Here’s a question you haven’t seen asked in all the comment about ”Jupiter Ascending” – one many will no doubt consider sacrilegious. How is it different from ”Guardians of the Galaxy”, except that it doesn’t have any funny characters?
Both films have a human hero. Both introduce vast galactic civilisations full of worlds, creatures and institutions that have a sense of entrenched history. Both fill the screen with a breathtaking sense of size and scope befitting the expanse of the world-building on screen. Both are absolutely sodden with special effects, explosions, chases and action. All Guardians of the Galaxy has that Jupiter Ascending doesn’t is jokes.
Bear in mind this isn’t a defense of ”Jupiter Ascending”, because it’s not very defensible. It’s nowhere near as narratively ambitious or spiritually rich as the Wachowksi’s ”Cloud Atlas”, and much of the time it flaps about in the same generic hero/heroine/CGI effects quagmire as most other action sci-fi spectaculars.
It’s just that if you’re one of the few people in the universe who didn’t like ”Guardians”, you’ll be hard pressed to see what propelled it to being one of Marvels’ biggest movies ever while ”Jupiter Ascending” got back a limp 65 percent of its budget at the global box office.
As others have noted it’s basically sci-fi Cinderella as Jupiter (Mila Kunis), a young Russian-American cleaning woman, becomes the focal point for a squabble between the beneficiary siblings of an interplanetary industry that harvests humans for food.
Jupiter learns about her heritage and place in the world – she’s descended from galactic royalty and heir to the fortune being fought over around her – when a genetically enhanced and absurdly hot man/wolf warrior, Caine (Channing Tatum), comes to Earth to head off a kidnap attempt on her.
He carries her off for a ride around Chicago on his flying rollerblades while the bad guys’ ships close in before whisking her off to the stars to deliver her to her destiny.
Once among Caine’s comrades, Jupiter tries to figure out what’s going on while the three siblings all jostle for position to win her favour by deceit or force, sending everything from armies to threats and various seduction techniques.
That sounds like a pretty lame description of the plot, and to be honest you won’t remember much more than that when it’s over. For all ”Guardians”’ faults you at least remembered the characters because they were funny, which goes to prove that we remember characters rather than stories. With only the grand sweeping sci-fi war narrative but nobody so colourful or memorable to play in it, Jupiter Ascending has no such staying power.
Eddie Redmayne’s villain Balem looks like it worked on paper, his snake-like, tight-throated bad guy voice going from embarrassing to laugh out loud funny when his temper explodes. Kunis is cute but not very noteworthy as Jupiter, and Tatum reminds you of his career prior to ”Magic Mike” and ”21 Jump Street” where he was just another interchangeable pretty face.
But just like ”Cloud Atlas”, all the money is there on the screen, and The Wachowkis haven’t forgotten how to direct for cinema instead of iPads. You get a real sense of a living, breathing universe in the planets beyond Earth with technologies, societies and prejudices all its own.
It’s just a shame there wasn’t something just as alive in the foreground.