The Wachowskis return with a space opera long-delayed in the coming, originally scheduled for a summer 2014 release but pushed back into the Hollywood purgatory of February. Mila Kunis stars as house cleaner Jupiter Jones, but unbeknownst to her, she has a link to the very interplanetary politics that will soon determine the fate of Earth. Marked by bounty hunters and protected by wolf-humanoid hybrid Caine (Channing Tatum), Jupiter must navigate the byzantine politics of outer space to survive and unlock the mystery of her own genetics.
This is one of those films that despite featuring mountains of exposition, is still confusing and messy. In spite of this, it’s not terrible, but at the same time is no exquisitely made work to say the least. Plot points swirl in the film like soup. Add a little domestic comedy here, an out-of-nowhere satire of bureaucracy there (complete with winking cameo by Brazil director Terry Gilliam), a star-crossed romance with shirtless guy there… There is a layer of decent material somewhere in the film, but it is buried alive in such a dense and thick screenplay. Also, this film features the idea of humans being harvested, which is straight out of The Matrix, not to mention the scene resembling a PG-13 orgy.
That exposition finds an especially clunky audience in Jupiter Jones, as the screenplay is structured in a very didactic way. The three royal Abrasax siblings take turns expositing to Jupiter, while also manipulating her naiveté. First Kalique, then Titus, then Balem. The structure feels surprisingly blatant as a device, and has a numbing effect.
And for a film co-written and co-directed by a person who’s seen both sides of the gender spectrum, the film sure features some cheap jokes and plot points built around traditional gender roles. When Caine and Stinger (Sean Bean) first meet in the film, the film grinds to a halt for a bit while they work through the acrimony of their last meeting by trying to wrestle each other into submission, while the female characters look on and roll their eyes. Because these characters may be from space, but they’re still just ol’ menfolk!
Speaking of Stinger, his character is a genetic splice of a humanoid and, wait for it… a honeybee. What!?!?!??! He just looks like regular Sean Bean! Well, you can’t call some of these ideas forgettable, at least. And that’s where I imagine a lot of people will find enjoyment in this film, because it’s just so out there. Looking at the other genetic splices, you also have an elephant man, a wolf man, and catwomen! The indefinite articles, if you will. Where would you find that combination except in fan fiction?
I’m sorry to go on and on with the flaws, but let me get them all out of the way here: Eddie Redmayne goes way over the top in his performance as the villain, but he does so in such a predictable and clichéd way that there’s no joy in it. The love story feels nothing more than obligatory, and part of the set-up is that we’re supposed to believe that men have been lining up to reject Mila Kunis’ character – now, that’s an out-there concept. Then there’s the exhausting, non-dynamic action (the Chicago chase scene goes on for what seems like an eternity); in said action scenes, Mila Kunis’ character hangs from precipices a lot. I haven’t seen this much of it since Kirk in 2009’s Star Trek. The difference is, in this film, she, er… does fall and needs rescuing. Huh. More like Jupiter Descending. Take all this in, and you have a shaky foundation for a film.
Even so, Mila Kunis is an appealing lead, and some of the visuals are beautiful. For one example of great design, the villain’s ship is gorgeous, a bit of a steampunk flight of fancy. This particular film’s mess isn’t so offensive as other film’s messes, so that’s my compliment to Jupiter Ascending. There’s an awkwardness to the film, but nothing so much worse than that.
The sense I get is that the story being told here is torn between the generic and the adventurously thematic. To get a bit reductive about it, you might say Jupiter Ascending is more Speed Racer than V for Vendetta. Enjoy the Wachowskis’ outlandishness, though. A strong 3/10.
P.S.: The Reptilian soldiers remind me of the Lizalfos from The Legend of Zelda series.
That’s not all. This owl-guy gives me a real Zathras from Babylon 5 vibe.
P.P.S.: Let’s talk about the billing of the stars here. Mila Kunis, despite being the clear protagonist of the film, is billed below Channing Tatum?! Oh, the injustice… I get that he’s a bigger box office draw, but she’s the star of the damn movie! This reminds me of when Christopher Reeve was billed a noticeably low third in Superman: The Movie, and conversely, when Liv Tyler was billed an outrageously high third in all three The Lord of the Rings!