Easily the worst thing about Jupiter Ascending – the Wachowski’s latest bid at relevance – is the ending, which wraps up approximately none of the plot’s loose ends and is probably supposed to be a sequel hook. On the one hand, I don’t trust these guys with sequels. On the other hand, a sequel might have a more unified vision and be a better movie. You know, potentially. But actually, other than the ending, despite its development – originally planned as a Summer blockbuster for last year, then delayed by production problems, unwillingness to compete with Marvel, and a rumored recut – it actually pretty much works. It even manages to distract you from the problems with the ending plot-wise with some shiny special effects at the ending of the film time-wise. The effects are probably the film’s strongest point. The effects, and one particular gadget which approximately 99.56% of all audience members now want.
As released, the reason it works is that it’s really hard to completely mess up a “save the girl” storyline. Sure, the storyverse is implausible on its face, and a lot of the questions raised by the plot go unanswered. It’s not a great movie, and probably not even quite a good one. But it’s pretty, and it’s fun, and maybe I have low standards for films but I liked it.
One thing I haven’t figured out how to do yet is to discuss movies in any detail without spoiling things. So this is the part where I warn you to stop reading if you actually care about not knowing things when you see a film yourself. Savvy?
Other than the ending – and probably related to it – is the fact that Jupiter Ascending is evidently at least two and possibly three films sort of smushed into one. There are three distinct threads to the plot, any two of which might have worked in the same film, but with all three in it causes some dissonance. First, there’s the straightforward “rescue the princess” story, with a Cinderella twist and a bit of spunk from the lady as well. Second, there’s a touch of a “naive heroine learns to navigate the upper class insanity” idea; finally, there’s a bit of going on about the evils of capitalism.
I suspect from what I know about it that the film was originally supposed to major in those latter two, and the rescue-and-love story got pasted on afterwards by somebody who thought the movie as originally conceived (and apparently shot) wouldn’t fly. Unfortunately, mostly all that’s left of the second idea is a bureaucracy montage which is actually very funny but doesn’t quite fit the tone of the rest of the film. Of the economic screed, there’s virtually nothing left but faint erased pencil-marks: the fact that the villains are galactic evil businessmen, and the occasional lines from our heros that, I assume, couldn’t be cut or reshot to fit the now-dominant adventure story. Honestly, one of the reasons I think Jupiter Ascending is an okay-to-decent movie is that it made me want to see the movie I think it was supposed to be.
Which brings me back to the ending, and why I’m virtually certain a sequel will be attempted, and now for the honest to goodness run-away-now spoilers. It turns out our heroine’s an heir to a vast galatic-scale fortune. But the ending shows her trying to get back to her old life without a really good reason. Okay, the reason’s pretty clear: she used to kind of hate her life and her family was pretty terrible, but now she appreciates it and the family’s learned to value her because she disappeared. But, uh, the responsibility ball kind of got dropped in a pretty big way and then ignored completely. So with no explanation why that’s possible, it’s a pretty big problem. And the logical solution of that problem is for someone to come along in the next movie and go, “Hey girl, look, we know you love your family, and yeah your boyfriend’s cute even if he’s not really an aristocrat, but you have problems, you know that, right?”
On the other hand, like I said, they did a pretty good job of distracting you from that with the shiny scene at the very end. I want a pair of those boots.