An ambitious, epic universe marred by one dimensional characters and a stumbling script6/10
When I give this film a 6, it's being a bit generous. Trying to put myself in other people's shoes, I'd say this film probably range anywhere from a 3 to a 5, and then there will be those who hate it. Still, I am likely to lean on the side of one of the few who likes the film. But it's a mixed bag. Sure enough, the special effects, action, and other elements are fantastic. But the film does little to develop it's own character beyond their archetypes and the script seems content to stay average at best.
Jupiter Ascending actually paints a pretty fascinating sci-fi universe. As it turns out, Earth, and thousands of other worlds like it, are owned by a number of different families which act like corporations who seed these worlds. Once the worlds become over populated, their people are harvested to create a youth serum which keeps those living in the corporate society young for millennia after millennia. In this case, the Abraxis family is one of the most powerful and each of three heirs is vying for control of Earth. Standing in their way, however, is Jupiter Jones, who turns out to be the genetic reincarnation of the Abraxis' sibling's mother, and claimant to the throne of the family.
If all of that sounds like a lot to take in, it is, and easily the best part of the film. The Wachowski's have a talent for creating fascinating worlds that feel complete. Here, they have created a massive sci-fi universe the likes of which we haven't seen in at least a decade, maybe longer. It's very clear that their ambition extends beyond just this one story. In fact, there are hundreds of fascinating stories that could be told about this universe. The idea of a corporate controlled universe is timely, and where we've seen this story played out before about the giant corporation versus the little guy, it's never quite been told on this scale.
It's a shame then that this ambition is wasted on a story that doesn't seem to capitalize on such a universe. The story is good, but the script is lacking and the characters never really become all that interesting. They end up feeling like caricatures meant to introduce us to this world we've entered. They're histories are explained and they clearly have fleshed out back stories, but they feel almost lifeless in that they seem to be here only to be an aspect of this world and not a full character. Even as a lead character, Channing Tatum as Caine feels like little more than a body meant to perform choreography and defend Milas Kunis' Jupiter. At the very least, Jupiter is a sympathetic character who shows shades of change, but even she often feels like little more than a narrator meant to ask question for exposition purposes. Eddie Redmayne seems to have the juiciest part, and though he still seems to be a one dimensional villain, he shows emotional depth that the other characters lack.
Most people I suspect will have trouble forgiving the lack of a truly meaningful script and characters that are too one dimensional. But the good news is that the film isn't a complete loss. The action, which the Wachowski's have proved to have a handle on, is fantastic. This is Star Wars level stuff, with space battles and well choreographed martial art duels. The cool tech thrown in, like the gravity boots, add some imaginative spice that once again shows the Wachowski's propensity for finding ways to justify making a 12 year old's imagination a reality. It's some truly fun stuff. Likewise, the world we're introduced to looks fantastic. The special effects make believable some very interesting and exciting details, such as the multitude of gadgets and weapons we're witness to. It's clear that the Wachowski's have set out to create a unique universe, and in my estimation, they have succeeded. I'm a sucker for this kind of world crafting, and so they get higher marks from me.
Of course, I can see why the film was pushed back to the dumping grounds of February. This was meant to be a summer blockbuster, but up against so many big, successful films, it would have a hard time competing. I have the distinct feeling this is going to be a film that gets left behind this year, especially in favor of bigger films being released throughout 2015. Had the film been more focused on it's characters and less on exposition of the universe we're witnessing, then I feel it could have succeeded and become a modern sci-fi classic. But as is, it falls short. Honestly, I do hope for a sequel to this, if only to see this universe continue to get development. Perhaps a sequel would fulfill the ambition the Wachowski's clearly seek to build upon.