outstanding video presentation by giving you the myriad of sound effects in optimal quality. Overall, a better job could not possibly have been done in either department, giving you an excellent experience in both areas.
Jupiter Jones: Destiny is Within Us
Jupiter Ascending: Genetically Spliced
Caine Wise: Interplanetary Warrior
The Wachowskis: Minds Over Matter
Worlds Within Worlds Within Worlds
Bullet Time Evolved
From Earth to Jupiter (And Everywhere in Between)
As far as extras go, we get these seven featurettes (running about 5-10 minutes each) that cover various aspects of the project. While some of them are rather shallow, there are a couple that are worth checking out, including “Genetically Spliced,” which covers the creation of the various creatures seen throughout the film, and “Worlds within Worlds within Worlds,” which discusses the design of several of the alien worlds and ships. The others, including brief looks at the main characters and the directors themselves, are easily skippable.
“Jupiter Ascending” is a gigantic, soulless misfire from the Wachowskis, bringing with it a nonsensical plotline and characters that are in desperate need of development. The film may have some visual appeal, but without anything for the audience to get attached to in the process, there’s simply no reason for them to care about who these characters are or what they’re trying to accomplish. From what we see here, it’s clear that the Wachowskis need to go back to their storytelling roots in order to create a narrative with cohesion and characters that become living, breathing people, for without these essential ingredients, we’re left with a film that may look pretty, but is truly nothing but a hollow shell.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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