The planets are not aligned for the Wachowskis as they drop their latest interplanetary sci-fi adventure; a visually stunning, but unfortunate early contender for worst film of 2015.
Review by Corey Hogan
I’ve always had a soft spot for writing/directing duo Andy and Lana Wachowski. The Matrix (one of their earliest films) is considered by many to be a masterpiece of science fiction, and one of the most influential films of all time. Intriguing on every level it is brought to, this 1999 film revolutionised computer-generated visual effects, and has set the standard for Hollywood blockbusters. The siblings’ offerings since have been heavily mixed – the two bewildering, and less-than-satisfying Matrix sequels, the more successful V for Vendetta, the headache-inducing Speed Racer, and the wildly divisive Cloud Atlas. Around the time of making their last film, Warner Bros. offered the pair a large sum of money to create an original franchise of their own imagining, so as one of those who enjoyed the complexities of Cloud Atlas, I was hopeful of a natural progression from that timeline-jumping epic. Unfortunately, the result is Jupiter Ascending; a stylish, but incoherent sci-fi disaster.
Mila Kunis is Jupiter Jones (yes, really), a luckless toilet cleaner who dreams of the stars and distant worlds until she is attacked by invisible aliens while donating her eggs. She is rescued by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter spliced with human and wolf DNA, who informs her that her genetic structure is of alien royalty allowing her rightful inheritance of the Earth, and that she has become the target of the Abrasax siblings (Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton), the family that has controlled life on every habitable planet in the universe, and seeks to add Earth to their collection. Jupiter and Caine enlist bee-spliced Stinger Apini (Sean Bean) to help the pair reach the distant planet of Orus, and claim the inheritance before the House of Abrasax can acquire Earth for their own evil affairs…
…or something. Sound like it doesn’t make sense? Don’t worry, even the most passionate science fiction enthusiasts will have a difficult time attempting to gain anything from Jupiter Ascending. The film is a visual feast for the eyes, as is expected from any Hollywood blockbuster these days, but it suffers enormously from a hugely problematic script. Perhaps as a result of trying to cram way too much material into a two-hour film, every scene flies by at a disjointedly fast pace, and consists of excessive expository dialogue attempting to explain the components of this alien monarchy. Multiple clichés from numerous genres are inserted in a stake to appeal to a wider audience (stopping a wedding just in time for rom-com fans), and every exchange of words is clunky and highly cringe-worthy (“Bees can sense royalty” growls Stinger as Jupiter is engulfed by a swarm of CGI insects). Most disappointing is that beneath its ludicrous and nonsensical façade lurks the well worn-out “loser becomes the chosen one” tale explored by the Wachowskis themselves sixteen years ago.
Mila Kunis looks the part as the reincarnated royalty, but is unfortunately given little to do other than look puzzled, and ask questions so that every character can deliver another long-winded expository spiel. Channing Tatum fares a little better as the brute hunter with rocket skates, given the task of rescuing Jupiter every few minutes. These two are acceptable until the mid-way point, where a forced romance is thrown in as an afterthought despite the characters having zero chemistry prior to this point. Sean Bean barely registers as his character’s motives differ every time he appears, as do Jupiter’s family of “comedy” Russians. Only Eddie Redmayne remains amusing, hamming it up as a rather soft-spoken Ming the Merciless breed of royal villainy.
With Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowski brothers (sorry, just the Wachowskis now) join the likes of numerous once-great filmmakers (Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi and Andrew Nicchol among others) who in recent years seem to favour extensive CGI, and cartoony visuals over a well-structured story and quality film. JA was delayed from a July 2014 release in order to complete the special effects, but this time would have been better spent giving the script a complete overhaul, as there are themes and material here that could potentially have worked in the right hands. It is saddening to witness the pioneers of effects-driven blockbusters become a shell of their former selves; hopefully The Wachowskis stick to adapting works in the future to avoid again delivering an original piece so painfully lacking in irony.
ONE AND A HALF STARS
Jupiter Ascending is in Australian cinemas NOW.