What the fuck has happened to the Wachowski’s? How can the directors of such great films as Bound and The Matrix be responsible for the utter nonsense that is Jupiter Ascending? I know they have been guilty previously of releasing special-effects heavy content that is bloated and lacking in nuance, but perhaps I was hoping that Speed Racer was a once-only blip on their resume. However, it seems I was wrong because Jupiter Ascending is by far the most overblown and nonsensical film the siblings have produced. I mean, despite claims to the contrary by some critics, the Wachowski’s previous film Cloud Atlas is actually quite good, particularly given the complex nature of the novel from which it was adapted. However, with Jupiter Ascending, Andy and Lana have nobody else to blame because, on this occasion, they are working from their own original screenplay. There are so many questions that need to be answered to ascertain how it all went so terribly wrong. I mean, was there no studio oversight? The bottom line is that Jupiter Ascending is a real mess on nearly every level.
Yes, there are the state-of-the-art visual effects that you would expect from the $150+ million budget, but somehow it is all rather ho-hum. There are chase and battle sequences that drag on seemingly forever and the costumes and make-up are laughable at times, not to mention Eddie Redmayne’s ridiculous voice as Balem Abrasax, the leader of a powerful intergalactic family. Apparently, a 20-something Russian-American house cleaner named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is the rightful ‘owner’ of Earth, a discovery that leads Balem’s younger brother Titus to despatch the genetically modified Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) to Chicago to snatch Jupiter and bring her to him. Belem’s intention is to marry Jupiter in a bid to secure ownership of the planet. Chased by bounty hunters and little Gollum-like creatures called Keepers, Caine and Jupiter take refuge with Stinger (Sean Bean) before the inevitable happens and Jupiter is whisked into space to meet the Abrasax clan, which also includes Kalique (Tuppence Middleton). Yes, it is as silly as it sounds and it is hard to fathom why the likes of Redmayne, Kunis and Tatum would get involved.
Nothing that happens is given any context and it is hard to know what is going on and when it is all taking place. I mean, we are in this hi-tech world, yet the bureaucrats processing Jupiter’s arrival on the planet (one of whom is played by Terry Gilliam in an amusing moment) are using equipment that you might expect to see in an antique shop. Bean’s appearance is one of the few highlights because, let’s face it, we all wanted to see Ned Stark live long and prosper. Except now our Ned is a former ‘skyjacker’ who has been spliced with a bee (I kid you not) and lives in a ramshackle house with his teenage daughter, who may just be one of the most superfluous characters in film history. From the opening moments when Jupiter’s parents Maximillian and Aleksa meet and fall in love, only for Max to be shot and killed in a home invasion that makes little sense, the film stumbles from one laughable moment to the next.
The performances, for the most part, are very ordinary, although it doesn’t help that much of the dialogue is so hackneyed; not to mention the ludicrous accents and histrionic behaviour of Jupiter’s Russian relatives. At times, Kunis seems as though she is merely going through the motions, delivering her lines with little enthusiasm or inflection, perhaps asking herself what the hell she is doing there. Where the Wachowski’s – or whomever they delegated such responsibilities to – have excelled is in making Channing Tatum look unattractive, which is no mean feat. Despite the special effects innovation for which the Wachowski’s are renowned, Caine’s movement utilising ‘hover boots’ is so obviously a digital rendering of Channing (or somebody else) roller skating that for a moment I thought I was watching Xanadu. Given what Andy and Lana Wachowski have accomplished in the past (remembering they also scripted the terrific V for Vendetta), the resources at their disposal and the talent involved, Jupiter Ascending is profoundly disappointing.