Get ready for a list of strange ingredients:
- Inter-species gene-splicing
- Something called “recurrence,” a mysterious process that resembles reincarnation
- Aliens who want to conquer Earth to boil down the human population in refineries designed to produce a life-extending substance for those greedy aliens
- A young woman who cleans toilets in Chicago, and doesn’t know that she’s actually a queen.
Ok, take a breath. The idea here is to let you know that these and many additional incongruities populate Jupiter Rising, the latest muddle of a movie from the Wachowski siblings (Andy and Lana).
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
As visually dense as it is dramatically unsophisticated, Jupiter Ascending doesn’t so much flop as splatter, sending fragments of story flying toward incoherence.
Any initial excitement about the movie probably stems from the Wachowskis success with the Matrix trilogy, movies that created their fan base. It remains to be seen whether that fan base has sufficient strength to help Jupiter Ascending get off the ground.
A short summary of the plot probably is unavoidable. Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, the daughter of a Russian immigrant family living in Chicago. Various aliens are tracking Jupiter, who happens to have been born with the exact DNA of the late queen of an alien civilization.
Jupiter’s royal genetic heritage threatens the offspring of the late queen, a group of ambitious siblings want the Earth for themselves. If Jupiter’s genetic heritage allows her to be recognized as a royal, she inherits the Earth.
Take another breath. There’s more.
How about a dutiful alien protector? Channing Tatum portrays Caine Wise, a stoic alien warrior with a few wolf genes, a goatee and shoes that allow him to lift off the ground and fly. Think super Air Jordans. Caine rushes to Jupiter’s aid when villainous aliens try to kill her.
Once on the run, Caine introduces Jupiter to Stinger (Sean Bean), an alien with bee genes mixed into his make-up. I can’t remember whether it matters, but bees never sting royals, the caste to which an unknowing Jupiter belongs.
Now, about the late queen’s competitive offspring, foul creatures that they are:
Balem (Eddie Redmayne) wants the Earth badly. So good in The Theory of Everything, Redmayne here lends his talents to a movie so addled it might have been dubbed The Theory of Absolutely Nothing. Redmayne tries his best to be menacing, interrupting his barely audible whispering with occasional bursts of anger.
Then, there are Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), the sister in the group, and Titus (Douglas Booth), the obsequious brother who tries to advance his cause by staging a ceremonial marriage to Jupiter in some intergalactic cathedral.
Meanwhile — and there are a lot of meanwhiles in Jupiter Ascending — Jupiter falls for Caine. He resists her because he knows that no lowly gene-spliced guy can hope to aspire to romance with a royal.
Perhaps trying to emulate the episodic leaps of a Star Wars movie, the Wachowskis shift the action from Jupiter to other locations without establishing much sense of where the hell they’re dragging us, and the action set pieces extend beyond any reasonably supportable length.
At one point, Jupiter must establish her legitimacy by obtaining some sort of official validation, a process that enables the Wachowskis to assemble a mini-satire on bureaucracy that boasts a cameo from Terry Gilliam. Gilliam’s no stranger to visually bloated movies himself — although, he’s better at it than the Wachowskis. Remember Brazil?
As Jupiter, Kunis brings little to the role. Tatum, who knows how to give a real performance (see Foxcatcher), isn’t asked to do much beyond striking a heroic pose. He battles strange looking creatures and pretends as if he’s flying through he air in an ice-skater’s crouch.
Now, if Jupiter Ascending were a flat-out comedy, its visuals might be more interesting. But as a bit of sci-fi that aspires to Dune-like complexity, it lacks enough consistency to be taken seriously.
Ornate spaceships, for example, pass in review like floating art objects. They seem unrelated to any plausible technology.
To be fair, I did spend some time wondering how the Wachowskis achieved some of the movie’s more impressive effects, but I spent even more time wondering why they had bothered to create them in the first place.
It would be wrong to suggest that the Wachowskis suffer from some horrible talent deficit: It’s more apt to say that as writer/directors, they make fabulous production designers.