Jupiter Ascending - Review

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Jupiter Ascending - Review

There is no greater joy in this life than an overactive imagination. For all the occasional emotional disaster simulations it put you through, the ability to see beyond the actual into worlds and ways you can barely describe is a simple and unrelenting pleasure. Yet the trouble is, all too often we can let our imaginations run away and get the better of us. Things that seem so great in our heads just don’t pan out into practice. I’m sure that within the minds of Lana and Andy Wachowski that Jupiter Ascending was phenomenal. Yet the resulting film has turned out phenomenally something else as Jupiter heads straight up Uranus.

The house cleaning illegal immigrant Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis – Family Guy, Oz the Great and Powerful) becomes the target of an alien power struggle when she’s identified as the genetic reincarnation of galactic royalty. With a human/wolf gene spliced warrior Caine Wise (Channing Tatum – 21 Jump Street, Foxcatcher) can she survive the plotting of Abrasax Dynasty heirs and save the Earth from harvest/total annihilation?

About a quarter ways through Jupiter Ascending Mila Kunis shouts that “I have no idea what’s going on”. Little did she realise she was actually summarising the whole film. Jupiter Ascending looks like it’s taken a decent story or least plenty of good ideas, dropped them into a shredder by mistake, set the remains on fire only to change its mind, hopelessly trying to piece things back together. For all its good intentions the plot is an utter mess which may explain why the film was delayed from its initial July 2014 release barely 6 weeks before the planned date. The Wachowski’s (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) clearly realised they were in trouble and spent the rest of the year desperately trying to make a better cut to no avail. Jupiter stumbles from one event to the next with so much quickly feeling completely insignificant. Which is such a shame because at times there’s some absolutely wonderful imagination on show here from the different alien races, worlds and very cool looking spaceships but it lacks the coherency to bring it all together in meaningful ways. It’s like seeing a really beautiful girl shunned because she slouches and a wears a scowl..... she has everything she needs to wow the world if she only understood how to use it. In Jupiter we have countless weird races and characters hurtled at us like the costume and effects departments are being paid on a piece rate. As good as many of them look there’s painfully little effort made to us as an audience understand or care why they’re suddenly trying to kill our main characters or what they’re even doing there. The film is so overstuffed with would be relevant characters it’s like Wachowski’s mistook it for TARDIS with endless room to spare. Instead it chokes the life out of proceedings when the majority feel about as real and defined as my abs in comparison to Channing Tatum’s. We see a gang of leather jacket wearing big flying lizard tings and thing “ok, they’re cool” only to watch them just stand about for most of the film doing practically nothing. Even the crew of the “space police people” ship The Ellis have been decked out like the cast of Mass Effect only for all but one or two to be little more than moving props with in joke names (like an elephant faced pilot named “Nesh” after Ganesh). This is exactly what so many were worried Guardians of the Galaxy would be and indeed would have been if James Gunn and Marvel didn’t know what the hell they were doing.

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Yet for all the story malfunctions and system crashes Jupiter still manages some visually stunning sequences and provided you can shut your brain off to the immediate what’s and why’s they are also very entertaining. While the gravity boots (basically let him skate through thin air) of Tatum’s Caine are overused to death so much they become a Chuck Norris back kick; the spaceship to spaceship combat on varying levels is quite delightful. A particular airborne fighter through Chicago took six months of filming every day from both leads and the results are impressive as the pair are swarmed a squadron of physics bending fighters, frantically trying to stay alive. Then there’s the various large scale cruiser class ships, some of which are utter works of art, glamorised even more so as they emerge out of cloud storms or planetary rings. Take nothing away from the art and production designers at work here for they have done a stellar job even if ultimately in vein. No matter how much candy Jupiter throws at the eyes the brain is not so easily fooled. Even for all its apparent imagination much of Jupiter feels stolen from other science fiction institutions with much less effect such as the human race being built by design (Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy) or a hero trying to stop an evil space wedding (Flash Gordon). Then there’s the sequences that even if eye pleasing feel completely pointless. After quickly establishing Jupiter as an unhappy toilet cleaning we have to see another montage of her polishing porcelains just a few minutes later (in case we somehow missed the point). Or a dumb and unnecessary exercise in royal claim bureaucracy or several rather dull lecture like “explainer” conversations. Scenes that should have greeted nobody but the cutting room floor instead survive to make us wish we’d checked the cinema listings more closely.

Jupiter Ascending has plenty of great faces in its cast but when its most memorable lines are things like “I love dogs” and “bees don’t lie” you have to accept that they’re shooting for the moon to be good here and many unsurprisingly don’t hit it. Mila Kunis has always been likeable yet here she’s so dull and pathetically thin despite a tragic back story that even her charms can’t carry her. If you’re going to make your lead hero female but make her so helpless she needs her big hulking man to save her every other scene, really.... what’s the point? Tatum still waters the lady gardens even with his big fake ears but he’s nowhere near as fun or enjoyable as we should expect from such a role. Sean Bean (Sharpe, Legends) actually gets to use his real accent for once (the entire UK cheers in delight) and initially looks like he’ll be the more enjoyable character only to become quite dreary (this is one film he really should have wanted to die in). Eddie Redmayne’s  (Les Miserables, Theory of Everything) indecisively whispering AND THEN SHOUTING A LOT villain raises a few smiles but won’t be doing his Oscar chances any good.

Just like the planet itself Jupiter looked jaw dropping on the surface yet upon arrival is incapable of sustaining human life. This is the kind of terrible style over substance film that gives science fiction/space films a bad reputation to the extent that anyone suffering through it will have second thoughts about anything that looks similar (Tomorrowland may actually inherit some knock on animosity). The Wachowski’s have done great things for the genre but this tragic calamity of space epic is most definitely not one of them. If you’re looking for a good science fiction fix then please watch Ex Machina instead.

Recommended for only those just wanting some pretty visuals regardless of film quality and anyone who’s main vocabulary is “huh huh huh”.

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