Once in a great while a movie will come along I simultaneously love as much as I hate. It’s like flipping a coin and having it land on the edge.
“Jupiter Ascending” is one of those rare, beautiful freaks that is as infuriating as it is stunning. You could argue this has been the modus operandi of the writer/director Wachowski siblings, Andy and Lana, ever since their breakthrough masterpiece “The Matrix.”
But “Jupiter Ascending” is their first movie that has left me truly of two minds.
Point: I really have a thing for hard sci-fi, so I geek out for complex world-building, exotic, surreal settings, and casual conversations with giant talking lizards. “Jupiter Ascending” shamelessly goes there, setting up an intergalactic power struggle between three imperial, immortal siblings with names like Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), Titus (Douglas Booth), and Balem (Eddie Redmayne, who commits to this thing like he’s David Bowie).
Counterpoint: OK, nerd boy, that’s all well and good, but that “world-building” you talk about totally falls apart if you even kind-of-sort-of think about it. Great sci-fi has something to say about the human condition, this movie is only interested in looking cool and ripping off everything from “Flash Gordon” to “Soylent Green.” It’s one thing to “go there,” it’s something else entirely to go there with a purpose.
Point: Fine, but we can still enjoy this movie without thinking about it. What about our leads? Mila Kunis is solid as our everywoman swept up into all this alien intrigue and she’s got good chemistry with Channing Tatum, who kicks a lot of butt with his anti-gravity boots as her warrior-hero.
Counterpoint: Tatum is pretty cool, although it’s probably unfair on my part to mention the elf ears and the eye shadow. Again, we’re just right back where we started as this is all just a rip-off of the Cinderella mythos. They’ve even gone so far as making poor Mila clean toilets at the beginning of the movie. The only thing we are missing is singing mice. And again, her role in this sweeping storyline barely makes any sense. And what was up with Sean Bean’s character?
Point: You’re right, I’ll give you they totally wasted Bean as Tatum’s mentor and fellow exile; but this is a space opera, it’s supposed to be a rip-off. George Lucas stole from everybody and everything when he made “Star Wars” (not that I’m comparing this movie to “Star Wars”). You need to lighten up and have a little fun. And speaking of fun, even you can’t complain about the action sequences. From downtown Chicago to the middle of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, when this movie brings the flash and boom, it is something special to behold.
Counterpoint: Fair enough, although Michael Bay spent about 45 minutes way more effectively destroying downtown Chicago in one of those crap-tacular “Transformers” movies. I didn’t have a problem with the action, it was the long stretches between it that killed me. This sucker clocks in at well over two hours and there are large sections that just drag and go nowhere. Like what was up with that off-world DMV sequence?
Point: True, that felt like it was dropped in from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or something. Look, I know this isn’t a classic work of Western cinema, but it looks cool and it is escapist fun. You have to hand it to the Wachowskis, even when they don’t quite pull it off, they fail in new and interesting ways. You may not want to pay full price to see this movie in the theater, but you should at least check it out on DVD.
Counterpoint: That’s a pretty low bar to clear. This movie is riddled with way too many holes and flaws to be enjoyable and parts of it are quasi-painful to watch. If you are curious enough to want to subject yourself to this madness, wait to see it on DVD.
Point: Hey look, we agreed on something!
Counterpoint: Then let’s quit while we’re ahead.
“Jupiter Ascending” is rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content, and partial nudity