Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Starring: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean
Jupiter Ascending is a film that should’ve been great. It had all the ingredients necessary for it to be heralded as a new science fiction classic: bold, opulent, ambitious, and overflowing with the wondrous imagination from its once visionary directors. In a time when multiplexes are loaded with superheroes, YA heroines, dystopian futures, remakes, reboots and sequels/cinematic universes galore, Jupiter Ascending promised originality. It was supposed to be the film for those looking for something a little different in their big Hollywood blockbusters. Alas, it would seem that the film just couldn’t live up to the hype.
Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, the daughter of a poor Russian immigrant who spends her days cleaning rich people’s houses and hoping to buy an expensive telescope similar to the one that belonged to her father. After being attacked by some little grey alien things, she is whisked away by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), an intergalactic warrior sent to protect her from bounty hunters and a nefarious royal bloodline. As it transpires, Jones is actually the reincarnation of the Queen of the Abrasax Empire, whose feuding siblings have been squabbling for the title deeds to planet Earth for over a millennia.
Contrary to popular belief, Jupiter Ascending is not a complete disaster. The film is visually breathtaking; its grand and expansive other worldly vistas and alien designs are gorgeous, and the epic CGI creations are full of rich history and detail.
Taking inspiration from everything from Dune to Star Wars to Flash Gordon and even a little bit of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (who pops up for a weird little cameo that feels oddly out of place with the rest of the film), the film is a love letter to space opera. The Wachowskis have created such a rich and expansive universe that it’s almost hard to fault.
However, here lies one of the key problems with Jupiter Ascending. With a universe and tapestry as detailed and diverse as this one, the film’s brisk pace and forward motion never allows us a moment to fully immerse ourselves with the universe that has been so lovingly designed. Instead, the script is so packed with ideas that it feels bogged down by the weight of its own ambition. Anything resembling a compelling story or characterization becomes lost as the film whisks us from one action set piece to the next.
Kunis is poorly miscast as our heroine, looking doe eyed as large chunks of exposition are dumped on her and the audience. The plot is so dense that it eventually all becomes too much, as if the Wachowskis have adapted an incredibly sizeable science fiction novel and tried to cram absolutely everything into the film’s two hour runtime.
The love story that inevitably develops between Kunis’ Jupiter and Tatum’s Wise is so laughably forced and lacking in chemistry that you’d be forgiven for thinking the two actors were merely tolerating each other to get through the production. The rest of the cast don’t fare much better either. Sean Bean’s Stinger seems to exist purely to detail the importance of bees, while Eddie Redmayne fails to stand out, instead choosing to whisper his way through proceedings in a desperate attempt to appear menacing and evil.
Yet for all its campness and clumsy narrative, I still found myself enjoying this silly mess of a film. I admire the Wachowskis’ ambition and I admire their bold attempt to fashion something new in a time when an over reliance of past franchises and multi-film storytelling is all the rage.
Maybe it was the captivating visuals, or perhaps it was the Wachowskis’ romantic notions of love, heroism and worlds beyond our own that got to me. Jupiter Ascending may not be a return to the grand heights of The Matrix, but one can’t blame the Wachowskis for trying.