If there’s one thing that predominantly separates Andy and Lana Wachowski from most modern blockbuster directors currently working today it’s their infallible sincerity. Some would argue they’re earnest to a fault but I’m most certainly not one of those people. If anything, that honesty and optimism is what allows their universes to feel as authentic and realized as they do. It’s the reason something as inherently absurd as Speed Racer worked. Where others would’ve scoffed at the idea of a live-action Mario Kart and looked down at the material condescendingly, the Wachowski’s – the adorable hopefuls they are – took it 100% seriously. The characters, the setting, the stakes – it’s all real to them. It doesn’t matter how silly, outlandish or cartoony they get because they still believe in it, and thus we believe in it…
… Bees don’t lie. And neither do the Wachowski’s.
Jupiter Ascending succeeds for the exact same reasons. It’s a trashy, bizarre, bloated space opera – complete with lizard-men and rocket boots – done with utter conviction. It’s big, ambitious and totally nonsensical, in other words: exactly what Andy and Lana were going for. You know those pulpy sci-fi novels that stoner friend of yours devours? That’s what Jupiter Ascending aspires to be. Gorgeous damsel in distress? Check. Half-animal, human-harvesting, aliens? Check. Anti-corporate, anti-classist themes? Check. Rocket boots? Now it’s a party.
If that sounds excessive and exuberant, that’s because it is – as any film featuring Channing Tatum as a flying wolf-man was bound to be – but it’s not overbearing. In fact, once you get attuned to the visual language and the way in which the plot/world-building unfolds it’s relatively easy to follow since at its heart, it’s really just a story about a damsel realizing her agency. Mila Kunis‘ Jupiter hates her life because she feels like she has no control over it, but once she is told she is queen of the universe or something, she goes on a journey in which she needs to learn and adapt to a life of decision-making – and as is made clear, it’s not always easy. But it’s a really simple, thoughtful narrative many seem to be misreading. Sure, Channing Tatum’s Caine physically catches Jupiter a couple of times in the film, but those brushing her off as this useless damsel have a really narrow understanding of what makes someone a heroine.
And as is expected from the Wachowski’s, Jupiter Ascending is delightfully rich and vibrant – home to a plethora of beautifully realized visuals and inventive action setpieces. It’s always a treat to see something so big and wondrous from people with truly unique visions. If anything, I wanted more. There’s a lot of plot and world to sift through and two-hours just didn’t cut it. A director’s cut might genuinely help the film, especially if there’s one that emphasizes certain beats a little more because – I digress a bit here – there were a more than few times I felt moments were cut short or streamlined, like we cut in or out of a scene partway through it. It is possible studio interference was the root cause – this film was delayed by months, so it wouldn’t surprise me.
Anyway, I definitely understand the gripes people have with this thing – the cheesy, contrived storytelling, the stale character work, the endless exposition dumps – but man oh man is Jupiter Ascending my kind of weird. I adore it – flaws and all. The cheesy one-liners, the vivid colors, the infallible earnestness, the damsel turned agency-filled heroine. Give me a million Jupiter Ascending’s over another dark and gritty reboot.
… On a completely separate note – we need to dedicate an entire shared universe franchise to whatever movie Eddie Redmayne thought he was in while shooting this.