07th Feb2015

‘Jupiter Ascending’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Booth | Written and Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski


A rich science-fiction world, full of weird and colourful characters who still ring true despite having massive animal ears or wings, with well-defined politics, an ancient conflict and a lead couple who you can’t help but root for with all your heart.

Unfortunately I’m not talking about Jupiter Ascending but the comic Saga, the latest issue of which I was reading on the bus home from the 3D IMAX screening I attended last night. Sadly for the Wachowskis, who clearly put a lot of care and affection into their latest ambitious failure, Jupiter Ascending fails miserably in all the ways Saga succeeds.

But perhaps that’s an unfair comparison; I should judge Jupiter Ascending on its own terms. Inferior similarities to the beloved (and, to be fair, firmly established) comic aside, the film still starts out with a literal boatload of movie cliches: Jupiter (Mila Kunis) is the American daughter of a Russian immigrant and a murdered Englishman who spends her days cleaning toilets and plotting with her cousin to sell her eggs so that she can buy a telescope and resolve her daddy issues (he was an avid astronomer). No sooner does she say “I hate my life” than she is whisked away by intergalactic wolfman Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) and told that she’s the reincarnation of a space queen and must meet with her pseudo-children on the other side of the universe for plot reasons.

Frankly, that’s as much as I can tell you without spoiling anything, although the rest of the plot is so contrived and labyrinthine that I had real trouble staying the course, especially when the dismally corny dialogue drove me far from giving a fig what happened to anyone. Despite being a wholly original piece of work – a genuine rarity for a genre film in an ocean of sequels, reboots and cynical -adaptations – Jupiter Ascending couldn’t be more derivative if it tried. The Wachowskis recycle tropes that were old when Star Trek was new, from tyrannical space emperors to uniformed galactic do-gooders who spout club-footed ‘inspirational’ lines and devil-may-care douchebags who are allowed to get away with whatever they like just because a lead character likes them. It’s like Jupiter Ascending was made in the spirit of all of George Lucas’s worst tendencies without any consideration of what propped those bad ideas up – namely, a stirring sense of adventure and a genuine affection for the characters and their desires.

I have no doubt that Andy and Lana love the characters they’ve created – they even seem to adore Jupiter’s cardboard-cutout extended Russian family enough to make their pantomime dinners a focus of several scenes INSTEAD OF GIVING US THE DAMN SPACE EPIC WE WERE PROMISED – but it feels a lot like there was a hell of a lot lost in the translation from idea to execution. For instance, Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Balem Abrasax, the dictatorial patriarch at the head of Jupiter’s troubles, gives such a histrionic and melodramatic performance that every single one of his lines – which are meant to convey power and menace – had most of the audience rolling in the aisles.

And that’s most of Jupiter Ascending‘s problem; its received tone is so far removed from what the Wachowskis presumably intended (i.e. a serious, fun, but ultimately moving and uplifting space opera) that most scenes end in unintentional hilarity or a sense of missed opportunity. Like, for example, with Sean Bean, who’s a rogue alien badass with a Sheffield accent: normally something I would love, but the poor guy’s given nothing to do but deliver piss-poor lines like “uh-oh” and “I know you can’t say this yourself, so I’ll say it for you…”. There’s even a perfect moment to add to the considerable pile of Bean character deaths that’s utterly wasted, leaving the actor dangling for the rest of the film like an extra limb.

In the end, Jupiter Ascending is more of a disappointment than anything; its two leads have reasonably good chemistry and there could have been an exciting, fantastical story to be told in this world, but the filmmakers got too bogged down in slipshod world-building and self-serious moralising to make the movie neither as ambitious as Cloud Atlas nor as visually impressive as the Matrix films. Which is a shame, because there was a lot of money spent on this turkey; Andy and Lana certainly have their work cut out raising the funding for their next flick…

Jupiter Ascending is out at cinemas now.


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