jupiter_ascending_movie_poster_2By Jarrod JonesJupiter Ascending, by all accounts, is the sort of film that dulls your wits to such a degree that the frontal assault of good taste and common sense is almost acceptable in the face of riotous entertainment. It’s a film that only hurts when you attempt to think on top of it; to apply rational thought while watching the movie would only serve to flummox your angst further. Amid the chaos of lasers, aliens, and hammy Russian stereotypes, it’s better just to go with the flow.

Because Jupiter Ascending is a film that goes to great lengths to become something more than what it is. And you have to be cool with that, since what it is can essentially be summed up in one sentence: “What if Cinderella was in The Matrix?” Getting a better picture now? I hope so, because if the time ever comes when you actually see this rambunctious spectacle, you’ll be very much left on your own. But you’ll be better prepared than I ever was.

Try and stick with me: the infinitely wealthy monitor planets filled with the universe’s vast number of cold, huddled masses, made simply to provide bodies for harvest, one that reaps a pricey, limitless youth for those willing to invest the cash. Our planet – y’know, Earth – is ostensibly a farm. Not a “farming community.” A farm. Human beings are cattle fit for an inevitable slaughter. This has always been our destiny. The rich bathe in a serum of shattered lives and broken dreams so that they may achieve a nigh-limitless age. Most of them are so old, they’re the ones responsible for killing off those pesky dinosaurs that apparently made our lives so miserable. (That’ll certainly appease any Creationists in the audience.)

jupiter-ascending-channing-tatum1For anyone with a cursory awareness of the Wachowskis, harvesting the young to generate limitless energy is nothing new for the filmmaking duo. Machines made effective batteries out of us in The Matrix, and for some misguided reason Jupiter Ascending seeks to draw from that very same well. Only this time it’s a vastly half-hearted, inferior version of their prior success: it’s duller, clumsier, and louder than anything that came from The Matrix. It’s a film that demanded more money than the 1999 film ever did, and had more technological wonders to exploit than the Wachowskis could ever hope for. And somehow, inexplicably, it still comes up short. (Think of the unholy union of Michael Bay and George Lucas, and then pray for your very soul.)

Nothing about Jupiter Ascending makes the journey any more palatable. Even Mila Kunis, who stars as a shorter, more submissive version of Keanu Reeves’ “One,” is disturbingly useless as the female lead. (It’s all in the cast list: Kunis – whose character’s name is in the film’s title – plays second fiddle to her co-star, Channing Tatum.) As a female lead with zero agency, Kunis is lost in the shuffle of the film’s nonsense from the very beginning (even her opening origin story – which amounts to “two people of the opposite sex went ahead and had some sex” – serves little to no purpose). She is simply there because the film needs her to be there. The men surrounding Kunis manage to deliver her where the plot needs her to go. Progressive, this film is not.

There is evidence that Jupiter Ascending aspired to be something more than what it came to be: little narrative flourishes exist, like spaceships that leave behind the crop circles that have always baffled us, and the initial crew of extraterrestrial mercenaries look an awful like the creatures that may or may not have inhabited Roswell, New Mexico way back in 1947. When the Wachowskis try, the film feels far more ambitious than what Warner Bros’ budget insists it should be. Somewhere, underneath all the bluster and pizzazz, there’s an honest-to-goodness space opera begging to come out.

jupiter_ascending-2Channing Tatum – an actor who owes his career to Stephen Soderberg more than anyone else – is ready and able to provide the archetypal heroics that Jupiter Ascending requires, even when he’s saddled with ridiculous Vulcan ears and bottom-lined vampire teeth (he’s a Splicer, you understand – not quite a man, and not quite a wolf). He somehow fares much better than the wispy, whispery Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), who appears simply to disappear for the majority of the film. (Were this a comic book, it would take almost a full year before Redmayne’s character would matter at all.) The film seems to prefer a perplexing subplot featuring Jupiter’s Russian family, mostly concerning a shifty fuckwit of a cousin who needs to harvest Jupiter’s fertile eggs for cash. (I already told you to go with it, so go with it.)

When the movie rights its own ship, which isn’t near often enough, the film comes across as some kinda 21st Century post-Matrix Star Wars flick (and Tuppence Middleton gives off a serious Carrie Fisher vibe). But the problem with Jupiter Ascending is that it borrows too much from the films and feels that a dash of fairy tale is enough to mask its own derivative nature. A smell of  desperation lingers for the film’s entire 127 minutes; it struggles to appease audiences with its lavish costume designs (I can see the cosplay now) and its mighty visual effects (a game of cat and mouse through the city of Chicago excites), but it has to feed off of the essence of its characters to muster even this. What’s ironic is that Jupiter Ascending could have succeeded much like how it’s titular character did, had it made the powers that be cease from feeding off us smaller folk in order to achieve an everlasting strength. It’s a shame; this really could have been something.