I went into Jupiter Ascending with somewhat mixed expectations. On the one hand, I already knew that the movie had been delayed for reshoots, re-edits, and stuck in post production for the past six months to a year (thus the delay in release). I already knew that the protagonist looked a little silly (I think I counted three different occasions of her plummeting to her doom in just the standard trailer). At the same time, the visual effects, artwork, and some of the concepts just looked stunning. The action from the trailers also looked pretty solid, with less of the shaky-cam that means you can’t take any time to enjoy the pretty stuff.
After watching the movie I came away with many of my expectations met. The story is disjointed, the protagonist often seems more like a passenger along for the ride than any kind of influence upon the story, many of the themes were recycled from previous Wachowski movies, and some of the background stuff is pure conspiracy theory fodder that breaks immersion. On the other hand, the scenery was gorgeous, the technology was suitably advanced and impressive, and there were a lot of great individual scenes (even if they didn’t necessarily connect into some greater whole). Oh, and yes, Jupiter (Mila Kunis) fell a lot. I counted at least seven times, though sometimes it’s hard to tell where one falling scene overlaps up with another.
I was absolutely floored by some of the designs. Some of the side characters felt strong and solid, with back stories and fully fleshed motiviations… while some of the main characters motivations and even actions seemed to have little to do with the overall movie. I could tell that we were missing scenes and even parts of the plot arc, with characters who appeared and disappeared with no seeming purpose. There were several sub-plots, too where you could see connections that they almost made… but either they ended up on the cutting room floor or just never fully materialized and I’m not sure which.
Gravity boots, personal shield generators, complex and varied species, and a gruesome (but heavily foreshadowed and easily predictable) secret all made the movie both fascinating and at the same time somewhat frustrating. There were scenes that were absolutely brilliant and others that just felt like they put them there to explain things to the idiot in the room. Most frustrating of all, I think, was the parts that were actually very interesting received either a generic explanation (The Aegis, the Legion, what it means to be Entitled and Royal) or no explanation at all (Who the Aegis and the Legion normally fight, what exactly certain powerful people’s motivations are, why certain illegal/criminal actions aren’t punished or investigated, etc).
All in all, it was a fun movie, but I still walked away not quite satisfied. There was a lot of potential… but also a lot of scenes where they went for flash without substance: something impressive to draw the attention away from the fact that they really hadn’t figured out how they wanted it to really work. I enjoyed it, but I’m frustrated because there was just enough there to tell me that I could have enjoyed it much more. The obvious comparison is the movie it was supposed to be released near in 2014: Guardians of the Galaxy. Both movies feature an Earthling drawn into a space opera where the stakes are billions of lives… and Guardians succeeded with brilliant characterization, a solid plot, and the confidence to poke fun at itself. Jupiter Ascending’s characters just weren’t on that level, the writing didn’t quite have the chops, and it felt like the Wachoskis were trying to tell the same stories they told before… albeit on a much larger canvas.
Check back for Part II for a more in depth (and spoiler-laden) plot.