A little over a year ago, Jupiter Ascending put the final nail in the coffin of The Wachowskis’ big-budget directing career. It made under $50 million dollars domestically on a $176 million budget and was nominated for five Golden Raspberry Awards, the Oscars of badness. Critics crucified it. You probably ignored it.
Whatever. The movie’s fans knew that history was on our side. Speed Racer came out in 2008 to a similar response, and now people love it as an experimental cult classic. Everyone who’s everyone knows that the Wachowskis are dope and everything they make will eventually be inducted into the Library of Congress. My question is, why do we have to wait a few years to reclaim Jupiter Ascending as a genius work of art? Why not start now?
Jupiter Ascending is the best sci-fi blockbuster since the original Matrix. Better than Avatar, The Force Awakens, the Marvel stuff, The Martian, and Gravity. In the event of a global nuclear winter, this would be one of the first movies I’d put in a radiation-proof time capsule. If you put me on a desert island and told me I could only have three things, I’d take Jupiter Ascending and the Wachowskis and force them to write some sequels I could read before we all died of thirst.
Do you remember the first time you watched Star Wars? How every five minutes something new and crazy made you go, “What the heck is that thing?” In a time when most blockbusters play more to our nostalgia than our childlike wonder (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Jupiter Ascending has wacky treats in every scene. Here’s just a sampling of the bonkers stuff in this movie:
- Channing Tatum plays a half-man, half-dog named “Caine Wise.” Late in the movie, Mila Kunis comes onto him with the line, “I’ve always loved dogs.”
- Mila Kunis’s cousin wants her to sell her eggs so he can buy a new TV. When she goes to donate her eggs, the doctors turn into little X-Filesy aliens and try to kill her.
- Channing Tatum gets injured rescuing Mila Kunis, so she patches him up with a maxi-pad.
- A zero-gravity orgy.
- Gugu Mbatha-Raw in mouse ears.
- Sean Bean is half-man, half-bee.
- A half-man, half-elephant space cop.
- Immortal aliens that de-age themselves by skinny-dipping in dead people juice.
- Really, so many ridiculous aliens/robots/whatevers, I can’t list all of them. The costume design is like The Hunger Games on shrooms.
- Channing Tatum gets around on glowing antigravity rollerskates. If we’re going with the Star Wars metaphor, these are the movie’s lightsabers. They’re cool.
- Mila Kunis can control bees. There’s a fight scene where she attacks some Farscape-looking people with bees.
- A montage that’s the closest we’ll ever get to the DMV in space.
- An incest wedding where all the attendees are identical robots.
You get the picture. Jupiter Ascending is beautiful and unrestrained. It’s generous and loving. It wants you to have fun with something you haven’t seen before.
Assuming you’re onboard with all of the above awesomeness, you might be wondering: why all the hate? Well, obviously you can’t just write all that stuff into a movie and have it automatically be good. You need a good yarn. Plot, character arcs, chemistry, smooth tonal shifts. Mere mortals might argue that Jupiter Ascending doesn’t have all that.
To put it bluntly, this movie is awkward. The first line is Mila Kunis saying, “Technically speaking, I’m an alien, and from the perspective of immigration, an illegal one.” Then we get a scene of her dad awkwardly making out with her pregnant mom’s belly…then the KGB busts in and shoots the dad…then her mom gives birth to her on a freighter heading to America. It’s such a disorienting beginning, and then we go to this meeting of royal alien siblings talking about how they want to harvest Earth or something, but it’s hard to get their weird names and everything is so confusing.
Every minute of Jupiter Ascending is like this. You’re caught between the thrill of “what is that!?” and the more depressing “what is happening?” The basics are obvious—some aristocrats from outer space are plotting to kill everyone on earth, and Mila Kunis is the Chosen One who can stop them—but the specifics feel haphazard. If you aren’t inclined to give the Wachowskis the benefit of the doubt, it might seem like they have no control of their story, like there’s no intention from scene to scene, like every ridiculous moment isn’t meant to be funny.
Ye of little faith. The Wachowskis have been refining their aggressive camp vision ever since the Matrix sequels. It’s just as silly and politically charged as Ryan Murphy’s shows, but less welcoming. Their movies are delicate balances of contradictions: you have to be willing to pay attention to philosophical treatises (The Matrix Reloaded), connections between parallel worlds (Cloud Atlas), and intergalactic political schemes (Jupiter Ascending) while you simultaneously let yourself go with something your instincts tell you to make fun of. They don’t let you take them seriously, but if you’re just turning up for a fun time, you might not have one.
Jupiter Ascending’s Long Island iced tea of sci-fi pastiche is not for everyone, but it’s got layers that will satisfy viewers willing to level with its madness. If you’ve ever watched The Fifth Element and been like, “Why isn’t this a Marxist allegory?” this might be your favorite movie. Take the leap, y’all.
Kells is an Oakland native with a sad compulsion to put his opinions online. He hopes that you like them, but what’s really important is that you like yourself. @awkeller510