Jupiter Ascending

Genre: Sci-Fi

Directors: The Wachowskis

Screenplay: The Wachowskis

Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton

Running Length: 125 minutes

Synopsis: Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) was born under a night sky, with signs predicting that she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning other people’s houses and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along – her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.

Review: Originally slated to open in July 2014, Jupiter Ascending was delayed for a full six months, and is now opening in a non-typical February window (particularly considering it cost US$175 million to make). That in itself is quite an ominous sign, that perhaps The Wachowskis are following the career trajectory of M. Night Shyamalan, and that Jupiter Ascending is not the film that will return them to greatness. Unfortunately, that is exactly the case here – Jupiter Ascending is overproduced, overwrought, and overdone, with a half-baked story and underdeveloped characters in a movie that truly ends in a whimper. While it may have aspirations to be the next big space opera, all it manages to achieve is to be vapid, thoroughly forgettable eye candy. It’s not even in the “so bad, it’s good” category of films, so all it manages is to be a bad sci-fi movie.

While the plot may aspire to be a cautionary fable for modern capitalism, Jupiter Ascending really feels more like a Disney princess fairy tale more than anything else – it has the rags to riches transformation of Jupiter and a tame, PG-13 romantic subplot with an unconventional Prince Charming . Unfortunately, because the Wachowskis obviously weren’t satisfied with something that “prosaic”, they chose to bury the simple plot with layers upon layers of pointless exposition and a frustrating lack of resolution, with multiple characters appearing to do their bit then disappearing for the rest of the film, and an inconsequential conclusion that just does not do the grandiose setting any justice. And despite the baseline simplicity and the endless exposition, the plot still doesn’t make sense, with so many logical gaps that one truly needs to check their brain at the door to wring more enjoyment out of the movie.

There’s no middle ground to the performances in Jupiter Ascending – they are either bland and uninteresting or extremely overwrought. Both Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum (and almost everyone else, honestly) fall into the first category, plus a total lack of chemistry between the two means it’s nearly impossible to feel vested in Jupiter’s plight or their romance. This may be a fault of the script more than the actors, since the whole movie positions Jupiter as a near-hapless damsel in distress, and Caine repeatedly swooping in on his jet boots to rescue her as a literal deus ex machina. This kind of setup does not lend much need to emoting on any level. And then there’s Eddie Redmayne, who is so exceedingly campy in his performance that he seems to be channeling a parody of Meryl Streep – delivering a good portion of his dialogue in a breathy whisper, then suddenly switching to shrieking, nostril-flaring, scenery-chewing mode as an indicator of his rage. Honestly, it’s lazy acting and a far cry from his outstanding performance in The Theory of Everything.

That’s not to say that there isn’t any brilliance in Jupiter Ascending, and that’s exactly why The Wachowskis’ output has been so frustrating to watch. Amidst all the chaff there are actually some good things about the movie. The CGI-laden visuals are impressive and near faultless (though pointless to watch in 3D), and it is clear that much though and effort have been put into bringing the Jupiter Ascending world to life. There are so many interesting spacecraft, technological gadgets, alien species, costumes, landscapes and more, that there seems to be enough to populate a whole TV series, not just a two-hour movie. Alas, it all shuffles by so quickly that one wonders why so much effort was put into realizing the universe and its accoutrements.

One of the most interesting scenes in Jupiter Ascending was a bureaucratic shuffle when Jupiter is first trying to claim her royal title, which sees her being pushed from one bureaucrat to another in a seemingly endless cycle, culminating in an unexpected, but very pleasantly surprising cameo. It’s a telltale sign that the best scene is one entirely devoid of action and flashy CGI (and without Michael Giacchino’s bombastic, overbearing score – a misstep for him), and one wonders that perhaps it is now time for the Wachowskis to go back to their roots and make movies on a limited budget, because it seems the more money they get, the worse their output gets.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)

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