Jupiter Ascending is another trip inside the minds of Lana and Andy Wachowski. This 2015 film is a space opera of sorts and it boasts an original storyline that is often difficult to mine through, but the nuts and bolts don’t add up to much and the project never reaches the nutty heights it requires to succeed.
The good news is that the look of Jupiter Ascending is often inspiring. There are some sequences that approach goodness, like when Terry Gilliam pops by as a Seal and Signet Minister. These little looks at the underbelly of this interplanetary realm give the picture depth and consequence, suggesting a layer of creativity seldom seen in modern blockbuster cinema.
Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter Jones, a Russian-American cleaning woman named after her father’s favourite planet. She finds herself at the centre of a family squabble for the ages when the House of Abrasax begins to fight over their inheritance. This sends Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth) after Earth and Jupiter (the planet).
When Jupiter (the cleaning woman) is set upon by Balem’s agents, Caine (Channing Tatum) comes to her rescue on behalf of Titus. Caine takes her to his pal Stinger Apini (Sean Bean) and it turns out that the earthling is a genetic match to the Abrasax matriarch, which means she’s the rightful heir of Earth. The siblings jockey for position to marry, maim and/or kill Jupiter (the cleaning woman).
There are other elements to the plot, like how the Abrasax siblings always want Jupiter to sign some sort of property deed and how they want to harvest her eggs. Things do get awfully tortuous at times and it’s tough to tell what’s going on, but the Wachowskis don’t rely on coherence to float Jupiter Ascending.
Instead, they keep things moving. The action is frequent and frenetic, with Caine coming to Jupiter’s rescue countless times and flying around on his rocket boots. There are some impressive space battles and some neat sequences as explosions rattle cityscapes, but it’s frustrating to tell who’s who and it’s even more difficult to tell why these scenes matter.
Cinematographer John Toll gives it the old college try, but a lot of the action is scrambled for the sake of it. Some neat sequences, like when Caine and Co. barrel through the Warhammer blockade in time to stop the wedding, are undermined by a lack of clarity.
For all the potential innovation of the characters, most of the performers seem to want to be anywhere else in the world. Kunis is frankly terrible. She fails to generate any emotion or wonder and is unbearably disconnected from the world around her. For a supposed genetic recurrence with exact royal DNA, she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the fate of the galaxy.
It surely doesn’t help that the script gives her dreadful lines and shoves her into a half-assed romance with Tatum’s character, which is dented by her character’s innate naïveté. She even gets to play a Russian-American version of Cinderella, complete with a profligate wedding sequence that’s offset by her inability to bear the slightest bit of feeling.
Tatum is a half-man, half-dog construction. He has a keen sense of smell and manages to earn the affection of Jupiter, who “loves dogs.” But even his rocket boots fizzle when it comes to generating some level of charisma or energy. And when he teams up with his pal Stinger Apini, all the bees in the world can’t save the day.
Make no mistake about it, Jupiter Ascending has the bones of good camp. There’s some thrilling potential on display and the aesthetics are often exhilarating. The wedding sequence looks exquisite, even if it rings without strain or sensibility, and some of the space battles spark with colourful cadence in the midst of their inborn incoherence.
But Jupiter Ascending doesn’t want to be saved. Despite the efforts of some to mythologize this hunk of woozy fan-fiction into some kind of super-trash, it’s hard to argue there’s that much to it. This Wachowski creation is far too hulking to function as any other than another swing at blockbuster supremacy. This isn’t the little movie that could. It’s just another big, loud mess.