Hoo boy. Jupiter Ascending defies the constraints of a typical plot summary, but here goes. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a lowly cleaning lady living in Chicago. Her world is upended when she’s told by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a half-wolf bounty hunter from the stars, that she’s the fulcrum of an interstellar game of thrones because she’s the genetic reincarnation of (essentially) the Queen of the Galaxy. Soon, Jupiter is caught up in the schemes of Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne) and his siblings, who are all vying to claim the deed to Earth and countless other worlds by winning Jupiter over to their side…or by killing her, if necessary.
And if you think that sounds really strange, you are in no way prepared for this film.
It’s honestly hard to know where to start. This is Andy and Lana Wachowski’s most vibrant film ever, with eye-searing visuals, brilliant art direction and tight, assured camera work. However, it may also be one of their most wildly inconsistent projects, even though that inconsistency is definitely part of its charm.
The Wachowkis have seemingly thrown everything they possibly could into this film: human/alien hybrids, astrology, immortal tyrants, grey aliens, bipedal dragons and nearly every cosmic conspiracy theory you’ve heard being shouted from a street corner. To be sure, the film works far better as a world-building exercise than it does as a cohesive narrative (the original script was allegedly over 600 pages). The dialogue, often weighed down by copious amounts of exposition and/or entry-level philosophy, doesn’t help sell it much, either.
The cast is often in danger of being swallowed whole by the (admittedly glorious) spectacle around them. Channing Tatum downplays himself far more than he should, and it doesn’t help sell the character or improve his chemistry with Mila Kunis, who tries her damnedest to pick up the slack. Kunis handles herself well as Jupiter, the only truly dynamic or multi-faceted character in the film. The supporting cast is so overpopulated that most of the other actors fade into the background…except a beautifully untethered Eddie Redmayne. He alternates between whispering his lines in a hoarse rasp and screaming at the top of his lungs, and his performance is so over-the-top that it seems he’s the only person not taking the film seriously. Bless his heart.
It’s really hard to see where the Wachowskis were going with this film. It seems like space opera, but it’s not serious enough for that. Its episodic nature hints at a homage to pulp serials like Flash Gordon, but it’s not vibrant and whimsical enough for that, either. It is, however, quite reminiscent of the cheap, crazy, go-for-broke sci-fi films of the 1980s if they’d had a budget the size of a small nation. And like those films, it vacillates between taking itself with stone-faced seriousness and exuberantly embracing its inherent camp value.
With a little extra care to the plot and a little extra buoyancy to the mood, Jupiter Ascending could have been a fun, heady, gleefully ridiculous space adventure, instead of just an excuse to get a Blu-ray player. Well, at least we still have Guardians of the Galaxy.
5 out of 10 / C