(Mila Kunis screaming for her agent..)
Never does a movie clearly try so hard and fail so miserably than the new space opera Jupiter Ascending. Those following its production were alarmed by a delayed opening from last July, summer’s hottest weekend, to the historical box office trash heap that is an early February release. We critics endeavored to keep an open and optimistic mind, amidst wild gossip of test audiences exiting screenings rolling their eyes and thumbing their noses at the latest by writer/director sibs The Wachowskis. I remember early on hearing giggles during the movie’s first trailer. Ladies and gentlemen, this flick cost more than 175 million to make. At least with the stunning production design and effects we can see where the money went. It is the script and lack of character development that sink this story like a stone, dropping it below even camp classic potential.
Families of royal aliens own not only Earth but many other planets that have been seeded for harvesting their populations to create a youth serum. This substance allows the most powerful wealthy aliens to live forever. Three such royals, children in the House of Abrasax, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth) are fighting over Earth’s inheritance. When they discover human nobody Jupiter Jones (Mina Kunis) might be the reincarnation of their matriarch mom, she gets tossed into the middle of their squabble, a toy they manipulate for their gain, with only a genetically engineered ex-military hunter with albino/human/wolf DNA named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) between her and certain death. Cut to lots of scenes with Jones falling through the sky only to be swooped up by Wise, whom she rides piggy back, as well as scenes where she forms attachment to him due perhaps not only to his willingness to risk his life for her, but his strong sense of smell, low growl, bulging pecs, stoicism, and sardonic smirks. He makes great use of a sort of impenetrable African shield and a pair of rocket-powered gravity defying boots. He can ‘rollerblade through the air like he just don’t care’.
(“Grrrrrrrr” says the half-wolf hottie…)
Channing Tatum, unbelievably, comes through this film not only unscathed, but builds a rather endearing character for us to get behind, and his ability to go all-in, to commit completely to his dog ears, supersonic rocket-boots, and perma-eyeliner, has the audience shrugging, saying, “oh, what the hell…”, and going along with the fun. Unfortunately, momentum, and there are moments that build it in the film’s favor, is dashed every time the absurd romance between he and ‘his majesty” Jones is brought into the story.
Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones, repeatedly tells those she meets to call her “Jupe”, which ironically means “skirt” in French. That is effectively what she is reduced to, a skirt. She is a woman without strong direction, constantly in need of rescue, and without any real defining or positive personality traits with which to connect with audiences. The fact that she cannot take control of her own situations, whether by the way the story is written, or by her character’s lack of self awareness, becomes increasingly annoying. Even if she does find inner strength by the end of the film, by that time the audience won’t care. We are also never made to believe why her family, for which we are supposed to believe she will give up not only her life but the eventual lives of all the people of Earth, mean so much to her. They are never shown as anything more than unpleasant, and there are no intimate moments that explain her love or passion to save them.
Beyond the holes in the script that don’t make Jones particularly sympathetic, there seems to be something missing in the lead. Kunis is lovely, and visually cleans up well into an ingenue space queen, but she lacks the star power to make up for her blank-slate resting face. Famed classic actress Greta Garbo could get away with an inscrutable expression. Kunis doesn’t have the magnetism.
The three royals are entertaining diversions, although unquestionably Eddie Redmayne wins the Tim Curry Scenery Chewing Award of 2015, even though it’s only February. No one this year will go farther over the top than this man playing the petulant oldest son given to quiet tantrums. He orders his lackeys gruesomely dispatched while barely moving his lips to speak. He is so camp he almost saves the whole movie. Almost.
(If I don’t win an Oscar for The Theory of Everything, I’ll just get a job at Hot Topic with my goth look and my pompadour…)
As to visuals, building a world should always be in service to the story. It is a mighty struggle, gorgeous and breathtaking as the environments, visual effects, and production design are in Jupiter Ascending, they are not utilized to full effect in terms of connectedness to story. As those elements are far superior to any others in the film, it would have helped to find better ways of integrating them more into the proceedings. One standout is the way the diverse environments in which Balem, Kalique, and Titus live are so well matched to their personalities. The landing dock for Balem’s ship is outfitted with enormous chandeliers and golden statues that bring Versailles to mind, whereas Titus’s bedchamber looks like a mix of Rock Hudson’s apartment after Doris Day got a hold of it in Pillow Talk, and the Playboy Mansion. Another exception to this is shown in some of the best minutes of the film, though they seem markedly out of place. I speak of the scenes of planetary bureaucracy, which seem a mash up of The 5th Element and Brazil, complete with a superstar director’s surprise cameo. It is in these moments and in taking in these beautiful production designs that we are most disappointed with the rest of the movie. It could have been so much more, and could have been a great addition to the Wachowskis oeuvre. Sadly, the romance between Jupiter and Wise, her faithful pup, ehm…protector, is both ridiculous and too central to the story to be fixable.
You could go anyway, to see the great costumes, gorgeous leads, inventive environments, and impressive action sequences, but expect the need to stifle the occasional misplaced giggle.
2 out of 5 stars.