Starring: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne
Directed by: The Wachowskis (“The Matrix”)
Written by: The Wachowskis (“The Matrix”)
When the Wachowskis released “The Matrix” in 1999, they created a space for themselves in the big-budget movie landscape. With an original idea and modest budget, the imaginative sci-fi thriller won four Oscars (yes, technical awards still count) and gave the Wachowskis good will in the Hollywood world. Then an interesting thing happened…The Wachowskis became divisive. The 2nd and 3rd entries in “The Matrix” franchise were not as beloved as the first and while “Speed Racer” was pretty universally disliked, “Cloud Atlas” was one of the most polarizing films of the last few years with equal parts love and hatred. One thing that can’t be contested, however, is the post-“Matrix” box office performance with “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas” making $44 and $27 million domestic respectively, and both with a $100 million dollar budget. And yet here we are, over 15 years removed from “The Matrix,” with the Wachowskis being handed over $175 million for their latest sci-fi entry “Jupiter Ascending,” despite their recent box office and critical disappointments. At this point, perhaps Warner Brothers should find a better place to dump their money.
As a maid in Chicago, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) sees her life change when she is rescued by Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically mutated, ex-military hunter, and taken to another planet where she finds out she might be the heir to controlling the planet Earth. Caine and others must fight to keep her safe from a power hungry villain (Eddie Redmayne) keen on restoring his ownership of Earth, which he believes to be his.
The first half of “Jupiter Ascending” feels like it sets a record for the largest amount of expository dialogue in a single film. Nearly every time Kunis’ character speaks in the first act or two, it is to ask a question about why, where or what something is. This leads to a series of inane responses by a rambling Tatum who spouts futuristic mumbo-jumbo that, not so shockingly, is mostly inconsequential to the plot or anything that happens thereinafter. The Wachowskis essentially use this exposition and introduction of a bunch of characters to build their own unique world, which is met with middling results.
Visually, the world they create can be stunning with great set pieces and truly impressive special effects. There’s a chase scene that happens in downtown Chicago where the duo get to flex their free flowing camera and sequence choreography muscles that is particularly exhilarating and a reminder of how unique The Wachowskis can be. Yet everything seems to be undone by the innate silliness of everything else.
Many characters in the film are spliced with DNA of other species including Tatum with a wolf, Sean Bean’s character with a bee, and an unintentionally (I think?) hilarious Elephant-spliced pilot. But it is more than just character design. One of the tools that Caine uses are gravity defying boots that allow him to surf the sky. The problem is that whenever Tatum is utilizing the boots, he moves exactly like one moves when rollerblading, making for hilarious scenes of Tatum “skating” through mid-air or around corners. It is funny every time it happens, which is a lot.
Even looking past some of the goofier elements, the screenplay is repetitive and convoluted, with the Wachowskis trying to pack in so many different details to a story and world that isn’t all that interesting to begin with. Mix that with a bunch of actors who feel completely out of place, especially a particularly dreadful Redmayne, and you get a complete disaster of a film. There’s some unintentional comedy gold here as well as a few action sequences that are legitimately impressive and fun that can help boost entertainment value, but not nearly enough to make “Jupiter Ascending” a journey worth taking.