Overview: Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) discovers that she has the same genetic code as the late Queen of the Universe, whose children see her as a competitor for their inheritance. Warner Bros. Pictures; 2015; Rated PG-13; 127 Minutes.
Heart Laid Bare: “These are matters of state, not of the heart,” says Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth) during his wedding. Such a shrug at the concept of “feelings” is nothing unusual for a shady villain in an outer space epic, but in recent years the genre has begun to sympathize with him. Many films that rely on outlandish imagination are no longer comfortable in their own skin, and they cynically rely on “self-aware humor” to win over viewers who would normally mock their stupidity. As such, a film with as much self-esteem as Jupiter Ascending is a welcome respite. It’s a film that is completely unashamed of its campiness. It doesn’t care if you dismiss it because you think it’s silly, and that earnestness makes a big difference. There’s not a single restrained beat, not one moment where writers and directors Andy and Lana Wachowski appear to be holding back for fear of audience disapproval. This is less a calculated studio entertainment mechanism than a passion project, or at least a project with tangible passion.
Sign Here: Its audacity isn’t Jupiter Ascending’s sole redeeming quality, though. The one-sentence plot description in the overview above hardly does justice to the insane complexities of the narrative. A labyrinthine plot isn’t always something to be proud of, but it only makes sense for a film that is largely about bureaucracy. One sequence in the middle directly references Brazil’s take on the topic, culminating in a cameo from Terry Gilliam himself. The drama and tension of Jupiter Ascending almost always boils down to whether or not someone will sign a contract, or transfer property rights, or do something involving futuristic paperwork. The villains want to destroy the Earth, yes, but only in about ten-thousand years, when it’ll net them the most profit. I hesitate to call this film satirical, but it’s clearly critical of the crazily complicated systems it depicts.
Chopped: Many of the nuances of the plot were, admittedly, lost on me; this film moves very quickly, so details get lost in the shuffle from time to time. Much of that is the fault of the editing. There are several instances where scenes seem to start halfway through, and there are small characters who feel like they were supposed to have a larger presence. The film was initially scheduled for release last summer, and you can’t help but wonder if someone sloppily took chunks from it in the interim to shorten the runtime or increase the pace.
Wrap-Up: Jupiter Ascending is a sci-fi epic that wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s fearlessly dedicated to its own vision and unashamed of its genre.