D/W: The Wachowskis. DP: John Toll. Starring: Mila Kunis/Channing Tatum/Eddie Redmayne/Sean Bean/Douglas Booth/Tuppence Middleton/Maria Doyle Kennedy/Gugu Mbatha-Raw/Nikki Amuka-Bird.
First success is oftentimes like a hot air balloon. Full of performance and awe at the sendoff then you are just up in the sky waiting for the scenery to change. The Wachowskis brothers, now known as just The Wachowskis due to Laurence now living as a transgender woman named Lana, must have experienced this after the conclusion of their trilogy of Matrix films. Their new film Jupiter Ascending appears to be literally and figuratively chasing Neo and Morpheus down the rabbit hole.
Jupiter Ascending follows working class Russian immigrant Jupiter (Mila Kunis) who cleans toilet bowls with her mom all day and resolutely exclaims “I hate my life.” Yet frankly she never seems to do anything about changing it. Enter wolf human hybrid stud Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) to save her from near death and help her ponder the size of the universe. Apparently, Jupiter is the reincarnation of a dead ‘entitled’ queen whose children are now battling over their inheritances. Just some basic sci-fi Shakespeare for the masses. But what this leads to is long action sequences with a plot woven in that carries more humor than you would expect, frankly the whole film is a superb accidental comedy.
What works in Jupiter Ascending are some the action sequences, as laughable as the gadgets may seem. Wise’s hovering surfing boots are a charming way to allow Tatum to move wherever he pleases. The first Chicago action sequence is shot remarkably well, but by the time we get to the third long sequence it feels like a bore. Especially when Kunis is involved as there is a straight from video game moment where she must attempt to escape a burning planet. She doesn’t know where to go so the building tells her, oops not that way there’s flames and so on.
The lead couple’s chemistry leaves a lot to be desired and it’s sadly thrust to the forefront of the film towards act three. Kunis is rather wooden and resolute for the majority of the film until a few scenes where she turns it up a notch. At least she gets the humor right, especially with some moments with grunting Tatum whose physique seems to be his only tool here. A tool better served in Magic Mike. Tatum is a bit better alongside Sean Bean whose clear purpose is to provide back story for Caine Wise (could his name be more obvious). This is no Ned Stark however, be warned.
Eddie Redmayne has the unfortunate luck that this is the film that follows his Oscar winning performance in The Theory of Everything despite it being filmed over two years ago. His Balem Abrasax whispers commands and yells like a petulant child as he seems to have crept into this film from a failed gender swap production of King Lear. By the end he is practically begging reincarnated Mummy to tell him how much she really loved him, inheritance and all. Maybe it could have worked in a different film where his siblings, played by Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton, had more scenes with him.
Jupiter Ascending despite all its flaws addresses complex issues of consumption, greed, and the obsession with youth and time. The parallels between these themes and modern culture today are admirable. It shows the strength in the Wachowski’s core writing that was unable to deliver in the dialogue here. Sadly all the effects swallowed this project whole, but it is good for laughs.