Recently, I was lucky enough to score a free pass with Lauren Stardust to a media screening of the highly anticipated new release from the Wachowski’s, Jupiter Ascending. The trailer promised a rich and evocative storyworld, with beautifully framed action sequences and a stunning array of special effects. In many ways, it could be said that Jupiter Ascending ticks all of these boxes; however, it disappoints on almost every other count. As decadent as it is dull, Jupiter Ascending is an intricate patchwork of sci-fi tropes woven into an unimpressive pattern.

The story revolves around the genetically pre-determined destiny of Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a house-cleaner who bears an identical genetic match to a deceased alien matriarch, thus entitling her to a veritable galactic fortune, including the prized Earth. Enter Caine (Channing Tatum), a human-wolf hybrid warrior who delivers Jones to a trio of unbearable alien siblings (offspring of the aforementioned deceased matriarch) who attempt to manipulate Jones and use her as a pawn in their bitter dispute over the inheritance. In the end, Caine comes good and saves the day, something Jones is incapable of doing on her own. You would think this movie was about her, given it’s title and basic plot structure, but it’s actually about Caine. More on that later.

MATRIX_matrix_117_1Let’s start with what was good about this film, because it wasn’t all bad. The special effects and action sequences were great. It’s the kind of eye candy we’ve come to expect from the Wachowskis, who are now renowned for their action choreography thanks to an impressive arrangement of wire-fu stunts in The Matrix, borrowing heavily from Asian cinema. In Jupiter Ascending, the pair aim to marry the action sequences to the films core themes of opulence, vanity and decadence. In a recent interview with i09, they confessed that they had hoped to create ‘the most beautiful chase that’s ever been filmed’. I’m not a fan of long action sequences, but even I have to admit that the “sky skating” was damn pretty. To be fair, the entire film is visually stunning.

What this film delivers in kaleidoscopic action choreography is sadly negated by a nonsense plot, cheap costume pageantry and a sorely underdeveloped lead. Maybe that’s a little harsh. The plot isn’t complete nonsense. It’s not exactly impossible to make sense of what’s happening from scene to scene, but the execution is predictable and sloppy; a far cry from the complex transmedia narrative of The Matrix. For example, Jones’ sudden and inexplicable lust for Caine is both offensive and absurd. Why is she drawn to this hulking, vacant man-dog? Is it the moon boots? Or is it some weird canine fetish? After all, in one of many awkward scenes wherein Jones comes on to Caine like a drunken prom-date, she meets his concerns about his inferior hybrid genetic make-up with a quipy, “but I like dogs”.

But I like dogs.

It’s embarrassing for both of them and it was at this point that the audience gave up on any pretence of a meaningful plot and embraced stunned laughter at every awkward turn.

mila-kunis-jupiter-ascending-inlineWhy must Jones be defined by such girlish angst and idiotic whims? She is so desperately dependent on Caine to rescue her throughout this film that she even fails to notice the cunning behind one siblings plan to marry her in order to secure access to her inheritance. Remember, Jones is the genetic clone of the family matriarch, so not only is she duped into almost relinquishing her fortune to a skeevy alien prick, but she is also duped into almost MARRYING HER SON. To add insult to injury, we are reminded in a climactic rescue scene that this movie is not, in fact, about Jones, but about Caine and his quest to find a woman who will tolerate his borish mood-swings love him.

In summary, I was disappointed by this film. I’m a big fan of the Wachowskis’ work. Yes, their films are usually decadent, but also intelligent, sophisticated and poignant. Despite the beautiful action sequences, an interesting thematic pretence (that time is the most valuable resource in the galaxy) and bitchin’ gravity boots, Jupiter Ascending struggled to deliver on plot, character or story. In fact, it did a serious disservice to its title character, Jones by perpetuating the damsel in distress trope which characterises women as weak, hopeless and dependent. I expected more.

Watch this if you enjoy special effects and beautiful action choreography.

Avoid this if you enjoy complex character development or if you find the marginalisation of female characters offensive.