Jupiter Ascending has some fairy tale qualities about it as The Wachowskis take maybe the first act of the classic Cinderella-esque story and develop it into a frantic and, at times, visually majestic sci-fi flick. The princess-to-be here is Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) who cleans toilets for a living and lives in Chicago with her large Russian family.
There is no fairy godmother here but we do have an assortment of aliens that are looking to end her and a space renegade splice of a human and a wolf. This splice, Caine (ine) Wise, played by Channing Tatum tells Jupiter who she really is and what is happening around her. Jupiter is apparently part of some sort of extensive inter-planetary royal lineage and some other members of her bloodline, the Abrasax Family were behind the assassination attempt. The now aware Jupiter is now firmly in the centre of this family squabble that has the coveted planet of earth as the reward.
They zip from planet to planet in what felt like the excuse the Wachowskis needed to showcase their admittedly exquisite galactic landscape. Each world they visit masterfully and imaginatively designed with an almost Final Fantasy-esque appeal about it in the way the characters are envisaged and the architecture constructed. Jupiter is almost like a Barbie doll everyone wants to play with, with each host playing dress up with her.
The film delivers one absolutely amusing sequence in some form of ministerial department where Jupiter has to retrieve some deed of sorts. I remember thinking this felt like something straight out of a Harry Potter or Terry Gilliam movie as they navigate through various sections of this department’s irritating bureaucracy and retro-futuristic aesthetic then lo and behold they run into Terry Gilliam and I just went “of course”. It was the most enjoyable sequence this film had to offer akin to Werner Herzog’s appearance in the Penguins movie and just as funny.
The film also delivers absolutely exhilarating action sequences on such a grandiose scale backed by an equally impressive score as Caine and Jupiter wiz frantically through the skyline evading lasers. Fight scenes are cool and intense and expertly choreographed and they really keep the film interesting and at times even giving it mouth to mouth as these truly astonishing sequences are juxtaposed with a frankly horrid script.
I can live with the premise which is actually a very interesting play on the princess-in-the-fairy tale story but what we have here is basically questions and exposition from start to finish amidst ridiculous dialogue and drama between characters. In Tatum and Kunis we have quite the Hollywood screen duo but by God, there is so little chemistry between them and it could have done with some humour, especially from Tatum’s side and I’m even tempted to say he didn’t look interested. There is some Game of Thrones style politics and family squabbles going on in the backdrop and so much incoherent talk of bloodlines and reincarnation.
We get some measure of intrigue from some of the supporting act like While Tuppence Middleton and Douglas Booth as two of the Abrasax kin and some other interesting turns from the likes of Sean Be(e)an, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kick Gurry and Gugu Mbatha-Raw who is surely straight from the Final Fantasy video game. We have those supporting acts and then we have Oscar winner in waiting, Eddie Redmayne playing the final Abrasax sibling. This next point may speak to the limited time I have spent with Mick Jagger but Redmayne here looks moves and sounds like a lithe, raspy, frigid version of the Rolling Stones man. I have no idea what was going on there but it was bad, simultaneously cringe-inducing and laughably bad. This is the first Redmayne performance I’ve seen so when I do see him in The Theory of Everything, it will seem like Streep in Sophie’s Choice.
Maybe the Wachowskis made this film to point out how good Cloud Atlas was because it certainly looks twice as good now to me now. They have done some terrific and timeless stuff in the past and you could say this film showcases the best and the overindulgent worst of the directorial and writing duo. Jupiter Ascending is definitely impressive in parts but it falls flat hard without the action. It moved me to do something I’ve never done at the movies before – get up mid-film to buy popcorn just because I had deemed every other thing going on senseless. On the bright side, it’s the bad film you get to laugh at so maybe that counts for something.