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Jupiter Ascending | Review

Space Princess Diaries: Wachowski’s Space Adventure is Intergalactic Hooey

Jupiter Ascending PosterThose craving the intelligent sci-fi that graced their early 1999 sci-fi classic The Matrix are sure to be sorely disappointed in the latest space opera from the ambitious Wachowski Siblings, Jupiter Ascending, which makes their ill-fated 2012 Cloud Atlas seem immaculate by comparison. Bloated with insensate characters, repetitive and overly familiar (albeit skilled) visuals, and dripping with a high dose of camp, it is every bit the misfire that the many prophesized it to be after the film’s initial nine month delay in theatrical release (originally cited as due to post-production effects). But all the king’s special effects teams couldn’t cobble this egg into a beauty. What’s most unfortunate is what another unsuccessful film means for the Wachowskis since they’re representative of a quickly disappearing subset of creative teams working within the studio system. And even if the film recoups its budget and churns a profit, the continual production of schlock doesn’t speak well for their brand. But the term ‘original’ should be used loosely in reference to this latest adventure, which plays like an amalgamation of hackneyed, derivative B sci-fi tropes.

Earth is a blue collar player in a universe dictated by a greater oligarchy currently controlled by a trio of unruly, immortal siblings. A lowly Chicago maid of mixed Russian descent, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) gets wrapped up in universal politics when it is discovered that she is the exact genetic make-up of a deceased intergalactic matriarch, whose children have inherited the universe from her in three varyingly discordant chunks. There’s Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), playboy brother Titus (Douglas Booth), and evil elder Balem (Eddie Redmayne). Earth belongs to the elder Balem, ever since his mother was murdered, a planet that mines humans for a life-giving elixir that keeps them young. Due to the over expansive population of the blue planet, Balem hopes to harvest it quite soon. But, there was a catch in mother’s will concerning her future lives, and since Jupiter is basically her reincarnation, law dictates she is the new ruler of Earth. Balem orders her to be killed, but in a bid to gain control over his brother, Titus sends Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a half human half wolf creature, to save her. This sets off a chain of events that eventually finds Caine and Jupiter developing feelings for one another.

Kunis’ inanely named Jupiter Jones, eliciting laughs whenever her alliterative moniker is uttered, is basically a space age Cinderella, a pawn in a cosmic scheme of class wars between the haves and have-nots. Whereas they were once the authors of several gender defying characters, the Wachowskis’ Jupiter is aggravatingly passive, and she’s basically volleyed between controlling forces, only to be saved, on more than one occasion, at the very last minute before making an irreparable mistake.

Moments of flat humor abound between cringe inducing dialogue (“Call me Jupe,” she cheerily advises). An early action sequence featuring Tatum skating across the Chicago skyline amidst crashing skyscrapers does manage to be energetic and even dazzle with its scope, but we’re treated to several more of these, which play out in the exact same fashion. Kunis does her cutesy, earthly best, and while she’s less distracting than in some other studio features, this is a thankless, often demeaning role.

Tatum has little to do other be gruff as he peeks out from under his ridiculous costume design, while a multitude of varying supporting characters feel as if they’ve been designed out of a desperation to equal a Star Wars-like milieu, such as a bit part played by Terry Gilliam, or the silly looking protuberant ears of Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Of course, it’s the over-the-top Eddie Redmayne that scores the most laughs, employing a reptilian whisper when he isn’t cascading into the type of villainous hysterics we would expect from Faye Dunaway. Clocking in at over two hours, Jupiter Ascending isn’t the god-awful equivalent of famed misfires like Dune (1984) or even John Carter (2012). But it’s a woeful disappointment from a pair of filmmakers whose narrative strengths used to be on par with their visual interests.

★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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