It is fair to say the Wachowskis have always fascinated, whether it be via their stupendous, game-changing sci-fi The Matrix (1999); its self-indulgent sequels (Reloaded, Revolutions); or the mind-bogglingly beautiful Cloud Atlas (2012). Yet, even more apparent from their filmography is their consistent affectation with flair and panache (see specifically Speed Racer, 2008). This quality proves their undoing in Jupiter Ascending – where style and action overwhelm meaning and narrative to the point where its characters feel stale and two dimensional – leaving little more than a wondrously bizarre world that is staggering in scale but too sporadic and trivial to create a lasting impact.
Not everything is regrettable though. Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum share genuine chemistry as star-crossed lovers aligned by fate to right the genocidal wrongs committed by Eddie Redmayne‘s tyrannical Balem Abrasax – yes, that’s his real name. They do well to suspend the story’s pedestrian plot and implausibility from offending initially, and offer a refreshingly romantic dynamic for the audience to root for.
Redmayne is enthralling as the intergalactic prince Balem, striking the impeccably hilarious balance between menacing oppressor and spoilt infant (surprisingly providing the film’s chief comic relief). Douglas Booth fleetingly impresses as sly, conniving younger brother Titus. Yet Sean Bean‘s Stinger Apini feels forced into the storyline presumably intended to give Tatum’s Caine a more intriguing, authentic back story, but providing nothing more than a meandering sub-plot. This can also be said for many of the film’s supporting characters, who tend to lose place and relevance in this expansive space opera. Despite its gusto and stunning visuals, a lack of clarity and cohesion permeates the film.
The most precise and blunt means to sum up Jupiter Ascending’s failure is to consider its clearest influences. Imagine the flamboyant and bombastic styling of The Phantom Menace (1999) spliced with the operatic grandeur of The Fifth Element (1997) – but without the joy and spontaneity of the latter and burdened with a shed-load of the former’s peculiarities. Its elaborate, CGI-heavy, action sequences fail to captivate consistently enough and ultimately exhaust the audience to the point where any empathy for the protagonists’ plight is lost. It’s a shame such a bold attempt to reinvigorate the fantasy sci-fi sub-genre fails to achieve much originality or impact. It’s even more of a shame that Kunis and Tatum don’t get the franchise debut they so thoroughly deserve. At least we have Channing’s Remy LeBeau (Gambit) to look forward to…