Sunday 22 February 2015

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending is an entirely original space opera from the Wachowski siblings, the visionary duo behind sci-fi classics such as The Matrix, The Matrix sequels? Hmm...

Anyway, Jupiter Ascending sees Mila Kunis play Jupiter Jones, a toilet-scrubbing nobody who is whisked away on an colourful adventure by the roguish Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) so that she can take her place on an intergalactic throne.

Tuppence Middleton (no relation to Kate) as Kalique
It's not often that a film comes along that isn't based-on anything, an adaptation of something or a reboot. However, when something with the quality of Jupiter Ascending comes along, you can you kind of see why they're such a rarity.

Jupiter Ascending has lofty aspirations - you just know that the Wachowski's were aiming for Star Wars meets The Fifth Element, Mass Effect and Flash Gordon. Safe to say, it falls very, very short and comes across as a Farscape fanfic written by a sixth grader.

The film is immensely superficial, the admittedly brilliant VFX work disguising what is an otherwise dismally bland narrative. Seriously, the plot is like a poor knock-off of every science-fiction trope you can imagine, complete with wolf-men hybrids and mumbo-jumbo about bees. Couple this with the fact that the dialogue is so bad it makes The Phantom Menace look like Charles fucking Dickens and you've got a recipe for disaster.

This isn't to say the film doesn't have good intentions - in fact, there are some signs that The Wachowski's at least tried to shoehorn some social commentary into this movie. The plot revolves around three siblings from an ancient dynasty that stretches across thousands of planets plotting to harvest the people of Earth so that they may convert the charred remains into a youth serum that allows them to live forever. That is until Jupiter (the literal reincarnation of the recently deceased mother of said siblings) arrives and threatens to usurp their stranglehold on the throne.

Still following? Anyway, you can kinda see how the film fumbles around with themes such as indulgence, consumption and class warfare. So, y'know - at least they tried?

However, these get lost beneath a jumbled narrative where overlapping motives only serve to make the plot even more complicated. Each of the three siblings I mentioned earlier, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth), have their own agenda and it's never 100% clear why they're doing what they're doing. I'm fairly certain Kalique kidnaps Jupiter just so she can provide the audience, oops sorry I mean Jupiter, with dull exposition and backstory.

The idea of three immortal aliens all battling it out for ownership of the Earth seems cool on paper (like an intergalactic Game of Thrones!), but in the movie the three only share screen-time with one another on one occasion! This whole premise is utterly wasted. Instead, the film just lurches from one gorgeous but bloated action scene to another, the only respite coming in the form of scenes weighted down by boring exposition about how important Mila Kunis' character is.

Is he checking out her ass? It looks like he's
checking out her ass.
Oh, and whilst we're on that subject - poor Mila Kunis! This is her second big-budget dud (the first being 2013's Oz - The Great and Powerful) where she has to wrangle with a sub-par script. I mean, she finally lands herself a kick-ass sci-fi role only to find that her character is really thinly written and useless, nothing more than a befuddled damsel in distress who goes gooey just being in Channing Tatum's close vicinity. No amount of natural charm can do anything to alleviate the fact that her character is tasked with some of the worst dialogue you'll see this year.

The same can be said for Channing Tatum, whose gruff mercenary character, Caine, is painfully dull. Are we supposed to buy that Jupiter falls head over heels for this bore? It's not like Channing Tatum doesn't have great comedic timing and charm  that the film can call upon...

Also, Eddie Redmayne is lucky Jupiter Ascending isn't the kind of film Oscar voters will go in for - if they did, any chance of him winning Best Actor for The Theory of Everything would be immediately cancelled out by his panto-inspired performance here. Honestly, it's truly awful. Balem is just a spoilt, whiny and pathetic child with zero malice whatsoever, hardly the chilling villain a film such as this deserves.

Jupiter Ascending's only saving grace is the eye-popping visual design and luscious VFX work. It simply looks amazing. From the inventive costume design to the gothic-inspired sets, everything about the universe in which the film takes place is rich and colourful. It's just a shame that this gorgeous design is wasted on such bland characters and a muddled, directionless plot.

The Verdict: 5/10

Jupiter Ascending is more Attack of the Clones than it is Empire Strikes Back. It sees The Wachowski's attempt to tribute George Lucas, but instead their ambitions get lost in space amongst muddled narratives and woeful dialogue. Mila Kunis does her best, whilst this is far from Channing Tatum's finest hour.

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