When last we encountered the Wachowskis, the writing and directing sibling team were making a movie out of what many considered to be an unfilmable book, Cloud Atlas. They’ve followed that up with a story they wrote themselves that also probably shouldn’t have been put to film: Jupiter Ascending.
The movie has so many disparate elements that synopsizing it is near impossible, but it boils down to this: Jupiter (Mila Kunis) is an Earthling living out a seemingly pointless existence until a trio of siblings from a far-off planet decide she is the reincarnation of their dead mother and must be fought over accordingly.
Eddie Redmayne barely speaks above a whisper, and his performance is such an “actorly” effort that it’s insufferable.
Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) is sent to get Jupiter by one of the siblings, setting in motion a series of confrontations, including all-out battles, on Earth and in space. The allegiances of almost every character, up to and including Jupiter, are in flux throughout the film, making it almost impossible to trust anybody.
The good news is that the film looks spectacular. The Wachowskis love science fiction, and it appears they spared no expense; every element pops off the screen. Jupiter’s travels through space, as well as the dazzling costumes and landscapes, are a visual treat.
But unless I’m watching a documentary on space travel, I need a story to back up the images, and Jupiter Ascending fails every test in that respect. The motivations for many characters are never made clear, leaving the audience to watch merely for the sake of seeing new, unusual characters.
There are plenty to be had, as the Wachowskis roll out a parade of wacky-looking alien creatures. From a woman with giant ears to a man who looks like an owl to a sniveling underling who looks like he has a perpetual cold, there is no shortage of weird things filling the screen. Too bad none adds anything to the film.
As is the case with many sci-fi epics, the Wachowskis try to make Jupiter Ascending alternately light and serious, but neither side works that well. Attempts at humor usually land with a thud, while the dramatic parts are undermined by the general ridiculousness of the story.
Kunis and Tatum deliver the strongest performances, but their moments together are marred by a supporting cast that’s prone to overacting. The worst offender, funnily enough, is the likely Oscar winner for Best Actor, Eddie Redmayne. Barely speaking above a whisper, his performance is such an “actorly” effort that it’s insufferable.
Done right, a space epic with the scope of Jupiter Ascending has the ability to wow on multiple levels. There’s no such draw for this film, leaving it to drift aimlessly among the stars.