Directors: Lana & Andrew Wachowski
Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean
UK Release Date: 6th February 2015
Historically, the Wachowskis have never lacked ambition in their filmmaking, whatever the quality of their end product. Their latest work is no departure from this tradition, a bold and grandiose science fiction adventure, more suitably classified as a “space opera”. Unfortunately, Jupiter Ascending bears closer resemblance to Battlefield Earth than Star Wars, as promising concepts become weighed down by bad dialogue and bloated plot.
The story revolves around Jupiter Jones, a directionless young woman, working for her family’s cleaning firm in Chicago. She is saved from the bottom of Earth’s society by Caine, an interplanetary “hunter” who informs her that her genetic composition grants her royal status on a galactic scale. Jupiter is entitled to become next in line to receive the fortune of the Abrasax family, a planet-harvesting dynasty led by the aggressively determined Balem. Upon discovery that Earth is due for cleansing, Jupiter must rise to her newly discovered position of power in order to save humanity.
Firstly, there’s no denying that Jupiter Ascending is visually spectacular. Shots of planets are sublime and easily as impressive as any larger set-pieces in Interstellar or Gravity, ranging from our own familiar solar system, through to distant and imaginary corners of the cosmos. The fictional universe that the Wachowskis have created is equally worthy of praise, where architecture, technology and life-forms are all magnificently crafted. Notable highlights include: a futuristic refinery city located inside Jupiter’s “Great Red Spot”, an Earth-like world with rings constructed from orbital stations, anti-gravity boots and mech-style, fighter-craft (at least partially inspired by the behemoth battle suits used to defend Zion in The Matrix: Revolutions).
Unfortunately, the Wachowskis then take this stunningly built world and completely over-mythologise it, forcing a multitude of concepts into play that all require relentless exposition (not to mention re-using the idea of humans being exploited as a resource, this time for regenerative life rather than battery power). Add in a predictable plot, with horrendous pacing after the first act, and you’re left with little more than a narrative mess, propped up by just enough beautiful visual effects to retain some semblance of interest. The supposed romance between Jupiter and Caine is totally unconvincing, apparently due to the writing more than the performances, as it’s difficult to imagine anyone making anything better with the material at hand.
Mila Kunis is satisfactory in the sense that she appears to have done the best she could with the mediocre dialogue. The same could be said of Channing Tatum, who skates through the film on his space boots with relative ease, fortunate enough to receive fewer horrendously clichéd lines as Kunis. Sean Bean plays Stinger, a “splice” with bee DNA and ex-military partner of Caine, but may as well be renamed “Captain Mumbled Exposition”, as he’s relegated to serving as a walking explanation box (with a seemingly defective voice unit). Unfortunately the odd vocal performances do not stop with Bean, as Eddie Redmayne hosts a nightmarish masterclass of strange wheezing tones mixed with occasional shrieks, showcasing his worst performance in recent memory.
All in all, Jupiter Ascending is probably worth a watch when it arrives on your Netflix, as there are some promising flashes of originality in its world-building and sci-fi concepts, but it’s just not a film that warrants an IMAX 3D ticket price. While Michael Giacchino’s musical score is strong throughout (thankfully, considering this is a space opera) and the VFX are a visual treat, these production elements cannot save the woefully poor narrative. Jupiter Ascending is left in a graveyard orbit as the Wachowskis fail to make warp speed, despite their ambitious approach.
2 / 5 stars
Written by James Excell