No movie wastes 10-foot flying dinosaur men like Jupiter Ascending. They have big gargoyle-bat wings, prehensile lizard tails and spaceman bomber jackets. They are what would happen if a 12-year-old boy had a basement, an intimate knowledge of action figures and the mad-scientist bravura to cross-engineer a sleestak and a Super Mario Bros. movie goomba.
Directors Andy and Lana Wachowski (of Matrix fame and still not much else) instead choose to focus on the dullest parts of Dune, some stuff about intergalactic tax code and having Mila Kunis ask a lot of questions in lieu of developing a compelling character. The flying dinosaur men are common henchmen and involved in one fight but they are representative of Jupiter Ascending as a whole.
The space opera about, among other things, corporation, genetics, factory farming and feudalism is a missed opportunity.
The film is hurt by its own mythology, too many of the same fight scenes and no memorable characters. It’s all homage, part Dune and part Fifth Element, with the slightest nod to Douglas Adams. Jupiter Ascending is a cannibalization of genre conventions but not in a new way — except for one scene when Mila Kunis’ character (Jupiter) goes to the space-world equivalent of the DMV and is sent on a bureaucratic odyssey, led by an effete robot who is one of the film’s three best characters, joining Jupiter’s father and the flying dinosaur guys. Jupiter’s scumbag-ish brother — he convinces her to sell her eggs so he can buy a flat-screen TV — gets an honorable mention. Everyone else is a placeholder.
The DMV scene is a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy moment and it’s unexpected. Humor is a good way to save bad movies. If Jupiter Ascending had more jokes, critics might have gone easier on the byzantine plot, which could have been edited/pared and delivered more cleanly, but the broad strokes aren’t that hard.
An Earthling (Kunis) is the genetic reincarnation of a murdered queen. This makes her the owner of the Earth, which is valuable, for natural-resource reasons, to a cosmic feudal house of corporate royals. The murdered queen’s children are fighting for the Earth, and for one of them to own it, they need to dispatch the true heir: Jupiter.
The plot hole is that Jupiter doesn’t know this until a dull and silly-looking Channing Tatum (who spends the movie in anti-gravity boots and looking less than manly as he rides them like he’s on an invisible elliptical machine) tells her. And when she does find out, she isn’t in a position to legitimize her claim (no combat training, no knowledge of intergalactic law), so it really shouldn’t be that hard. The royal kids just shouldn’t have told her and concentrated instead on murdering each other. They could have used the 10-foot flying dinosaur guys as hitmen.
Jupiter Ascending isn’t a terrible movie, just a boring one. It’s pretty in the CGI way that all CGI movies are pretty, which makes it more boring. There’s too much exposition, too much of it laugh-out-loud stupid — like the bit with the bees — and no memorable characters. The movie is already looking forward to a nice retirement with Dave Holmes on FX.
Kunis serves every utilitarian purpose of a lead — exposition, driver of action, bauble — except making anyone care.
She doesn’t do much other than be saved, until she wins a fight against Eddie Redmayne (who seems to be trying and talks like he’s a Pixie’s song) and… is promptly saved again. But at least her clothing makes sense — it’s never designed to showcase more boob for no reason other than the sake of more boob — so that means the Wachowskis created her as a real person and not a masturbation fantasy. That’s a good thing.
Jupiter Ascending should have been more ridiculous in better ways. It should have been more fun. More jokes would have helped. So would better characters and more 10-foot flying dinosaur men. Someone should turn it into a comic book.