Perhaps bearing Cloud Atlas in mind, Jupiter Ascending is obviously an attempt at a mainstream hit, but it misses by a breathtaking extent. It does have an outstanding cast and spectacular, gorgeous special effects. And it delivers extravagant, imaginative action sequences which, unfortunately, leave the viewer cold.
This is because we don't care anything about the character involved, just one of the fatal flaws in an amazingly weak screenplay. The movie tells the story of Jupiter Jones (yes, really), a young American-Russian woman.
Jupiter's Russian family is depicted with hair-raising racism. Just try imagining African Americans being subjected to the offensive hijinks depicted in this movie and you'll see what I mean.
Jupiter has a miserable existence of poverty and drudgery. She works as a skivvy in the houses of the rich where she cleans toilets. In fact, the Wachowskis are so obsessed with her cleaning toilets that we get five shots of her doing so and then the Big Evil Space Bad Guy even has a speech about it.
But, in the manner of classic fairy tales and cliched fantasy scripts everywhere, Jupiter has a destiny. She is the chosen one. The reincarnation, or genetic recurrence, of a space princess. So evil people from space want her dead and good guys from space intend to save her.
Sadly, Jupiter is a miserably badly written character. She is weak, stupid and utterly passive — the other protagonists move her around the story like a piece of baggage. By the time she finally stands up for herself at the end, it's really too late.
The only reason we have any sympathy at all for Jupiter is because she's played by the luminous Mila Kunis. Kunis is a proper movie star. She lights up the screen and all the film makers need to do is shoot a close-up of her to make the movie watchable — albeit briefly.
Channing Tatum plays a disgraced space cop come to rescue Jupiter. He brings dignity and conviction to a thankless role and carries off some awful dialogue with admirable grace. However, because he has wolf DNA he's buried under some silly make up which minimises his screen presence. You screw with a movie star's look at your peril, Wachowskis.
There is one effective scene in the movie, where Tatum takes Kunis to an odd, dilapidated safe house out in the sticks surrounded by bee hives. Here Channing's old commanding officer, played by Sean Bean, is waiting for them.
Bean (decapitated in Game of Thrones a few seasons ago) is another terrific actor. And he and Kunis have a startling amount of chemistry between them in their brief scenes together — way more than Kunis and Tatum, sadly for the film makers (all those posters pushing an epic romance between Kunis and Tatum are offering an empty promise). This bit in the bee house, thanks to the odd environment and Bean's contribution, is the only segment of the movie which really comes to life.
Jupiter Ascending features a memorable villain portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, who under-plays it in a chilling fashion, instead of eating the scenery. And there are epic space battles, ravishing science fiction panoramas and brilliant special effects shots — of such a calibre that I wished I'd seen the movie in the 3D print.
There are also occasional flashes of wit and imagination to remind us the the Wachowskis have previously written some great scripts. But nothing is going to save this one. If you want to see this sort of space opera done properly, then check out Guardians of the Galaxy.
(Image credits: the posters are from Imp Awards. The still of Mila — we're on first name terms — is from Wall Paper.)