Whatever faults the Wachowski siblings may have as filmmakers, lack of ambition is not one of them. Even when they’re not at the top of their game their films are always brimming with big ideas and a lot of visual splendor. This has earned them a well-deserved cult following, even when their films don’t completely satisfy. The Matrix, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas and even Speed Racer all have their defenders, yet with their new film Jupiter Ascending, it’s hard to imagine anyone who will look at this film and find anything but frustration. It’s a maddeningly overstuffed and convoluted science fiction soap opera that doesn’t work story-wise but contains enough ideas for five movies. If I had to guess, I’d say they were attempting the feeling of those old pulp science fiction novels with a Boris Vallejo-style cover that oozes with promises of sex and violence. Jupiter Ascending has little of the first, a lot of the second, and bits along with pieces of everything else. The plot is a crazy house of half-baked ideas and elements from every movie you’ve probably ever seen.
I am forced now into explaining the plot, but in doing so I will attempt to remain for more lucid and straightforward than the script. Here goes: Unknown to the habitants of Earth, our planet and thousands like it were the subject of a harvesting program eons ago by the families of an alien royal ancestry. They created all the planets and let them grow until harvest time when the inhabitants would be captured and mushed up into a serum that would keep the aliens in a state of perpetual youth. The matriarch of the royal family dies and the two heirs, Balem (Eddie Redmayne) and Titus (Douglas Booth) begin squabbling over who will inherit the Earth. What they soon discover is that a third heir is living in Chicago, having been kidnapped at the moment of her birth and raised as a human being without any knowledge of the alien royal families. Her name is Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) and she lives a simple life as a cleaning lady (she’s gorgeous and always dolled-up, but she’s cleaning toilets *head shaking*). Balem puts a bounty on Jupiter’s head, but she is rescued by a genetically engineered warrior named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) who wants to return her back to her people so she can claim her birthright. Got all that? Good, because I think I explained this plot better than the movie did.
Caine heads down to Earth and battles the bounty hunters in a chase and shootout that rips up half of the Chicago skyline. Not to worry though, in a Men in Black-style twist, the buildings are immediately repaired and no one has any knowledge that a blitzkrieg has taken place over their fair city (no one accounts for the dead, but never mind). What comes next is really hard to describe without turning this review into a wordy essay. Let’s just say that Jupiter learns about her heritage but never really seems to have much interest in following up on it. She’s spends a lot of time asking questions. Kunis has a lovely face and a wonderful screen presence, but Jupiter is a character who is required only to look confused in the quiet moments and be rescued in the noisy ones. Did I mention rescued? Yes, rescued. She spends 90% of this movie either running from bad guys or falling off things only to be rescued by Caine, making her the clumsiest heir to the throne that I’ve ever had the displeasure to witness. Kunis deserves better. When are filmmakers going to figure out that fitting and refitting her into the role of the love interest is wasting her potential? Watch her great supporting performance in Black Swan and you’ll see that she does indeed have range.
She’s only the beginning of this movie’s problems. The Wachowskis apparently want to make Jupiter Ascending all things to all people. It tries to be a tender love story but doesn’t draw characters that you care enough about. It tries to be a daffy space comedy like The Fifth Element (with a really funny DMV-style montage that drops into the movie out of nowhere) but the sparse comedic bits throw the movie off balance. It tries to be a Matrix-style alter-reality story but drops in elements (like bees that can identify royalty) that have no purpose. It tries to be Thor with its story of siblings squabbling over territory and power, but the villains are so ridiculous that they become boring – especially Eddie Redmayne who’s villainous Belam whispers his dialogue most of the time and screams it the rest. It tries to be Flash Gordon with its forced wedding subplot, but it’s not goofy enough to make it entertaining. There’s every element of every size and shape here but it never really comes together. The Wachowski siblings, who wrote and directed this movie, seem to hope that Jupiter Ascending will skate by on ambition alone that if they shovel in enough varying elements that what will come out the other end is a potential cult classic. I don’t see that happening. This is just too much movie for its own good.