Jupiter Ascending, the newest film from brother-sister team Andy and Lana Wachowski, is a magnificent disaster. It’s like watching a tornado from afar, it’s a beautiful creation but you know it’s going to completely destroy anything of substance or worth. Jupiter Ascending is incredible to behold and takes inconceivable risks, but when it’s over I don’t know if anyone was better off than when it began.
First things first: Jupiter Ascending is really bizarre. Points given to the Wachowskis for diving head-first into their wildest film yet. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a Russian immigrant living in Chicago, who, unbeknownst to her, is the reincarnation of intergalactic space royalty, the late Queen Abrasax. Her royal blood ignites a feud between the Queen’s children: Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Balsem (Eddie Redmayne). It’s all quite complicated. Oh, and Channing Tatum plays the buff lead singer of an early 00’s emo-band (that’s not true, he’s actually a humanoid whose DNA has been spliced with that of a wolf, but he’s a dead ringer for a My Chemical Romance roadie). Though the film falls flat on its face more often than it lands with grace, there’s something to be said for the Wachowskis–whose last film, Cloud Atlas, was a magnum opus despite being a commercial flop–continuing insistence on filming the unfilmable.
The Wachowskis seem to have a great command of their actors. From The Matrix to Speed Racer to Cloud Atlas, Lana and Andy Wachowski have managed to squeeze fully committed performances out of A-Listers in some of the most gonzo films of their careers. They do the same in Jupiter Ascending, but with wildly varying degrees of success. Channing Tatum, playing the aforementioned Emo Wolf-Boy (the character’s name is actually Caine Wise, which is kind of a bummer when you’ve got Emo Wolf-Boy at your disposal), continues to prove why he can do no wrong in Hollywood. Given the most physical role, Tatum is the anchor in all of the grandiose action sequences but can also pull off moments of quiet sincerity. Conversely, Eddie Redmayne–who is nominated for an Oscar this year for his performance in The Theory of Everything–is doing nothing right. Doing some kind of nightmare Marlon-Brando-from-Apocalypse-Now-on-quaaludes impression, Redmayne’s Balsem Abrasax grunts out all of his dialogue in vapor-like whispers, punctuated with the occasional manic scream (which drew unintended laughs from my theater on each occasion). And Mila Kunis, who still has yet to prove why she deserves to headline a film, is perfectly fine as the lead, hitting dramatic and humorous marks with ease, if not with any particular zeal.
The biggest risk of making a film that is this off-the-wall nuts, is that it can often descend into silliness. And it should come as no surprise that Jupiter Ascending, a space movie that bears more resemblance to the prime-time soap opera Dynasty than anything else, is very, very silly. When a failed kidnapping of the unsuspecting Jupiter is thwarted by Caine–it should also be noted that Caine wears “gravity boots” that invert gravity and allow him to roller blade on thin air–she is whisked off to reclaim and defend her intergalactic throne. Once Jupiter leaves Earth, the screenplay kind of falls apart. The film, which up into this point was loose and fun, becomes rigid and formal as the Wachowskis parade the audience through a tour of characters and exposition dumps, hitting arduous story beats with little flare or excitement. But the banality of the screenplay is magnified by how little sense the film makes. The Wachowskis, who aren’t afraid to make a three hour film, seem rushed to fit Jupiter Ascending in at just two hours and it shows. There are scenes that seem like they were a part of a sequence left on the cutting room floor (a sequence explaining how honeybees sense and respect royalty is particularly confounding). When the mystery is unfolded and the Wachowskis try to tell a complete story the entire endeavor becomes a lot less enjoyable. The silliness of interplanetary queens, alligator monsters, space boots, princess-loving honey bees and Eddie Redmayne were all much more interesting when shrouded in mystery; but it’s when the film tries to come full circle, connecting the dots and cauterizing bleeding plot holes, that Jupiter Ascending transitions from fun space movie into silly alien soap opera.
Here’s the thing about Jupiter Ascending: it’s not good. But, it is an optimistic failure. It’s a wholly original film, by two of the most forward thinking cinematic minds of 2015. It makes sense why Jupiter Ascending was pushed back from its original summer 2014 release date, where it would have been obliterated by the slate of solid summer blockbusters last year. But I don’t know if I can, in good conscience, tell someone not to go see Jupiter Ascending. It is beautiful to look at, if not silly beyond comprehension, and the fact that a movie not based on any preexisting property and as weird as Jupiter Ascending was released by a major studio is good and should be championed by film buffs. But nothing in Jupiter Ascending can transcend how ridiculous the entire endeavor becomes.
Craig is a writer living in north Florida with his wife and ornery dog. He writes about film and TV. He creates and publishes comic books under the label Gentleman Baby Comics. He's currently wishing his bio sounded more engaging.