Give Andy and Lana Wachowski this: when they have a vision, they commit to it. Whether or not they can convince us to get on board is another matter.
That wasn’t too hard with The Matrix and, to a lesser degree, Cloud Atlas. Speed Racer was a harder sell. And now we have Jupiter Ascending, a space extravaganza so bombastic that it would be an instant camp classic if it weren’t for a few glimmers of self-awareness here and there.
Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter, a Russian immigrant who hates her life as an overworked maid to wealthy Chicago families. Turns out she’s meant for greater things, as she learns when a studly alien with dog DNA and anti-gravity boots saves her from attacking little green men. Caine, played by Channing Tatum, reveals to her a world of intergalactic power games, in which Earth is a pawn and she is an unwitting key player.
Believe it or not, Tatum is one of the least distracting elements of the movie. Perhaps out of self-preservation, he dims his charisma and seems to shrink on the screen. The tactic doesn’t make for a very compelling hero, but it does largely spare him from humiliation. Eddie Redmayne, as a villainous despot with plans to harvest Earth’s population, takes the opposite approach. When he’s not petulantly screaming at the giant winged iguanas that serve as his henchmen, he’s forcing out a hoarse whisper that suggests he swallowed a carton of cigarettes. Unsmoked.
The Wachowskis are better at detailing a dress than building an entire world.
Kunis has a light touch that allows some of the moments of intentional humor to work. She’s also the main beneficiary of the Wachowskis’ sharp eye for costume design. With elaborate eye makeup, trailing gowns and out-of-this-world headdresses, she could give Queen Amidala competition on the runway.
Unfortunately, the Wachowskis are better at detailing a dress than building an entire world. Early on, after an extended action sequence has left destruction across Chicago, Caine blithely explains that the interplanetary powers that be will repair things and erase the events from mankind’s memory. What this does, though, is remove any sense of consequence from the movie. And so when we travel to faraway worlds – mostly conceived by endless CGI – nothing holds any weight, or seems to matter.
Jupiter Ascending concludes in a gigantic fireball of insignificance, partly because the explosion is ignited in a way that’s never quite clear, partly because we have no investment in the world that’s set aflame and partly because those in danger are characters for whom we’ve barely come to care. It’s more dispiriting than a hoot. Especially if you’re a Channing Tatum fan. Or a dog person.