There are many terrible films that I regret giving my time and money. Jupiter Ascending is not one of them. Although it is by far the worst film I’ve seen in awhile, it was also one of the most enjoyable trips to the movies I had all year. I would absolutely watch it again, and pay for it. I regularly recommend it to others, and sometimes leave out the “terrible film” disclaimer. Jupiter Ascending neatly ticks all the boxes of a guilty pleasure film and like all guilty pleasures, there is more to it than being simply bad.
Jupiter Ascending is the perfect storm of terrible acting, a bad script, bizarre nonsense storylines, weird costuming and a general muddledness as the titular character Jupiter (Mila Kunis) – but just call her Jupe – swings from clueless damsel in distress to competent hero and back again so quickly that it’s hard not to get whiplash. And then there is the title, which is definitely a misnomer. For a film about Jupiter ASCENDING, she spends an awful lot of time falling–like a ridiculous amount of time falling. It’s what she spends more time doing than anything else, it feels like at least half the film, and it’s not a short film.
Dispute all of this, there is something about Jupiter Ascending that sticks with you long after the final credits have rolled. It might be hilariously bad, but it is also difficult to be dismissed as nothing more than mindless drivel. I am convinced that there is a good film buried somewhere under the layers of pointless effects and muddled storytelling.
Part of this is the presence of the Wachowskis behind the camera. While the duo arguably hasn’t produced a good film since the first Matrix, their work always has big, bold and interesting ideas at their core, both intellectually or visually. The end product might be an incoherent mess, but at its core is something that grabs you. How else can you explain the fact that they keep getting massive budgets for their films even as they continue to produce flop after flop?
The Wachowskis are constantly attempting to say something with their films, even if it’s unclear exactly what that is. They also go big, with over the top effects and eye-popping images. The result is often a film that doesn’t quite work but is nevertheless interesting. In a world where originality in films is basically extinct in big budget films, the Wachowskis represent filmmakers who continue to try and make something new, to expand representations and visual storytelling. This should be celebrated even when it doesn’t work.
Jupiter Ascending might be a terrible film at every level, but it also represents a pushback against the neat little boxes that big budget films have been increasingly shoved into over the past decade or two. It is an original story, with a female chosen one at its centre. Sure her origins make no sense, and her unveiling as princess of the bees is ridiculous, but the chosen ones’ storyline rarely follow a logical path. Jupiter might be one of the most useless heroes in film, but in the end, she does get to save the day. For the most part, this isn’t any different than celebrated male heroes like Luke Skywalker, who spends most of A New Hope whining, but inevitably saves the more competent princess, or Emmet of The Lego Movie fame, who has no skills to speak of, but still somehow manages to save the world. While both Star Wars and The Lego Movie are better films than Jupiter Ascending, there is value in the aggressive nature of Jupiter’s double persona as both the ultimate damsel in distress and the every(wo)man universe saving hero. If a woman can fulfil both of these roles, although far from seamlessly, then she can fill either role.
Little pieces like this run throughout Jupiter Ascending. It’s almost as if the Wachowskis were trying to make a meta film and intentionally made it bad. As if they asked themselves, how bad do the films we produce have to be before they stop giving us money? At the same time, they are not about to waste an opportunity to comment on the current state of the action blockbuster which they helped to create. As big and unwieldy as Jupiter Ascending is, it also questions its right to exist at all, and its overall badness is part of this question. The film jumps from one ill-conceived story idea to the next, remaining oblivious to little things like the fact that Mila Kunis has clearly never cleaned a toilet before. Overall, the film feels like it’s supposed to be a critique of capitalist filmmaking by taking the elements that make up so many successful blockbusters and fitting them together into a paint by numbers that is designed to be slightly off of what it is supposed to represent.
Jupiter Ascending is so disdainful of profit driven filmmaking that it refuses its origins at every possible chance. As Jupiter is pulled into her cosmic destiny, she spends a good half hour of screen time making her way through the bureaucratic red tape to be confirmed as the long lost princess. It is at this point that the film really starts to become more than simply a misguided mess. It’s still a mess, but I’d be willing to bet that studio interference is what created the final cut of Jupiter Ascending more than the Wachowskis, but they still managed to get their digs in.
The result is a film that is constantly laughing at itself and winking at the audience. It also takes its circumstances extremely seriously through its ability to coax possibly the worst performance ever given by an Oscar winner from Eddie Redmayne, letting Sean Bean live and giving us a Soylent Green moment and the world’s ugliest wedding dress. In the end, Jupiter Ascending is awesome precisely because it’s supposed to be terrible. The Wachowskis aren’t trying to hide it. Instead, they revel in all the mistakes that money can cause and made a film that, while certainly one of the worst films of 2015, is also an entertaining and worthwhile watch. Like all guilty pleasure films, there is something interesting lurking beneath the terrible surface.