Warning: minor spoilers to follow. Jupiter Ascending is one of those movies I wish had been granted a smaller budget. Partly because limitations sometimes produce brilliance (ala Brick). But also because of how blatantly this fact flies in the face of the movie’s critique on excess and greed. According to Wikipedia, the film was given a budget of $176 million. And almost the entirety of that seems to have been spent on costuming and CGI. One of the pities is that in both of these aspects, the movie is incredibly successful. It looks persistently amazing. The visuals are top notch and the effects rarely waver. The locations especially show thoughtfulness in design and execution: ranging from beautiful palaces to exotic spacecraft.
This really makes me wish the same level of thought had been put into crafting the narrative. Wikipedia bills it as a “space opera” in the vein of Star Wars and The Matrix. While I will confess to the cardinal sin of never having seen The Matrix, I’m reasonably sure it wasn’t just the protagonist being rescued five times in a row. Jupiter Ascending doesn’t seem to be aware of any narrative device beyond “damsel in distress.” That being said, I wouldn’t call Mila Kunis’s character completely helpless or stock. Kunis does a good job of bringing life and personality to her role, and is allowed a few moments of notable courage and sacrifice. For the most part though, it’s just Tatum swooping in to rescue her from the newest danger. In terms of gender roles, this becomes insulting, but moreover, it’s insulting on a basic narrative level. The plot simply has no variation from this strictly recursive structure.
The acting is solid, which I always count as a plus when half the characters are entirely CGI-ed in. The action is reasonably good too with one glaring exception. For any who have seen the trailer, Channing Tatum can be seen wearing a form of rocket boots. What the trailer wisely conceals is that they’re more in line with rocket skates. Watching Channing Tatum skating through the air for the umpteenth time is laughable. There’s something about the movement involved in skating that makes it incredibly hard to take seriously when done in mid air. And every single action scene involves Channing Tatum skating around with his rocket boots.
In summation, this will certainly not set any genre standards for sci-fi. It will possibly go down in history as one of the hugest wastes of money since Pirates of the Caribbean’s joint budget of $300 million, but that is the only accolade this film can hope to achieve.