In a bright and colorful future, a young destitute caretaker gets targeted by the ruthless son of a powerful family who lives on a planet in need of a new heir, so she travels with a genetically engineered warrior to the planet in order to stop his tyrant reign.
The Wachowski siblings have produced two of the best science fiction films of the past twenty years in ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Cloud Atlas’ (albeit this was an adaptation), so it’s disappointing that ‘Jupiter Ascending’ is so terrible, clichéd and unoriginal. The film begins by introducing us to Jupiter (Mila Kunis), an heir to an alien dynasty lives on earth unaware of her vast inheritance. Her fate comes into play when the matriarch of the most powerful alien dynasty dies, leaving her two sons and one daughter to fight over the inheritance. The dynasty itself has been ruling over the universe and has been using earth to harvest the people to produce a serum which allows the aliens to live forever, unbeknownst to the people of earth. This background is provided to the viewer in clunky exposition, primarily through the opening sequence which introduces us to the film’s premise, and to the circumstances that led to Jupiter living an ordinary life with her extended Russian family.
The first half of the film is a real slog, spending too much time doing the opposite of ‘show don’t tell’, and a fairly straightforward space opera plot becomes complicated as a result. Whilst things do pick up in the second half of the film somewhat, it isn’t enough to rescue a film that is pretty much disastrous all over. I’ve commented on the script, but this could be overcome to an extent if the performances were good enough to sell the ridiculous dialogue – unfortunately they’re not. Mila Kunis isn’t a great actress and she really struggles in the leading role, but her performance doesn’t seem all that bad when compared with recent Bafta winner Eddie Redmayne, who is truly terrible as the main antagonist, Balem. He speaks in a weird, whispery voice which makes him often difficult to hear, and his movements feel forced and wooden. It’s a spectacularly bad performance in a film of poor performances, and he’ll need to hope Oscar voters have managed to avoid this film before casting their votes if he’s to stand a chance of winning for ‘The Theory of Everything’ there (where he is very good to be fair). The only performer that seems to be on the right wavelength is Douglas Booth, who puts in one of the only enjoyable performances as Balem’s brother, Titus. His scenery chewing is great fun and he manages to sell the poor dialogue with a perfect balance of camp villainy.
One of the other things that damages the film is how ordinary the look and feel is. Apart from a couple of early shots, the alien world is dark and gloomy and the CGI work fails to make any of the buildings or structures stand out. That’s a criticism that can extend to the special effects as well, with the heavy use of FX in the action scenes lacking the clarity and vision to help the viewer understand what is going on. This goes alongside the film’s overuse of clichéd setups, particularly with numerous scenes where a character is saved ‘just in time’ helping to remove any sense of tension or any feeling of danger that we may have about the main character’s fates. I understand that the main character is unlikely to die, but we should at least feel as if they might and the lack of threat is clear throughout. There are a couple of fun elements, not least a bit which clearly spoofs Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ and its over the top approach to bureaucracy but these moments are too few and far between and it’s not enough to save the film.
Overall, ‘Jupiter Ascending’ is a mess. Not a conflicted, beautiful, inconsistent mess, but a complete disastrous mess with almost every element combining to create one of the year’s worst films so far. Unfortunately, this isn’t a new Wachowski classic to look forward too.
Directed By: Lana and Andy Wachowski
Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bae Doona and James D’Arcy