We should try to give the science-fiction creators a little extra slack sometimes. Of all the film genres, sci-fi has the most potential to turn wild and wonderful ideas into outrageously ridiculous movies. The Wachowski siblings know this better than anyone. The Matrix was a pretty insane idea that became a stunningly cool, clever film; Speed Racer has gone on to earn a small but vocal fan-base thanks in large part to its unexpected sweetness, and Cloud Atlas deserves a lot of credit for trying to bring a little artistry and sincerity to a genre generally populated by little more than spaceships, robots, and explosions.
I suppose that’s sort of what makes Jupiter Ascending so painfully difficult to sit through: not that it’s trite, obvious, corny, and beholden to (at least) ten other science fiction stories; but that Andy and Lana Wachowski now seem to be emulating the Michael Bay style of filmmaking: throw a ton of money into special effects, give attractive actors very simple things to say, and cobble a screenplay together from any old sci-fi clichés and stereotypes you can think of.
For a film not based on an existing property, Jupiter Ascending sure doesn’t feel all that original. In fact it feels like the unholy offspring of The Fifth Element, Dune, Battlefield Earth, The Chronicles of Riddick, Flash Gordon, and Solarbabies (yes, Solarbabies) with a few sprinkles of Robert Heinlein here and Edgar Rice Burroughs there. (Oh, and there’s one overlong homage to Terry Gilliam, which is so painful to behold that it starts to feel like one of those Japanese game shows in which contestants are forced to endure torture for no good reason.)
The plot is patently ridiculous, but frankly it’s the least of this film’s problems, so here goes: a miserable toilet-scrubber named Jupiter (Mila Kunis) is rescued from a team of alien gynecologists by a half-man/half-wolf in flying boots (Channing Tatum) who informs her that the Earth is owned by a sniveling bastard named Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne) and also that she is the reincarnation of the Queen of the Universe. And that’s just the first half-hour. Once we finally get the hell off Earth and into deep space, that’s when things get well and truly languid, garish, and confusing. Suffice to say that Jupiter Ascending has more “space politics” nonsense sequences than anything this side of the Star Wars prequels, and much of it is delivered by Eddie Redmayne in a wacky, asthmatic whisper! It’s so damn weird!
Despite a visual presentation that indicates a massive budget, not much attention seems to have been paid to things like line readings, cohesive storytelling, or anything in the realm of energy, suspense, or intensity. In their place we get turgid diatribes from a litany of unpleasant, uninteresting characters, several hollow chases and gun battles in which nothing of consequence happens very quickly, and a heroine who falls into holes and needs to be rescued by a hunky mutant with flying boots a whole lot more frequently than she logically ought to.
And I haven’t even covered Jupiter’s painfully stereotypical family full of bickering Russians that has no real purpose in the film but keeps popping up regardless, the side characters who simply switch allegiances and betray their friends without anyone really caring, and a third act that actually relies on, get this, an evil prince who wants nothing more than to marry our leading lady. If this is what passes for an original screenplay, I’ll stick with the honest adaptations.
Jupiter Ascending reportedly went through a tough post-production, and that’s pretty plain to see from just looking at the screen, but I take no pleasure in asserting that this screenplay was probably not even close to ready for production, or that the final result is a staggeringly bad film. If the very best thing you can say about a two-hour film is that the score is solid and some of the special effects are cool, well, that’s a problem. As a guy who tries to find the good in even the silliest of space movies, Jupiter Ascending simply blew my mind. I think I saw Sean Bean in there a few times, but somewhere between Tatum’s ninth bout of space-surfing and Kunis’ third altercation with gravity, the movie just defeated me. I’m sort of flabbergasted, actually.
But yes, I will be there opening night for whatever Lana and Andy Wachowski cook up next. They’re way too cool to be deterred or dismissed by one goofball misfire.
Rating: 2 rocket-booted burritos for pure audacity alone