Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"Jupiter Ascending": Dead On The Cutting Room Floor

Now Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Jupiter Ascending was originally supposed to be released in summer of last year, but it was delayed by six months to its February theatrical release.  There’s no official story as to why this delay happened, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Warner Brothers was not thrilled with the film for any number of reasons.  It could be that the film is so blatantly anti-capitalist that it made them nervous to release it in an unaltered form.  I think that primarily, though, the film ended up being too much of a big ideas space opera instead of a summer action diversion, and the studio didn’t think such a film could compete in the summer marketplace.  Regardless of the reason, though, Jupiter Ascending is now out for the world to see, and the final product falls way short of its potential.

The nicest way I can summarize the plot is to call it a mess: a jumbled interweaving of mythos and plot points that feel underserved by the narrative.  Our protagonist is Jupiter Jones, who happens to be an exact genetic match to the now-deceased queen of the universe.  For reasons that aren’t ever made entirely clear or logically explained, this entitles Jupiter to ownership over the queen’s universe-spanning empire.  The queen’s children all vie for Jupiter’s attention in order to increase their control over the universal marketplace, while Jupiter is bumped from sibling to sibling’s nefarious scheme, only to be saved by a new companion, a wolf-human hybrid who floats around on hover-shoes.  The particulars are a bit more complex than that, but many of the finer details are lost in the wake the film’s de-emphasis on plot.

What this film does not lack is creativity, weaving a mythology of Grays, robo-bureaucrats, planet-scale human harvests, giant lizard people, space mercenaries, etc.  Astoundingly enough, the film never feels overstuffed with all these elements in play, as the directing Wachowskis have clearly put a lot of thought, passion, and effort into making their interstellar community come to life.  Furthermore, the film is simply gorgeous, with diverse color palettes and engaging action sequences that make all those individual elements pop to life.

Unfortunately, though, the film is severely lacking in connective tissue that makes those isolated elements form into something coherent.  The film’s characters, particularly the protagonists Jupiter and wolf-man Caine Wise, come across as shallow and dull, as their significance and personalities are barely established before the film barrels headfirst into its action beats.  This has the ill-fated consequence of giving the action sequences no emotional weight, as the film has not laid the groundwork for a connection with either the setting or the characters.  And the film never really catches up after failing to establish that connection, its characters zipping between exposition and action in oddly repetitive ways, only to arrive at a beautifully-shot climax that is entirely lacking in emotional investment.

I strongly suspect that the reason the film was delayed was to re-edit it from an intellectual sci-fi film to a sci-fi action flick, as the action sequences are pushed so much to the foreground that the other elements of the film are subsumed.  And though the action pieces are very well-executed, it’s fairly obvious that the film was meant to be something more than mindless fun.  The pieces of an epic space opera are all there, but they haven’t been assembled in such a way as to make a good product.  I would be interested to see a Director’s Cut, which will probably never see the light of day due to the film’s box office performance.  It may not have ended up anywhere near perfect, but there’s too much ambition and creativity here for the original cut to have not at least been more interesting.

How do you feel about the Wachowskis’ mixed-bag of a career?  Are they misunderstood geniuses, or over-funded hacks?  Leave your thoughts the comments below.

1 comment:

  1. I actually saw this twice in theaters despite seeing Kingsman the same week and understanding how vastly superior the action scenes were in Kingsman.

    One quibble: the trailer made it sound like Jupiter was the reincarnation of the queen of the universe... but it's pretty clear that she's merely the reincarnation of a very rich woman, who left a significant bequest to possible reincarnations (but not her whole empire). That is: Jupiter doesn't own most of the cool stuff we see, especially the bureaucratic universe-capital. Instead, she just owns Earth, which has some valuable ore-deposit-equivalents, and, by virtue of owning Earth, is entitled to a couple of class perks, which are mostly negligible (but include getting Caine assigned as her bodyguard, presumably).

    I agree about the lack of character investment, but since I have a job at the moment that actually involves scrubbing toilets, I was easily able to identify with Jupiter and supply emotional depth from my imagination. Caine didn't really do it for me, but he was there to be Generic Love Interest With Tortured Past, so whatever.