Jupiter Ascending (2015)

It's rare when you see a cult movie in its genesis.  I'm not talking about the films that Quentin Tarantino or Richard Rodriguez do these days that are tributes to older films and which they hope might join their company.  Those are good, but they try too hard.  True cult films end up so no matter what the filmmaker's original intentions.

More and more, the intentions of the Wachowski siblings have come under question.  They started off simply with the lesbian-tinged heist film Bound, and then made a grand leap with The Matrix.  They promptly fell on their faces with the sequels, and have yet to recover.  In fact, the last time they got any critical accolades at all was with V for Vendetta, and in that case it was only a writing credit. Largely, the movies they have directed have been expensive failures.

Which, in some cases, is rather unfair.  Cloud Atlas had its faults, but it was still creative and enjoyable in many ways, and much better than either of the Matrix sequels.  Thus, I didn't fear for the worst when I heard who was behind Jupiter Ascending, as many people did. 

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is of mixed Russian and English parentage, and is smuggled into the United States as an infant.  She lives in a small room with her mother and aunt and hates her life, which largely involves housekeeping for the upper class of Chicago.

Far, far away, a battle is brewing among the siblings of the Abraxas family.  Their family is one of the royal families of the galaxy, one of many of which seeds planets and then reaps them when the population reaches a certain standard of development.  Vain playboy Titus Abraxas (Douglas Booth) and his sister Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) are plotting both against each other and their older brother Balem (Eddie Redmayne) to get hold of one the most prized possessions in the galaxy: Earth, of which Balem is now the owner of since the passing of their mother thousands of years prior.

Agents of Balem that are sent to earth, however, have discovered DNA records that show that their mother has been reborn.   Jupiter has been trying to purchase a telescope and, at her cousin's suggestion, has been selling her eggs at a fertility clinic.  At first, her employer is attacked, as she has donated under a false name, but the agents soon realize they made a mistake and come after her.  Jupiter is set upon by three assassins, but is rescued by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), who has been given the task to make sure she lives and is properly registered as the royalty that she is.

With the aid of former law enforcement officer Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), Jupiter and Caine travel through the galaxy, facing the younger Abraxas siblings who want her for their own ends and finally confronting Balem in his gas mining operation within the atmosphere of the planet Jupiter in order to decide the very fate of earth itself.

One thing the Wachowskis excel at is world building.  In this case, we have an entire galaxy inhabited by humans of all classes, many unaware that the quadrillions of others even exist.  Along with them, the Greys and Reptilians of popular conspiracy myths reside as well, doing the bidding of their masters, as do countless other races.  The galaxy itself is overpopulated, decadent and, though royalty exists, seems to be in truth run by a giant, inefficient bureaucracy.  Like all good science fiction there is plenty of room to expand beyond the simplistic story at the heart of the movie.

But, as usual with too many movies these days, Jupiter Ascending became a victim of both immediate derision of its writer/directors and its promotion.  With its garish costumes, bright colors and habit of veering completely off course at times, it is much less like the Star Wars meets "exiled king/queen" plot that is promised.  It is much more something that one would expect out of a European film studio.  The movie failed so badly that, even after Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, it was finally the straw that broke the camel's back, with the Wachowskis now getting their vision across on the small screen (and to much more acclaim).

But, again, this is where cult movies begin.  The movie has now had a year to separate itself from its disasterous release.  Taking it as it is, there is some inconsistency in pacing, as well as a number of strange asides, that may have confused many filmgoers who were expecting something much more mainstream, considering the two leads.  And, yes, it builds heavily on topics you would hear on Coast to Coast, from alien abductions to ancient extraterrestrial "gods" seeding the earth with intelligence for unknown reasons.  It is still an exciting, creative movie.  It is off-kilter enough that I can see it gaining an audience down the road, and it has enough depth to to encourage that audience to return. 

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Time: 127 minutes
Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne
Director: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski

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