“Jupiter Ascending” Movie Review

     Andy and Lana Wachowski, the creators of the famed “Matrix Trilogy”, have clearly struggled to tap into the creativity which helped them make what is renowned as one of the best science fiction films of all time.  I, of course, refer only to the original 1999 film, “The Matrix”, as the two sequels left a lot to be desired for most.  Since that time, the siblings have floundered and have really never recaptured the ability to create a film that has the same effect on popular culture that “The Matrix” did.  Part of how a film is able to have that effect comes simply from the sheer amount of eyes who actually see the film.  Though there was plenty of merit to be seen in both “Speed Racer” (2008) and “Cloud Atlas” (2012), neither film was a box office or critical success, resulting in both fizzling out quickly.  The Wachowski’s new film, “Jupiter Ascending”, is as  ambitious an offering as they have ever conceived, brimming with a complex and colorful production design, but lacking in what plays as a highly confusing and cluttered narrative.

     To call the story improbable would sound foolish, but what we see on screen in the film’s prologue and the first few scenes just seems to off kilter, even for a science fiction film where disbelief shouldn’t be aloud.  The Wachowski’s script suffers greatly from an obvious tonal imbalance in which actors in some scenes play their characters with a serious and deadpan delivery, while others seem to be unnecessarily jokey and uncomfortable with their roles.  It’s as if on set, the actors may have said to the Wachowskis, “You want me to say what?”. 

     In the pre title prologue, the lead character, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), narrates a flashback scene that shows how her parents got together.  Her mother is pregnant with her and her father is rubbing Vasoline on her stomach as he attempts to charm her into naming their newborn Jupiter since her father is mesmerized by the stars and planets and he knows Jupiter is the biggest planet of them all.  Suddenly, and without reason, the couple becomes the victim of a violent home invasion and her father is killed when he tries to keep the intruders from taking his telescope.  Fast forward to the present day and the now grown Jupiter Jones is an attractive twenty something who, get this, scrubs toilets for a living as part of her mother’s janitorial service.  Of course these scenes always seem to show bathrooms that are already sparkling, but I just can’t wrap my head around Mila Kunis on her hands and knees scrubbing toilets!

     Almost immediately, the Wachowskis get down to business and inject the film’s first action sequence in which a trio of hit man / bounty hunters from another planet are sent to Chicago to track down Jupiter and bring her to Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), the heir to a number of planets, including Earth.  Balem rules a race of people who live in a domed city on the planet Jupiter and though it’s never really explained coherently, Jupiter Jones is somehow part of a royal bloodline in which she is also heir to a number of galactic properties.  So as it turns out, the toilet scrubber is royalty!  As is explained, there are three siblings who now rule different parts of the galaxy after their own parents death.  In competition with Balem is his brother, Titus (Douglas Booth), and their sister, Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) who each reside in different parts of the solar system, but are all greedy and selfish and see Jupiter as a threat.

     Initially sent by Titus for his own evil reasons, an ex soldier named Caine (Channing Tatum) arrives in Chicago and also tracks down Jupiter with the intention of ensuring she is not killed and also that she is able to claim what she is entitled to.  He is your typical do good type cardboard character who gets around with cool gravity boots that allow him to surf in mid air, but generally he exhibits no noticeable personality at all.  All of this generally comes down to the fact the Earth is actually a farm in which humans are ultimately harvested and used to create a “fountain of youth” type serum that is compared by one character to being the same practice as growing livestock for food.  If all of this sounds familiar, it should.  Very similar plotting was employed as the basis for “The Matrix” and this is only one example of the many science fictions films most people will recall while watching “Jupiter Ascending” as it is either borrowing, ripping off, or paying homage to nearly every classic science fiction film ever made.

     The Caine character sent to protect Jupiter smells of the same type of situation one Kyle Reese was in when he was sent to protect Sarah Connor in “The Terminator”.  Perhaps the one film that you will most be reminded of consistently is “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”, especially early on when we see the home planet of Kalique Abrasax and realize the aerial views look identical to the palaces on Naboo. The futuristic ultra detailed cityscapes and space craft all seem to owe plenty to Lucas’ various creations in the “Star Wars” films, especially the prequels.  An over the top wedding scene on Titus’ ship reminds of the interiors of Naboo and the dress and headdress Jupiter sports is definitely something Queen Amidala would’ve picked out for herself.  An entire sequence is dedicated to ripping off “Brazil”, though Terry Gilliam himself stars in the scene, which doesn’t match the ultra modern and dazzling look of everything before it.  It’s as if that scene belonged in a completely different era or a different film for that matter.  The list goes on and on as one character has a “Predator” like cloaking device and also happens to look a lot like the character she played for the Wachowskis in “Cloud Atlas”, but really there are even more pressing matters about this film than what it will remind you of.

     Fact is, “Jupiter Ascending” almost certainly will dominate next year’s Razzie Awards, as it is full of just terrible performances and listless, silly dialogue.  The manufactured romance between Jupiter Jones and Caine is cringeworthy and though it is highly predictable (Why would anyone want to see this film if Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis don’t get it on?), it devolves quickly into an aspect of the film that is completely unnecessary as it adds nothing to the story.  Even worse is the Eddie Redmayne character who with his cold looking puffy white lips, speaks in a a kind of raspy whisper for no apparent reason at all.  We know this because when he gets pissed off, he yells with a normal sounding voice, but then quickly retreats back to his strange Darth Vader light voice.  Truth is, when the three siblings get together and have a conversation about galactic dominance, it plays like three “Austin Powers” villains concocting their next evil plan.

     I’m not certain what will come next for the Wachowskis.  I do think it’s likely a studio won’t be allowing them to make a $175 million film again anytime soon since they clearly have immersed themselves more into the design and effects side of the house, rather than putting in the time needed to create a film that will connect more with mainstream audiences.  If it is not their wish to do so, than I would love to see them go back to their indie roots and make smaller more meaningful films.  Anyone remember their directorial debut “Bound”?  If not, skip “Jupiter Ascending” and find a platform to watch that instead.  At least then you’ll know how these two talented directors broke into the filmmaking business in the first place. GRADE: F