From the initial trailers, Jupiter Ascending looked like a fun and exciting sci-fi flick with some refreshing new creativity and ideas. From the trailers, I knew that Jupiter Jones (a lower class girl in Chicago) has somehow been identified as "alien" royalty and as a result she has become the target of some very high profile groups in the universe. Beyond that, I knew very little. I didn't read or hear any previews or reviews so I went into the movie with moderate to high expectations for a good new science fiction movie.
The movie starts out with narration from Jupiter explaining that she is an illegal alien living in America. Not an "outer space" alien but she tells the story of her parents tragic life back in Russia and how she (Jupiter) was born while her mother's family were traveling across the ocean to sneak into America. We then have a few scenes showing her misery as she goes through her day-to-day life working with her mother and her aunt as cleaning ladies for homes around the city.
We then get a glimpse into the aliens. There are multiple races...some look distinctly "alien" ranging from reptilian to some sort of monkey like faces and other varieties. The main aliens we'll be dealing with in the plot are distinctly human in appearance. We are later told (spoiler) that they ARE human and that technically the Earth's human race is descended from this alien race.
The main group of space-humans we deal with are a trio of siblings from an ultra-powerful family called Abrasax who apparently owns a large chunk of the universe. Their parents have died and in stereotypical "rich family" fashion, the 3 kids are squabbling over inheritance and trying to figure out how to one-up each other and become the richest and most powerful. Apparently the Earth is one of the most valuable planets in their inheritance and as a result, they all set their eyes on it. Even more important than the value of the planet is the existence of Jupiter Jones...who we learn is the 'genetic reincarnation' of their mother and as a result she has the power to re-claim the inheritance that came from her death.
Each sibling has his or her own distinct plans and motivations ranging from the simple murder of Jupiter to convoluted psychological and political maneuverings. Each sibling has hired different forces and individuals to carry out their plans. Caine is one of the hunters and when he learns Jupiter's true identity he works harder to try and keep her safe from all of the other parties involved.
Right from the start I enjoyed the storytelling aspect of the movie. I really liked the way Jupiter narrated the early life of her parents and the way the movie transitioned to the story of her current life and the intrigue and plots of the Abrasax family. The transitions and the story felt very personable and "real" (as real as can be imagined in a sci-fi story like this). I was quickly drawn into the film and found myself excited to find out what was going to happen next.
As the action sequences started happening, I was a little less excited. I really liked some of the high-tech and sci-fi elements they presented. The weapons, the vehicles, the technology...all of these were imaginative and pretty cool. However, the action sequences were so fast and frenetic that it was easy to become distracted and disoriented. The movements were so quick and the camera shots were so short that the brief glimpses of cool effects were lost in just trying to keep track of where you were, who you were watching and what was happening. Don't get me wrong...I could follow the fast action sequences, I just felt like the speed and nature of the camera shots resulted in a loss of some potential moments of "oooh" and "aaah" at the effects and creativity.
Once Jupiter started interacting directly with the Abrasax family, the story became a little schizophrenic and unbalanced. As I mentioned above, each of the 3 Abrasax siblings had their own distinct plots and plans. The siblings were completely distrustful and despicable. As a result, they had very little to do with on another. In fact, after the first scene in which they appeared, they shared virtually no screen time together ever again. Because of this, each of their distinct plans became 3 distinct plots to the movie....and they played out sequentially.
There was some overlap with interactions of the groups that were hunting Jupiter but even these diminished over time. Once we got about a third of the way into the movie, the plotline became almost episodic. First we dealt with the story of Abrasax sibling number 1. Once that was wrapped up, we moved onto the story of sibling number 2. And finally, we dealt with sibling number 3. As ruthless and cutthroat as these people were, I found it hard to believe that they just gave up once their main plotline ended. Which left me wondering where sibling 1 disappeared to throughout sibling 2's story and where they both wandered to while sibling 3 carried out his story. Additionally, by having the last ~2/3 of the movie split into 3 almost "standalone" stories, I felt like each of the stories and characters suffered by not getting quite as fleshed out or balanced as they otherwise may have been.
Similar to the rapid fire action sequences with the quick burst camera shots and smattering of explosions, the storyline of each Abrasax sibling felt very rushed and left me slightly disoriented and unbalanced. So much so that when the third mini-story ended and the movie went into wrap-up mode, I was left less than satisfied with the ending and wanted more...not more in the sense that I was saying "I can't wait for a sequel" but rather more in the sense that I wanted the first movie to have "more" that brought cohesion and balance to the existing story.
In spite of all of my complaints above, I did enjoy the movie. While there were some predictable scenes as well as some elements that felt re-used rather than new, I did enjoy the creativity and imagination of this film. The overarching storyline, the technology, the intrigue....all of these were very compelling. They just weren't executed as seamlessly and cohesively as I would have liked. I felt like this had the potential to be a really great sci-fi movie but instead it fell down to more "average" execution. I might eventually watch it again to try and pick up on some of the many small details that I surely missed out on during the 1000-mph romp, but I probably won't make a great effort to do so just because there are so many other compelling and great films out there that may make a better argument for my time.