Release date: 6 February 2015
Running time: 127 min
Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth.
After a long break from directing, with only the disastrous Speed Racer to their name in the previous ten years, the Wachowskis joint directed Cloud Atlas with Tom Tykwer. It divided critics and failed to ignite the box office, but promised a compelling come-back for Hollywood’s most elusive filmmakers. Enter their follow-up Jupiter Ascending, a space opera which seemed to be just about crazy enough to work. The reality, however, is disappointingly tiresome.
Mila Kunis is Jupiter, the daughter of a Russian living illegally in Chicago. Living and working as a cleaner to the constant mantra of ‘I hate my life’, she is whisked away one day by Caine (Tatum), a human-wolf hybrid space warrior who saves her after some considerably less attractive aliens try to assassinate her. Caught up in a cosmic shitstorm of warring family members and rather substantial human rights abuses, Jupiter finds that she is the genetic equal of a deceased member of the Abrasax dynasty, an intergalactic royal family with questionable motivations.
Whereas their earlier work was inspired by the likes of William Gibson’s cyberpunk, this has much more in common with the Sci-Fi of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the John Carter universe. The idea in itself is not a problem; to rid their work of convoluted philosophy and to concentrate on old-fashioned entertainment is, for the Wachowskis, probably a good thing. However as much as it is a departure, this also feels exasperatingly familiar. Jupiter is essentially a thoroughly irritating female Neo, and plot elements involving the unaware enslavement of the human race will be familiar to anyone who has seen The Matrix trilogy.
It is, at its worst, bewilderingly bad, and at its best wearily amusing. To its credit Jupiter Ascending is well aware of how hokey it is, but it tests the patience like a small child with an incredibly noisy, repetitive toy. It throws everything at you, from unexplained dinosaur demon aliens, to gravity-inverting surf boots, universe-wide conspiracies and Terry Gilliam cameos. It’s so desperate to be fun that it irritates rather than entertains, rushing through everything like Dune and Star Wars scrambled together on fast forward. Then just when you think it might get fun, it throws space politics at you, because, if we learned anything from The Phantom Menace, everyone loves a bit of interplanetary bureaucracy.
Some of the cast are clearly having a ball; none more so than Eddie Redmayne, who almost saves the day by channelling Maggie Thatcher in a fabulously preposterous turn as the universe’s campest villain. Sean Bean pops up and does his ‘gruff and Northern’ routine as Stinger, a soldier who is half man, half bee (yes, really).Tatum appears bored and mildly embarrassed by the whole thing, while its unclear whether Kunis has been terribly miscast or just terribly written.
There are parts of Jupiter Ascending that are hugely impressive; the costumes, effects and locations are all resplendent, but routinely on the wrong side of garish. It also somehow manages to feel both far too rushed and incredibly long, a considerable achievement. Without a plot to hang this on, it becomes a series of inane and incomprehensible events narrated by a blandly confused young woman.There’s nothing about it that’s particularly hateful or offensive, but when Channing Tatum is wrestling a flying talking dinosaur above a fiery pit of death, and you’re struggling to remain entertained, something is not quite right.