How much you’ll enjoy The Wachowski’s latest, Jupiter Ascending, will depend on how you like your big budget sci-fi. Are you a SF fan who expects your brain to work up as big a sweat as your eyes when you watch a film, or can you happily switch your grey matter to auto-pilot, enjoy the big set pieces and ignore the onslaught of clichés and awkward dialogue? If you agreed with the last part of that sentence, you’ll have a giant smile on your face whilst watching Jupiter Ascending; otherwise you’re better off with Shaun the Sheep: The Movie.
The brilliantly named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a strapped-for-cash cleaner, sharing a flat with her mum and aunt. Trouble comes calling when it’s discovered that she is the rightful heir to planet Earth, half-human, half-wolf warrior Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) protecting her from the Abrasax family, one of the universe’s wealthiest dynasties, who want Earth for themselves.
The Wachowskis, who wrote, produced, and directed one of the best films of the ‘90’s, The Matrix, have once again raised the bar with Jupiter Ascending, virtually every frame is filled with right up-to-the-second, state-of-the-art CGI. It’s beautiful in a gigantic spaceships, imaginatively designed aliens, extravagant throne rooms sort of way. Two of the big highlights are Jupiter and Caine – in his anti-grav boots – soaring through the Chicago skyline, buildings blown apart as they’re being shot at, as well as the film’s climax that sees Jupiter and Balem (Eddie Redmayne) fighting on a mining planet that is burning up around them. If you get the chance to see this on an IMAX, fork out the extra cash, as it looks fantastic.
The whole cast do a good enough job, no one lets the side down. You’ll root for Kunis, who has sassiness as well as looks, giving us a well-timed one-liner to help make the pomp and absurdity of the Wachowski’s script a little easier to swallow, while Tatum gets to do more than be the tough, strong hero with his shirt off; he’s ferocious in a fight, yet, when him and Jupiter first meet, he has no clue how to talk to her (his only interaction with human beings is through military training). When Caine inevitably falls for Jupiter, he struggles to say anything – she’s royalty, he’s something created in a lab.
It’s The Theory of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne who steals the show here, not just chewing the scenery, but devouring it like Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster demolishing a plate of his favourite biscuits. With a throaty, genteel voice, yelling, glaring and hissing in all the right places, Redmayne delivers his clunky, space opera villain dialogue like he’s doing a stint at Shakespeare’s Globe. He doesn’t quite reach the camp, pantomime heights of Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but he’s close. You miss Redmayne whenever he’s off-screen.
The big problem with Jupiter Ascending is the amount of explaining it does. If you thought Michael Bay’s Transformer films were bogged down in exposition, characters going on about the McGuffin and various backstories, then the Wachowskis don’t just break Bay’s record, they demolish it. Virtually all of Sean Bean’s dialogue has him talking about an ancient dynasty, or the rules of Jupiter Ascending’s world, while Kunis asks what the hell is going on every ten/fifteen minutes (“We need to find the [insert bizarrely named object here].” “What’s the [insert bizarrely named object here]?”), queuing another several minute rant about someone or something that makes little-to-no-difference to the film’s narrative. It wouldn’t be so bad if Jupiter Ascending had some original ideas, something that surprised you, but instead the Wachowskis churn out one sci-fi cliché after another, clichés that date back to Forbidden Planet or Flash Gordon.
Jupiter Ascending is decent enough, no more, no less, which is amazing considering the talent on board. As far as the visuals go, it’s one of the best films you’ll see in 2015, but the script is predictable sci-fi hokum. Pay that little bit extra to see it on an IMAX, fill yourself up with popcorn, coke, or whatever sugar/carbs you fancy, and enjoy it for what it is: fun, bonkers, overblown entertainment.
3 out of 5