By Nick Anstett
Elm Staff Writer
One has to admit that starting off a film career with a critical and pop cultural phenomenon like “The Matrix” is both a detriment and a blessing. Five films later, Lana and Andy Wachowski are still struggling to live up to their own monumental legacy. “Jupiter Ascending” is the latest mind-assaulting product from the pair that brought you those other “Matrix” movies and “Speed Racer”. It’s a mind boggling, inept effort that continuously confuses, baffles, and dazzles but never stops repulsing any good grace from viewers.
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is an illegal Russian immigrant living with her extended family in Chicago. Her life consists of cleaning toilets, vacuuming, and wishing that she could be anywhere else. Little does she know that she is about to be catapulted into a monumental galactic conflict. Three warring alien siblings (Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, and Tuppence Middleton) have set their sights on the planet Earth as the latest expansion of their galactic territory. There’s only one problem. Earth already has an owner: Jupiter Jones. As a parade of bounty hunters and alien spies descend on Earth to capture Jupiter, a disgraced former soldier, Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), is dispatched to rescue Jupiter and help her recognize her destiny.
At least, I think that’s the plot. It’s rare to find a movie that is more incomprehensible but also deeply clichéd on all accounts than “Jupiter Ascending”. The script manages to find the strange sweet spot between being too fast paced to properly understand but too slow to really hold much of one’s attention. Instead, it rockets along spouting bizarre techno-babble and larger than life set pieces while audiences are left attempting to grasp on. Most will clock out about 15 minutes into the film, right about the point where Jupiter’s greedy cousin convinces her to sell her eggs to a clinic only to have her abducted by invisible alien spies. The world the film inhabits is densely populated with complex lore and fictional history that is explained in vague terms too late into the film, but it cannot help but feel hollow all the same.
The logic skills of anyone that worked on “Jupiter Ascending” is head scratching. The film, with a purported budget of over $175 million, was originally intended for release last summer. The money shows with some admittedly visually stunning effects and designs, but why a studio would sink so much money into such a large scale epic and then release it in February against the new “Spongebob” film is a baffling business decision that’s sure to lead to box office failure.
Perhaps most saddening is the genuine talent that is wasted on this film. Redmayne, up for an Academy Award for his stunning performance in “The Theory of Everything”, turns in a barely audible and cringe worthily bad showing as the film’s villain, Balem Abrasax. Tatum tries to work his bland and stone faced role as well as he can, but it fails him as he spends most of the film sulking or, believe it or not, imitating a dog. Kunis suffers worst of all. It’s hard to think of a more passive and ineffective protagonist in recent cinema. Jupiter Jones stumbles through plot point to plot point spouting one liners that fall on deaf ears and being fooled, captured, rescued, educated, and attacked by virtually every other character in the film. It’s a profound failure in raising audience sympathy or in simply structuring a character.
“Jupiter Ascending” is the sort of mind numbing acid trip induced blockbuster that comes by every few years. It impresses in its visual grandeur but also in its pure ineptitude. It’s a two hour marathon that tests audience’s suspension of disbelief, eyes, brains, and most of all their patience.