Universally known and celebrated for their classically favoured action masterpiece The Matrix, visionary free-thinkers the Wachowskis return with another world-building sci-fi shooter in the oddly-titled Jupiter Ascending. But can the previously-acclaimed sibling team still deliver the goods over 15 years on, with the action market now somewhat changed in the face of their previous efforts? If this lackluster space epic is anything to go by, certainly not.
Boasting a host of familiar faces and blockbuster visuals, Jupiter Ascending charts the adventures of titular heroine Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a lowly toilet-cleaner who, swiftly following a visit from genetically-engineered super-soldier Caine (Channing Tatum), discovers she is in fact the rightful owner of Earth itself. After being whisked away by the powers that be to uncover her destiny, Jupiter soon finds herself thrust into the centre of a cosmic conflict between the snobby siblings of a tyrannical family, eventually being forced to battle it out with the galaxy’s oldest overlords in order to save her dying planet from potential extinction.
Firstly it should come as no great surprise that such a dense plot-line comes with quite a significant warning: not everything explored in Jupiter Ascending makes complete sense. Rumours that the Wachowskis’ original script rounded in at over 300-pages begin to seem somewhat likely the further and further one journeys into the siblings’ world, as it becomes clear that there’s simply too much history beneath the film’s surface to warrant the space-surfing adventure Jupiter leads with. Entire characters (take a bow Sean Bean) seem to exist solely as human text-books, reeling off fact after fact, and all just to provide weak context for the next big battle sequence. Put simply, the Wachowskis have created a rich, detailed universe with its own laws and cultures, but instead of exploring and exploiting the intricacies of this world fully, they’ve simply used it rather bafflingly as just the back-drop to an otherwise brainless action blockbuster.
This ultimately forms the most infuriating issue with Jupiter Ascending in that the film’s individual parts are actually rather incredible, its only when they’re combined that the entire structure completely falls to pieces. Visually, the world that the Wachowskis have created, from its star-scraping galleons to its gravity-bending space-skates, is breathtaking. The action sequences flow with unbridled creativity and almost total coherency, despite a great deal of pretty significant moving parts. Yet sadly, none of this matters as the actual substance of the picture seems jumbled beyond repair. It’s never clear why these astonishing battles are actually taking place or what the stakes really are and so, there’s no real reason for one to form any real investment in them.
Even just tonally the film could have been saved, had it embraced its more extravagant, melodramatic side, as opposed to opting for the more straight-laced sobriety it instead pursues. Gene-spliced space-warriors and bizarre elephant-like alien pilots would prove somewhat entertaining if the whole picture was as dedicated to such outlandish antics. Alone, they’re simply just laughably silly.
A great deal of these tonal issues seem to be able to be traced back largely to the cast. Although leads Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum prove somewhat functional, both seem to simply snore through their performances, providing little flair beyond their otherwise more po-faced attempts at romance. However, whereas Tatum appears lazy, for Kunis, this is likely more of an issue with the blandness of her character. Jupiter is something of a useless protagonist, seemingly spitting in the face of feminism as she does little beyond screaming for help from her hunky hero, whilst cluelessly playing into the villain’s hands time and time again. In fact, the only member of Jupiter Ascending’s cast that truly seems to bother at all with any sense of theatricality is an audacious Eddie Redmayne, who’s frankly ridiculous big-bad might appear genius had the Wachowskis followed a similar approach. Instead, his preposterousness is just another unintentionally farcical nail in the coffin.
Leaving what it once was or could have been strictly to the side, Jupiter Ascending is a tragically beautiful mess of a space opera. Despite being fuelled by a grand scope and purely creative aims, it ultimately stumbles onto screens both flabby and shamefully bland. There is fun to be had amongst its tattered ruins, but not nearly enough to warrant the scale and majesty of its intentions.
Jupiter Ascending (2015), directed by The Wachowskis, is released in UK cinemas by Warner Bros., Certificate 12A.