Jupiter Ascending (2015) / Sci Fi-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity
Running Time: 127 min.
Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton
Small role: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Terry Gilliam
Director: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Screenplay: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Review published February 6, 2015
Let's see if you can read the following plot summary without snickering as much as I did in writing it:
Jupiter Jones (Kunis, Annie) is a cleaning woman in Chicago who ends up looking to sell her reproductive eggs for enough money to buy a telescope off of eBay. Unbeknownst to Jupe (as she calls herself in one scene), the doctors and nurses performing the operation are aliens trying to kill her, but she's saved in the nick of time by a sky-skating, half-man/half-wolf named Caine Wise (Tatum, The Book of Life), who becomes a guardian angel of sorts to protect her from a family of galactic royalty called Abrasax, who have been farming beings on planets they own to make hyper-potent jars of Oil of Olay. Jupiter presents a problem to the royal siblings because she appears to be their deceased mother reincarnated, which apparently bars them from their inheritance of the planets she ruled.
Sporting a background mythology that usually requires at least two other films before it to build up to, Jupiter Ascending drops you right in the middle of all of it and makes the mistake of thinking you'll give a rip when characters we hardly know expound on the plot we can barely make heads or tails of. I knew I would be in for a lot of nonsense once I realized that just about everyone in the galaxy speaks English better than Jupiter's family, and that Jupiter is going to wear lots of cover-girl lipstick, eye-liner and mascara, regardless of whether she is in queen attire or going to be spending a day scrubbing toilets. It's that kind of movie, over-thought yet under-explained.
Poor casting decisions abound, starting from the top with Mila Kunis (filling in for Black Swan-mate Natalie Portman, who dropped out prior to filming), who can be appealing, but is clearly too limited in range to play the queen of the galaxy in an overblown action movie that requires someone with the kind of cinematic gravitas worthy of the mantle. Channing Tatum, who has shown a surprising depth of range in recent efforts, is handcuffed into a muted guardian role with little discernible personality, and with whom there are zero sparks offered with Kunis, despite them supposedly having some sort of fated attraction. Eddie Redmayne, who wowed us all in our seats with his phenomenal portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, shows almost none of what made him so great in the role as the main heavy, speaking in a whisperingly hoarse tone as if there is a large chunk of food stuck in his windpipe, and walking stiffly around as if there is also a giant stick lodged in his tailpipe.
The only thing I can truly give Jupiter Ascending credit for is the look of it, as the special effects are always magnificent, and the costume design equally on par. The problem: it's too much too soon. It's hard to marvel at how amazing it must be to fly around the city, or in the depths of space, when the entire production is coated from top of the screen to bottom with a clutter of eye-candy visuals. Plus, given that Jupiter is one of the few people on Earth who has seen anything of this sort, we should at least see a look of sheer astonishment, horror, fright, or even just a lack of speech at all of the mind-blowing things she is learning in the course of a few days, and yet it's all go-with-the-flow from the get-go, getting used to the notion almost as soon as she learns something new. There's nothing here to ground the story, so there's also no mystery, excitement, or sense of fun.
I can't tell you what your experience will be in watching this smorgasbord of comic book characterizations, high-falutin' space battles, and story elements that seem to borrow from, at once, Star Wars, Dune, Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz, a few of the works of Shakespeare, and Brazil (Terry Gilliam himself comes through in a fitting cameo after an interplanetary bureaucracy sequence his film inspired). However, I can tell you that whatever tenuous hold the storyline's promise held for me fell completely away within the first half hour, leaving me to watch with absolute detachment the rest of this space epic without registering any impact upon me, save for the occasional yawn.
That it takes so many disparate elements to become its own thing is worthy of at least some admiration, but it sure would be nice if the Wachowskis (Cloud Atlas, Speed Racer) would realize that they're also supposed to be making movies for the rest of us to enjoy, not just throwing up whatever strikes their own peculiar fancies. Perhaps they should finally stash away their directors' chairs and push to do what they seem much more interesting in making: colorful and fantastical video game realms to play around in.
Movie-goers already restless waiting for the the filmmakers to strike again with something akin to The Matrix will probably walk out of Jupiter Ascending thinking this is the final straw, and will likely move on at last. Even those looking for just some so-bad-it's-good campy fun will begin to squirm in their theater chairs from the absolute dullness of most of the prolonged effects sequences, hoping for a release that seems an Abrasax lifetime in coming.
İİ2015 Vince Leo