One thing’s for sure – Andy and Lana Wachowski will never make a dull film. Even their misfires – and JUPITER ASCENDING is certainly one of those – are fascinating.
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), the daughter of a Russian immigrant, appears completely unremarkable save for her being the product of her parents’ hugely romantic chance meeting. Every day is the same for her, working as a cleaner with her mum and aunt in Chicago, so naturally Jupiter dreams of something more, and fixes her eyes on the stars. Meanwhile, far out in space an ancient and tyrannical dynasty have their eyes fixed on Jupiter, and on Earth…
I won’t deny I had a massive grin on my face at times. Take the dazzlingly creative chase where two people are trying to escape from a fleet of spaceships with one pair of hover boots, or the amusing sci-fi civil service scene riffing on Douglas Adams and Terry Gilliam (and actually featuring the one of those who isn’t dead yet). It’s aesthetically stunning throughout really, showcasing first-class makeup and CGI, and aside from a monotonous final act the action rarely disappoints. It’s also nice to see the Wachowskis’ commitment to wirework and advanced rigs when staging complex action still remains.
The ideas – big science fiction ones – are good too, it’s just a shame they’re not given the screentime to bear fruit. Nurturing planets until they are at just the right stage to harvest their previous lifeforce – that’s a great idea. Designer genetics for anyone vain enough or seeking to adopt a useful animal trait – that’s a great idea. An intergalactic family feud manifesting as a war over resources, and more importantly for their vanity – that’s a great idea. But for a film do preoccupied with its visuals, Jupiter prefers to tell, rather than show more often than not, and reduces too many of its characters to exposition-o-matics.
There’s no avoiding the fact that our lead protagonist Jupiter, as likeable and grounded as she is made to begin with, does a lot of falling through space, being knocked out, and (rather creepily) being redressed while unconscious, usually by men. She even comments on the latter point in dialogue, and when a character seems to realise they are being exploited for the sake of the plot they are part of, you know you’re in trouble. Her canine super-soldier escort Caine (name taken straight out of the sci-fi/fantasy handbook) is cool in the action scenes, but Channing Tatum too mumbly and not enough is made of his wolf-like traits. Most of the rest of the cast might as well have not bothered, especially Sean Bean, who treads water and only occasionally seems to remember he has bee vision. Eddie Redmayne is a lot of fun as the big baddie, and does his very best Ralph Fiennes-as-Voldermort camply strained rasp, but he disappears for half the movie, leaving us with boring substitute antagonists.
The script is mostly diabolical, and is very talky without saying anything. It does feature one of the most awful, yet genius lines of dialogue in recent years: “Bees have been genetically engineered to sense royalty”. That is just fabulous. You could put that on a T-shirt. Mythology-wise, you feel very much like you’re receiving the cliff notes, Jupiter Ascending Abridged if you will. It’s like you’re only half-hearing a really interesting conversation at a busy party. This is particularly disappointing when you remember how much time and effort the Wachowskis put into establishing the complex workings of the worlds of THE MATRIX, CLOUD ATLAS, hell, even SPEED RACER. You usually have a general idea of what is going on in the plot thanks to the siblings’ sheer dynamism, but you never exactly feel involved in this story or its characters’ exploits.
The Wachowskis really badly want this to be DUNE meets CINDERELLA, but it ends up being a pale imitation of both with a few high points and plenty of visual flare. Not a complete waste of your time then, rather a beautiful, frustrating, curiosity. SSP