Wednesday 18 February 2015


(The Wachowskis, 2015)

Jupiter Ascending is gleefully ridiculous, and great fun in places. A bizarre mix of princess fairytale, epic space opera and palace court politics, spliced with some anti-corporate thematics, it fudges some of the material you would expect the Wachowskis to get right. The action scenes - from the directors of The Matrix, which contains some of the greatest action scenes in history - are generally incoherent, frequently boring (incoherence does breed boredom), and never all that rousing.
The story follows Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian Immigrant in modern Chicago, after she discovers that she is an exact genetic match for the former Intergalactic Queen, and therefore rightful owner of Earth. Of course she discovers this when various aliens come hunting her, and Cane (Channing Tatum), a half-wolf, half-human warrior rescues her. This is all tied up with the political/corporate maneuvering of the Abrassix clan (Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton and Douglas Booth), each of whom wants Earth to farm human beings for their cells, which are used to prolong life across the galaxy. Jupiter learns all this much as the audience does, in-between bouts of (an underwritten, undercharged) romance with Cane and being (repeatedly) rescued by him. His old bee-spliced comrade Stinger (Sean Bean) becomes involved too, battling lizard-men and hairless shape-shifters on earth and in space as they try to keep Jupiter alive.
The Wachowskis pull off some fine genre beats here despite the sluggish action film-making, and their world building is bold and ambitious; this is a cosmos filled with ravishingly beautiful worlds, references to Brazil (complete with Terry Gilliam cameo) and little flashes of wit (explanations for the extinction of the dinosaurs and crop circles). But there are repetitive plot-points - can Cane save Jupter before she marries Titus, sealing her doom? Can Cane save Jupiter before she signs away all rights to Earth, sealing everyone's doom? etc. The story may avoid the typical male power-fantasies so beloved of much sci-fi, replacing it with a girl asked to decide on the fate of her family versus that of the human race, but the mix of that with a hidden Princess archetype is an awkward one.
The English thesps ham everything up, which is possibly the right tone for this sort of material. Tatum and Kunis are both movie stars; beautiful, charismatic and eminently watchable, but neither of them feels quite right here. Kunis has the wrong sort of look and spiky tomboy presence for this role, while Tatum's character is largely a heroically brave blank. Their romance never convinces, robbing the movie of much last reel emotional weight (aside from the stuff about the Earth being farmed and all of humanity dying, of course).
But still, this is an interesting, imaginative, barking mad attempt at a sci-fi Epic, even if much of it doesn't remotely work. At least it tries.

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