Ascending to primarily visual heights
Film critics sure can be a difficult breed to satisfy. We bemoan the lack of original screenplays, but lo and behold when one comes along like Andy and Lana Wachowski’s “Jupiter Ascending” we nitpick it to death. While “Jupiter” is by no means pioneering and is a complete derivative of any number of classic sci-fi operas that came before it, the film is an utterly gorgeous visual delight, and it has some enjoyably goofy moments (some intended, others perhaps not) and manages to throw in some left-leaning, anti-elitism socio-economic subtext for good measure.
In short, “Jupiter Ascending” never bores, despite its flaws.
Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter Jones, the daughter of Russian immigrants who lives in Chicago and “hates her life” working as the most beautiful janitor you’ll ever see cleaning toilets on any planet. She unknowingly carries the genetic legacy of the Abrasax family which owns every inhabitable planet – including Earth. Upon learning of Jupiter’s existence, her remaining extra-terrestrial siblings (Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Booth) want her either dead or alive for their own self-serving purposes. Bounty hunters are dispatched, but so is intergalactic warrior Caine Wise (Channing Tatum)—part wolfman, part hunky homo- sapien—whose goal is to return the 14,000-year-old heiress to her home planet to claim her royal destiny and rule over her cosmic properties. Others want Earth for its harvesting potential, corporate greed’s evil inclinations apparently have interstellar scope (who knew?), so Jupiter’s Cinderella upside is in constant danger.
For her part, Mila Kunis is believably radiant as an interplanetary Queen. But she lacks that certain pluck and charm, and it’s especially noticeable in scenes where she’s asked to be Lois Lane to Tatum’s hover-boot-scooting Superman. Tatum’s understated performance (possibly the result of his prosthetic mouthpiece) is fine and benefits tremendously when his former comrade Stinger shares the screen. Stinger is played with panache by Sean Bean, who could make the reading of a box of Saltine cracker ingredients credibly ominous. Less effective (but more comical) is Redmayne’s slow-speaking, melodramatic and uber-effeminate villain Balem.
The real stars of “Jupiter Ascending” are the majestic worlds beautifully rendered by the filmmakers and visual effects supervisor Dan Glass. They have designed a futuristic Renaissance world influenced by previous Marvel films but which maintains a stunning, unique gothic style. If the movie’s release date was postponed because of delays in post-production, those delays were worth it.
Despite the lack of much scripted originality and the cluttered action sequences, the Wachowskis’ pioneering visual work—clearly evident even in commercial failures like “Cloud Atlas” and “Speed Racer”—make “Jupiter Ascending” worth seeing on the big screen where their impressive digital skills can be fully appreciated.
Rated PG-13 (for some sci-fi violence, suggestive content and partial nudity).