Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. It has four rings, and 67 moons orbit its mass. The planet has a surface temperature of minus 108 degrees Celsius, and it takes 11.8 Earth years to equate one year on Jupiter. I had more fun researching these dry facts about the fourth brightest planet in our sky than I did watching the Wachowskis' latest misstep “Jupiter Ascending.”
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is unhappy about her working-class terrestrial life when an aborted abduction informs her that we are not alone in the universe. In fact, she is the reincarnated matriarch of a troubled rich royal family in space known as the Abrasax. Eldest son Balem (Eddie Redmayne) seeks to ensure that the control of Earth remains with him so that he may harvest the planet’s resources. With the help of a genetically spliced bounty hunter, Caine (Channing Tatum), Jones must save the planet and her family from certain destruction.
“Jupiter Ascending” had all the makings of a cyberpunk “Star Wars” meets “Dune” mashup: royalty that needs rescuing, parental issues, alien life forms, fanciful spaceships and distinct outer planets. What it severely lacks is any sense of cohesion. Directors Lana and Andy Wachowski excel at creating fantastic new worlds lurking under the surface of our own, but in "Jupiter Ascending," they've overstuffed the turkey with too many tangents and false endings. Too many characters clutter the narrative, while the central figure lacks a compelling arc. For most of the movie, Jones is reduced to filling the "damsel in distress" role, constantly needing to be rescued by a speed skating Caine. (The film's “gravity boots” essentially make Channing Tatum look like Apolo Anton Ohno.)
The Wachowskis' strong suit has always been their eye for design, and this is one trait “Jupiter Ascending” does not miss. The worlds and spaceships built beyond the (rather empty) streets of Chicago are magnificent, elaborate and opulent. There’s a cheeky extended joke on one bureaucratic planet that takes our characters through various versions of workplace hells. The wedding scene touted in the trailer is awe-inspiring. I could sense nods to science fiction classics such as "Star Trek" and the aforementioned “Star Wars” and “Dune,” but there were some features that also recalled “John Carter,” “Doctor Who” and “Captain EO.”
The script and acting often jump the shark. The three Abrasax siblings suffer from various forms of unexplained mommy problems. Many things are never explained in “Jupiter Ascending,” which weighs down its already convoluted premise.
Barely speaking above a raspy whisper for most of the film, Redmayne’s Balem seems to be channeling Gary Oldman’s baddie from Luc Bresson’s “The Fifth Element.” He’s too cool to be bothered with the concerns of those beneath him, but of course, he unleashes a terrible temper once we’re finally in the third act.
It’s sad to watch Kunis struggle to shine with her limited character. While George Lucas and subsequent screenwriters spent much time developing Luke Skywalker’s saga, Jupiter Jones barely stands out from all the noise, characters and CGI behind her. She has no goals or dreams. All we really know when the film commences is that she is unhappy with her present gig as a cleaning lady and that she would like to buy a bronze telescope, and we don't learn much more about her in the more than two hours that follow. Up in space, Jones is lost among the folds of fancy costumes and doesn’t get her own action sequence until almost 15 minutes before the end credits roll. And I, for one, really cannot take Tatum’s Caine seriously if he’s going to skate through the entire film with a prickly fake goatee.
It was difficult walking out of the movie to remember that the Wachowskis were once considered pioneers with “The Matrix.” The world building, story and action sequences were replicated and spoofed, but the image of Keanu Reeves bending backward to dodge a rain of bullets is forever burned into our collective conscious and the history of cinema’s visual effects reel.
“Jupiter Ascending” is even more disappointing when comparing its overall plot with that of "The Matrix." There’s a singular character entrusted to save the world, she wants more than what she sees before her, and later we learn that humans are harvested for a corrupt species’ resources. Take the red pill if this sounds familiar.
Hopefully, we’ll get to see the Wachowskis' star shine bright once again, but "Jupiter Ascending" is more akin to a black hole. The investment in style over substance is much too strong for “Jupiter Ascending” to stand out as a modern science fiction classic. Perhaps the Wachowskis simply didn't have enough time after “Cloud Atlas” to develop “Jupiter Ascending's” characters and fine-tune the sprawling screenplay.
“Jupiter Ascending” was originally slated to open during the summer, but the film was given the cold shoulder by parent studio Warner Bros. and pushed into February. "Jupiter Ascending" is currently in theaters.