When Jupiter Ascending was moved from a prime Summer 2014 cinema release to early 2015, it didn’t auger well. And when the reviews finally rolled in, it looked like people were right to be suspicious of the Wachowskis’ $175 million space opera. However, while it’s far from being a masterpiece, there is just about enough fun peeking through the nonsense.
Mila Kunis is Jupiter Jones, a seemingly normal girl from a Russian immigrant family, who is working as a cleaner and unsure what to do with her life (or even if she should bother to do anything). However, it turns out she is the genetic reincarnation of a murdered space queen, and because of that, she should be able to inherit the queen’s vast wealth.
There is a problem though, which is that the queen’s children – played by Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton – are vying for power over the Abraxas family’s vast estates and massive business empire (which includes Earth), and the emergence of Jupiter threatens all of that.
While one of the children sends out squads to kill Jupiter, another hires ex-military, genetic-splice wolf-man Caine (Channing Tatum) to protect her. Unsurprisingly Jupiter is rather shocked about all this and has no idea what to do once she is suddenly thrust into the middle of this interplanetary power struggle.
For the past decade the Wachowskis haven’t ever quite managed to recapture the magic of the first Matrix movie, and while Jupiter Ascending is an attempt to create something both entertaining and grandiose, it doesn’t quite work, although it is minorly entertaining.
The main problem is its overly operatic tone, which ends up highlighting quite how silly a lot of it is. This is immensely dumb popcorn entertainment dressed up in far grander clothes, but its mix of influences never really comes together. The story is very deliberately reminiscent of a fairy tale, and there are shades of everything from Dune to Brazil (Terry Gilliam even shows up at one point). But rather than effective world-building and creation of an idiosyncratic part sci-fi, part fantasy universe, it’s all a bit of a mess.
The story itself is essentially a series of damsel in distress scenarios, where Jupiter gets into trouble and then Caine saves her in all sorts of improbable ways, while causing as much explosive carnage as possible. Around that is a lot of nonsense and actors wandering around looking slightly uncertain about what they’re doing. At least Eddie Redmayne gives it his all, but his choice of playing Balem Abraxas in such a camp, hammy, moustache-twirling way is so farcical someone should go and take his Best Actor Oscar back (in fact he should have probably followed in Sandra Bullock’s footsteps and won an Oscar and a Razzie in the same year).
It is partially difficult to blame him though, as many of the characters are so vapid you can understand the impetus to turn them into over the top cartoons. Channing Tatum meanwhile goes the other direction and decides mumbling will help ground his brooding part-man, part-wolf (who to be honest looks more like a cyber-elf), but while far more effective than Redmayne, it still can’t hide that there’s little heft to Caine.
There is a major plus side though, which is that it looks exceedingly cool. There is some beautiful imagery, both in space and on Earth, and the action is certainly explosive, kinetic and fun to watch. In fact, if the movie had toned down the Dune-esque space-operatics and the dubious logic of its themes, and instead just sold itself as action, sci-fi fun, it would have probably been a lot more successful. As you’d expect from the Wachowskis, they attempt to make social and philosophical points, but what they say is either obvious or not particularly well thought out – and also revisits many themes they already handled better in The Matrix – so they become more tedious than interesting.
I am starting to think the Wachowskis need to stop writing their own films. As directors they are good, with a fine visual style and good instincts for keeping a film moving, but following The Matrix their writing has been baggy, lacking in logic, far too interested in ideas it thinks are profound but are actually fairly basic, and generally messy. You have to appreciate here their attempts to create a slice of sci-fi that is grand, pansexual and visually opulent, but in the end most of that feels like baggage around what would otherwise have been a fairly simple and fun fairy-tale – complete with a commoner becoming a princess/queen. The fun is still there in fits and starts, but the rest may raise a few eyebrows.
Overall Verdict: The visuals and action is entertaining, and the basics of the plot are okay (although it won’t exactly win any feminism awards), but everything surrounding that is so over the top it almost ruins the fun.
[/specialfeatures]Special Features: Jupiter Jones: Destiny Is Within Us, Jupiter Ascending: Genetically Spliced Caine Wise: Interplanetary Warrior, The Wachowskis: Minds Over Matter, Worlds Within Worlds Within Worlds, Bullet Time Evolved, From Earth to Jupiter (And Everywhere in Between)[/specialfeatures]
Reviewer: Tim Isaac