Directors: Andy and Lana Wachowski
Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean
Rating: **1/2 (2-and-a-half stars)
Do we regret more, what almost was, than what never was at all?
In the case of Jupiter Ascending, it is clearly a case of the former. This is a film that could have been great, if only for the scale of its ambition. And yet it is this ambition that also lets it down: Had this Cinderella story-meets superhero film-meets sci-fi adventure saga restricted itself to any one (or two) of genres, it might have succeeded splendidly. But in trying to be all three, it ends up as under-whelming.
The film starts with the sad life of one Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian immigrant in the US who makes ends meet by working with her mother as a cleaning lady. Scrubbing her hundredth toilet, Jupiter wishes she could get away from it all. Salvation comes—after Jupiter is attacked by alien creatures—in the form of the suitably hunky Caine (Channing Tatum), a bounty hunter who’s been commissioned to steal her away from earth. Escaping persistent attacks from the aliens who want to kill her (and squeezing in the de rigueur romantic flight that’s probably been done in every Spider-man, Superman movie there is before that), they turn to a friend of Caine’s for help.
The friend, Stinger (Sean Bean) quickly brings Jupiter up-to-speed. We find out that she is the genetic reincarnation of the matriarch of the most powerful family in the galaxy, the Abrasax(s). The Abrasax family is at the head of an intergalactic business: Planets such as earth are “seeded” by them, to be “harvested” once they have reached the optimum level. From the life force of hundreds of these harvested lives is derived a small bit of elixir, which delivers eternal youth. After the Abrasax matriarch’s death, earth has been inherited by her oldest son, the ruthless Balem (Eddie Redmayne) who intends to harvest it. But reincarnated as Jupiter, she is once again the owner of the planet.
Jupiter is incredulous to hear all this, until Stinger tells her, “You would rather believe that in all of these vast galaxies, with all these planets, yours is the only one that can sustain (intelligent) life?” The scene is reminiscent of the one in the Wachowskis’ Matrix, in which Keanu Reeves’ Neo learns of the true nature of the world from Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus.
Jupiter’s adventures now begin in earnest as she travels back and forth between planets, dealing with the intrigues of the Abrasax siblings (Balem, Titus, Kalique); repeated attempts on her life; the bureaucratic intricacies of claiming her legacy (in one scene most viewers will recognise, Jupiter and her entourage are shunted from one department to another, all so she can get her ‘seal’ to assert her claim on earth. In the end, a bribe is what gets the job done); trying to save earth; and of course, dealing with her feelings for Caine.
For a heroine at the centre of such an epic fantasy, however, Jupiter has little to do. Mostly, she is required to wear outlandishly gorgeous clothes while waiting for Caine to save her from all kinds of situations. Coming from the filmmakers who created a character like Trinity in The Matrix, Jupiter’s passivity is disappointing. And Mila Kunis’s portrayal of Jupiter, which has all the emotiveness of a wooden doll, lets the film down.
Also disappointing is Sean Bean’s role, which feels like an afterthought. For fans of the actor, who previously played Boromir in the Lord of the Rings franchise and Ned Stark in Game of Thrones, this must seem like a waste of his talents indeed. As for Channing Tatum and Eddie Redmayne, who have just been seen in their Oscar-nominated films Foxcatcher and Theory of Everything respectively, Jupiter Ascending sees them do their best (though their “bests” differs widely). Tatum plays the unidimensional Caine competently, but the real delight is Redmayne, who does a complete about-turn from the sweet, gawky depiction of Stephen Hawking from his previous film, and transforms into cold, creepy Balem.
The Wachowskis have infused the film with enough grandiosity to keep you occupied through its run time of 127 minutes. And there is some intellectual fodder too – especially in Balem’s homily to Jupiter on “profit”, which he believes is the foundation for the entire universe as they know it; and on how when you can have absolutely everything in the world, it is time that becomes the most essential commodity of all. Ultimately, it is what is so good about this film that shows up what is bad in such strong light.
Jupiter Ascending then, is a missed opportunity for the Wachowskis—and a missed opportunity for viewers.