It was the jacket that pushed me over the edge. Sure, I had a silly, bemused grin on my face for the first half of Jupiter Ascending, but I kept from laughing outright as long as I could. At least, until I saw that jacket.
The set-up alone is a stitch: Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, an orphan raised by Russian immigrants who cleans toilets but holds the key to Earth’s survival. It’s Maid in Manhattan meets Star Wars, with Channing Tatum as a Spock-eared, dog/human hybrid who wears flying shoes and comes to Jupiter’s rescue.
The insanely overstuffed plot, with its mismatched pile of plot strands, supporting characters and oddball back stories leaves a lot of questions. Why do the aliens almost never use their cloaking devices and mostly attack out in the open? Could an alien abduction really be photographed by a camera phone? Would a Maxi pad really aide a wounded alien? I finally lost it at the sight of the giant, evil, talking lizards with gargoyle wings and–wait for it–aviator jackets. Why? I suppose it gets cold in outer space.
This is my kind of flop–a charmingly bad, un-cynical personal work by The Wachowskis, who are overreaching here by light years. The only product this gigantic production is selling is itself, an earnest quality that makes it all the more adorable and easier to digest than most cinematic turkeys. While it lacks the ambition and intensity of their admirable failure Cloud Atlas, it’s also less heavy-handed, easier to digest and more fun to endure.
Had the two leads given electric, charismatic performances, this might have worked. Instead, we have two dead-in-the-water turns by leads who can’t rise above the nonsense. Kunis looks disinterested and sleepy, as though she were half engaged and waiting for Ashton Kutcher to drive her home. Tatum has more to do but, like his co-star, never taps into the opportunities for humor or offbeat interpretation present in his character. He and Kunis are better at aiding a strong performer, not carrying a movie on their own. The low-watt chemistry between Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne-Moss in the first Matrix had more heat.
Eddie Redmayne gives a ridiculous turn as a gold neck brace-wearing villain, who alternately whispers and shouts his dialogue. The Oscar-nominee is going for Darth Vader but comes closest to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Stephen Hawking would not be impressed with Redmayne’s work in this movie.
The blend of CGI and live action footage is reliably stunning and beautiful, as you’d expect from the Wachowski’s–particularly during a pursuit above Chicago (the film’s best sequence). Their Star Trek-like universe, with varying aliens species, makes for a lot of absurd costumes and make-up effects. The sets often resemble the inside of the gaudiest Las Vegas chandelier, both grand and tacky. Their overall intent of blending an idiosyncratic love story with an all-out space opera doesn’t work. The Fifth Element did this all better, managing to be weird, personal and touching–qualities that Jupiter Ascending never comes close to mimicking.
There is hope for the movie, which will no doubt become a cult item. Movies this sincere, ridiculous and entertainingly bad will always find devotees, who whine “c’mon, it’s not that bad” and declare it a “cult classic.” I doubt I’ll ever attend a midnight screening of this movie in costume, but will admit to feeling some affection for a movie so bold. The Matrix and Bound displayed how the Wachowskis can craft a groundbreaking narrative and create a love letter to the movies. Here, their heart is in the right place, but their vision is unfocused. Still, it does have a giant, talking lizard with gargoyle wings in an aviator jacket.