Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending ★★★

I didn’t understand the overwhelmingly negative reception “Jupiter Ascending” was subjected to when it came out in theaters in 2015 and I still don’t get it now that I have rewatched it for the first time since. There is a raw creativity in every scene that is far too rare in original big screen content nowadays. For all their flaws as filmmakers, and writers in particular, the Wachowskis were never guilty of holding back with their imagination and the results have at times been truly spectacular; “Cloud Atlas”, the pinnacle of their philosophy, in particular. This unequivocally comes nowhere near that level, but while it falls short on the details, the big picture is worthy of some esteem. Like the equally unappreciated “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”, it fully embraces the almost spiritual component of the universe, the question marks hidden between scientific uncertainty and imaginative guesswork. Is it really likely that we are completely alone in such a vast and unknown universe? Who knows, but it’s fun to speculate and see what answers people with $200 million at their disposal come up with.

I had mostly forgotten the minutiae of the worldbuilding here, give or take the basic premise, and the Wachowskis do a commendable job of laying out the fundamentals of how this universe works. In essence, evolution isn’t real, and we don’t in fact live on the cradle of mankind. Humans have been around for millions of years on numerous planets. Earth is for all intents and purposes a cattle farm, which one day, when the population has reached its limit, will be harvested for human material to create an elixir of life. Some of the most powerful families, like the three Abrasax siblings, can afford to keep on living for millennia. Jupiter Jones has no idea any of this is happening. She and her mother immigrated to the United States from Russia after her father, a passionate hobby stargazer, was fatally shot during a robbery. Her unusual name, the biggest planet in our solar system, was meant to inspire her to do great things, but she is stuck cleaning homes for the wealthy residents of Chicago. Until she meets Caine Wise, a genetically engineered cross of human and canine, who takes her for a vertigo inducing and the first of too many chaotic, borderline incomprehensible action scenes. From him and his old pal Stinger Apini, Sean Bean fitting right in without every really making his presence known, she finds out that she is in fact royalty and that her days cleaning toilets might be over.

Once Jupiter leaves Earth about half an hour in, the film becomes the visually potent planet-hopping space odyssey I most appreciate it for. All three of the Abrasax siblings take an interest in her, but for different reasons. Kalique, played by “Sense 8” mainstay Tuppence Middleton, reveals to Jupiter that she is a genetic replicate of the late Abrasax matriarch, which is rare, but not unheard of in a practically infinite, fully inhabited universe. Lady Abrasax left a fortune for her heir, including Earth, which her oldest and most power-hungry son Balem is laying claim to. Compared to her brothers, Kalique appears to have fairly genuine motives. She and her mother fell out over the millennia, and she never got a chance to patch things up before she was murdered. Now, she sees a chance to remedy that failure and for her and Jupiter to keep taking baths in her fountain of youth to spend an eternity together as friends. Titus, who sent Caine to fetch her, takes a page out of Count Olaf’s playbook by attempting to marry Jupiter and stealing her inheritance. But Balem is so threatened by his mother’s reincarnation that he moves heaven and earth to kill her before his most prized possession, Earth which is nearly ripe for harvest, is transferred to her.

The motivations of the Abrasax family, who have amassed a fortune over the millennia, are all too clear. In a universe in which they cannot age and control the substance to make it happen, they are the closest thing to deities. Which makes Eddie Redmayne’s truly ungodly performance extra hard to fathom (excuse the pun). Casting him as a villain was a bold choice to begin with, but actors will surprise you sometimes. After all, nobody had sunny boy Heath Ledger anywhere on their list of ideal candidates to play the Joker. But Redmayne makes all the wrong choices here. He constantly whispers his lines, only to dial up the volume so unexpectedly that you could be forgiven for jumping into the ceiling from shock. As the universally feared figurehead of the Abrasax clan, he is entirely unimpressive. His presence evokes that of an emo teenager who keeps complaining to everyone that nobody takes him seriously or gives him the attention he wants. Tuppence Middleton and Douglas Booth don’t exactly give performances for the ages, but at the very least, they are able to capture the eternal beauty and youthfulness that comes with the pact with the devil they have made ages ago. Balem is a character entirely undone by the performance and that makes Redmayne guilty of inflicting some of the most serious damage to “Jupiter Ascending” out of anyone involved in the production.

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