Coming from visionary directors The Wachowsks (the team behind The Matrix Trilogy and Cloud Atlas), Jupiter Ascending is a high-concept, science fiction, space opera which ticks every necessary box, yet somehow manages to still finish feeling rather bland.
Mila Kunis (Ted) stars as an unrealistic Eastern-European lass, living in Chicago with her large, toilet-cleaning family, and gets to take a bit of a break from her admittedly humdrum existence when she’s surprisingly spirited away from an operating table by a tall dark and handsome alien warrior named Caine (Channing Tatum, 22 Jump Street); an apparently part werewolf warrior, who whisks our wily yet unassuming heroine off on an intergalactic adventure, where she not only finds out she’s an alien princess, but learns the fate of the entire planet may rest in her hands.
It sounds like pure teen-girl gumpf, and if we’re being generous, that’s what Jupiter Ascending is; a way to fulfil every teen girl’s fantasy by having a sometimes shirtless Channing Tatum turn up and rescue you from your toilet-scrubbing day job, and not only whisk you away on a spectacular adventure, but fall for you, continually save your life, and explain how you’re the single most important young woman in the entire universe (you just didn’t realise it).
Yet at the same time there’s a huge amount of promise hidden within the two-hour runtime, as there’s not just an “aren’t you special” angle, but a medieval-like plot between three royal siblings; Balem (Eddie Redmayne, The theory Of Everything); Kalique (Tuppence Middleton, The Imitation Game); and Titus (Douglas Booth, Noah); who’re all working their own angles, plotting against one another, and attempting to scheme and backstab their way into gaining control of the Earth before Jupiter (Kunis) can assert her claim, as well as some hugely impressive world-building.
With such a strong pedigree as The Matrix, and Cloud Atlas, no-one can deny The Wachowski’s are a dab hand at crafting wondrous new sci-fi worlds, and they do craft an entire unseen universe here; yet despite having glimmers of gold (walking through a desolate planet which has been recently harvested is both haunting and poignant), there’s not a single memorable location or major event, and somehow even our own planet Earth is reduced to nothing more than an underdeveloped cliché.
In fact every single aspect of Jupiter Ascending plays out in a completely clichéd manner, from the generic, paint-by-numbers, plot (everyday girl gets swept away on an adventure before marvelling at new experiences, panicking because she’s just an everyday girl and it’s all too much for her, and finally ascending into her true self to try and combat the evils of the universe), to the generic, paint-by-numbers, characters; Jupiter is the personification of the Cinderella tale, Caine is a mirror for Twilight’s Edward, or any loner who’s suddenly tasked with defending the damsel in distress (which Jupiter is, about once every three seconds), the members of the Royal family are all pantomime villains, and even the finest character in the bunch (a battle weary ex-soldier looking for redemption, played by Game Of Thrones’ Sean Bean) has been seen a thousand times over; and the generic new-world imagery, and space-age laser battles, we’re now used to seeing on the small screen.
Though there’s no denying every single frame of Jupiter Ascending looks magnificent, thanks largely to flawless and stunning special effects, as well as decent direction, solid cinematography, and some nice lighting and set dressing. The cast also do their part to elevate proceedings; Kunis is as watchable as ever, and a predictably nice and easy to root for heroine (even if seeing Mila Kunis scrub toilets it one of the most unbelievable things The Wachowski’s have ever realised on screen); Channing is strong, likeable, and hero-like in his turn as ‘the inexplicably loyal bodyguard’; Sean Bean effectively plays another ‘Sean Bean’ character; and despite oddly screaming random words in the middle of a sentence, and attempting to go full Alan Rickman but not quite pulling it off, Eddie Redmayne is a more than acceptable (through criminally underused) villain; they just never fully live up to their potential due to a lack of effective direction, and a seemingly underdeveloped, two dimensional, script.
The script is a large issue with Jupiter, as it seems as though The Wachowski’s have attempted to create such a rich world, full of different cultures, races, and a rich history, that there’s simply not enough time to develop the world, or even the few main characters we do get to know, fully; as the world is simply too crammed. That’s not to say the film should be longer by any means (two hours was plenty long enough), but there’s a lot which could’ve been gained by trimming certain elements (it would’ve been no real loss to drop a lesser sibling from the Royal family for instance), and possibly attempting to be more original, and not follow other success’ in the hopes of making teen-girls swoon.
Yet, as contradictory as this may sound, Jupiter Ascending was actually entertaining. By the time the credits roll, you’ll be glad it’s over, and it’s not a film you’ll rush to see again (or should go out of your way to see the first time), but it’s also not a film you’ll regret seeing. It ticks all the operatic sci-fi boxes you want it to tick; it’s a big, expansive, world-building, space-hopping epic with good looking leads, impressive effects, and a bunch of cool set-pieces; and is every teen-girl’s fantasy, but it’s little more than that.
It’s generic, formulaic, and at times exceptionally bland (indeed some of the action sequences and effects drag on too long, and there’s a clear sign something’s up when the best sequence in a space-hopping effects movie such as this is a straight bout of fisticuffs between Channing Tatum and Sean Bean in a manky garden), but it is new, it is original, and it is The Wachowsis blending a Disney Princess story with Star Wars, Dune, and even throwing in some Super Mario Bros. stylings; and how often do you get to see that?