Jupiter Ascending takes the trailer approach to filmmaking, meaning each shot looks perfectly crafted for a two second appearance in a two-minute trailer. When tasked with creating a coherent film from said clips, the results are disastrous. This is one of the more misguided space operas of recent memory, and another black eye for a genre that seems incapable of balancing absurdity with any discernible signs of character development and intelligence. The film sure looks nice (the production budget was $175 million, and where it all went is no mystery), but beyond that it’s an incomprehensible mess of a story and certainly the last big-budget gasp for the Wachowskis.
The film stars Mila Kunis as Jupiter, who’s born under such special astronomical circumstances that it’s believed she’s destined for greatness. In her 20’s, she doesn’t feel that way. She cleans toilets by day and consistently reminds herself of how much she hates her life when the alarm sounds at 4:45 AM each morning. It’s not until she is contacted by Caine (Tatum), an inter-galactic hunter, that she realizes she possesses a rare genetic signature considered priceless to the most powerful family in the universe.
One would expect Jupiter Ascending to make a bit more sense considering the opening half hour is almost all exposition. With as many as three villains and constantly shifting motives, the Wachowskis get lost in a wordy screenplay that would have been more appropriate for a mini-series. The action scenes, while visually stunning, get bogged down in the repetitiveness of Jupiter getting into trouble and Caine having to save her. Rinse and repeat. In a better story, the film’s energy and visual creativity would resonate much more.
None of the actors escape this turkey unscathed. Mila Kunis, a likable actress who’s proven she can be a presence (2010’s Black Swan), is given next to nothing to do in the title role. She has two modes: awe-struck and worried (her tagline is “holy crap!”) Despite being billed as the hero, the screenplay largely has her playing a token damsel-in-distress for Tatum’s Caine. Tatum is serviceable as the mostly-dog-part-human, but never ventures out of a hushed monotone. Eddie Redmayne unequivocally fares the worst. Portraying a temperamental villain, he somehow under and over plays his character to the point of MST3K levels of ham. It’s embarrassing, especially after his career-defining turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
Jupiter Ascending was originally slated to open last summer, but was pushed for the reason of polishing the visual effects. The screenplay could have used a lot of polish while they were at it. It’s fair to wonder if the Wachowskis were forced to cut or alter Jupiter Ascending to get it to this state, but in the scheme of things it hardly matters. This is a hugely disappointing misfire from a team that has long exhausted the goodwill created by The Matrix sixteen years ago.
Studio: Warner Bros.
Length: 127 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity.
Theatrical Release: February 6, 2015
Directed by: Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski
Written by: Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski
Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth