Unceremoniously shifted from a healthy summer spot last year to capitalise on the pre-blockbuster month of February, it’s doubtful that lack of competition will bolster the box office of Jupiter Ascending (2015) – a tiresome sci-fi yarn that cannibalises from so many past fantasy properties that in the future, special ‘spot the homage’ screenings could be held in its honour. In their attempts at building a new mythology, The Wachowski siblings have again lost sight of what made the first Matrix outing tick all those moons ago. Namely, keeping the premise relatively straightforward and establishing a set of narrative rules which won’t bog down an audience as they make that leap.
Here, the information overload offered up is drowned out in a series of initially impressive action set- pieces which end up outstaying their welcome long before the end credits. It’s a drain for sure, and while the film is certainly more entertaining than the two Matrix sequels, it suffers from the same plot-halting, stuttered exposition and that attempt at reaching for depth which sits uneasy amongst the eye-popping spectacle. Titular character and heir apparent to the universe Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) utters early on in proceedings “a dream is the only way any of this makes sense”. This works as a handy forewarning to the audience. The actress plays a second generation Russian cleaner in Chicago, living with her mother and extended family of immigrant stereotypes with bad accents and tracksuits.
Remarkably, Jupiter is destined for much more, and when her money-making attempt at a fertility clinic is thwarted by an alien assassination squad she’s saved by a intergalactic, genetically-engineered man-wolf Caine Wise (Channing Tatum). He whisks her away to the far reaches of the universe where three ridiculously beautiful sibling rulers vie for her attention, each requiring her for their own purposes, however nefarious those may be. From there on a patchwork of influences are put through the grinder including the likes of Dune, Game of Thrones, A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Flash Gordon. Kunis is ostensibly the ‘Dorothy’ of the piece, and she brings a warmth and earthiness to the role, but like Tatum, she simply isn’t given anything fresh to work with. The antagonists fare much worst, however, and this is definitely not the finest hour of Eddie Redmayne. His horribly arch wispy deliver, punctuated by sudden roars of unrestrained anger, hits all the predictable villainy tropes and leaves room for little else.
The Wachowskis’ aims of making an epic, world-straddling sci-fi result in an ill-conceived, more-is-more approach which lacks the breezy charm and pacing that made its intended competition from last year, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), such a box office crowdpleaser. Despite its many issues, Jupiter Ascending does manage to rise above the truly unwatchable, grand folly some were expecting. The siblings are still capable of providing flashes of the kind of heady and intoxicating thrills which afforded them the ‘visionary’ label earlier in their career (and was certainly much more evident in the Cloud Atlas adaptation). That previous effort leaves the nagging suspicion here that the Wachowskis may have succeeded if they had retooled one of the many films Jupiter Ascending seeks to emulate, rather than the risky attempt at staging an original space opera.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76