In Jupiter Ascending, the Waschowskis have done it again. They’ve created a visually stunning, original, cinematic, science-fiction world where people are valued not because of what they look like or what they do but simply because of the fact that they are humans capable of love. As always, their world’s limits of existence extend only to the physical plane. There is no spiritual mode of existence that penetrates the curtain of death, though they do allow for the possibility of a kind of immortality via scientific or technological means. As in 2014’s Interstellar and Boyhood, because death is final, time is the scoundrel that must be scotched, and love is the only transcendent force. Love, and time stops dead, the world falls away, and you find yourself ascended, blissfully floating above the fray, or so the Waschowskis say.
The siblings who brought us bullet time and Speed Racer’s kaleidoscopic reverie know are thing or two about cinematic spectacle, and Jupiter Ascending does not disappoint on that front. The action scenes in this film are something to behold, especially an early scene that begins as a gravity-booted foot chase and the morphs into a dogfight between fighters that flit through the Chicago skyline like bats careening into a cave at sunset. The rest of the universe is lovely to look at as well.
In keeping with the film’s theme concerning the way people use other people’s bodies as resources and bureaucracy as merely a means of perpetuating that practice, Jupiter Ascending’s intergalactic architecture is like a cross between ancient Rome and something out of a Terry Gilliam film. That architecture is peopled by a mix of humans, robots, and animal-human hybrids (Channing Tatum is part dog! Sean Bean is part bee!), all of which are fantastically dressed and characterized. Even if you find the story boring, there’s always something interesting to look at on screen.
And the story does drag a little in moments as Jupiter travels between the three siblings vying for control of Earth and talks with them about why they want the Earth. Those moments are brief though, and they are interesting in their own way. After all, it wouldn’t be a Waschowski film without a few philosophical conversations about how dehumanizing capitalism can be. Since most of the commentary about Jupiter Ascending up to this point has been about how much money is has so far failed to make, I suppose they have a point. (The Waschowskis are also still tied a little too tightly to the idea that violence turned against a villain is a thing to be relished.)
Beneath the space battles and the alien races of the kind of you’ve sen before (even if they are engaging), is the story of a girl—that in itself is remarkable in a cinematic landscape of male-dominated action franchises—who discovers her worth is seated much deeper than her lovely appearance or very domestic job. In Jupiter Ascending, title is a bureaucratic inconvenience, marriage is much more than a social contract no matter what the politicians say, power is meaningful only when it is used to care for others, mothers should be cherished, fathers should be revered, romance is based on mutual respect, and it might not be a bad idea to have a woman in charge of things for a while. Jupiter Ascending is an exciting movie with a good heart, a smile on its face, and a sense of social responsibility.
Sean Bean is part bee!
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