In 2012, the Wachowskis took a story-jumping plunge at David Mitchell’s nesting-doll novel Cloud Atlas (two stars was its silver lining). Now, though, Jupiter Ascending is the Wachowskis’ own script, and it’s all space-opera spectacles of nonsense—F/X and fury signifying nothing much.
The background opening, like what follows, remains faintly bizarre—not quite camp but a bit broad, a smidgen unexplained and altogether too flitting and frenetic to be all-out, entertainingly immersive. Two Russians fall in love; she’s expecting; the astronomy-loving father’s suddenly killed in a break-in; the mother gives birth to Jupiter in a freighter’s cargo-hold while crossing the Atlantic; Jupiter (Mila Kunis) grows up to be a cleaning lady in Chicago. And that’s when she, as “her majesty” and lucky inheritor of our planet (actually “seeded” long ago by aliens), is targeted by the Abrasax siblings, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus, and Kalique, squabbling over their inheritance and Earth’s bounty. The “harvesting” horror here’s an echo of not only a Cloud Atlas sequence but The Matrix (and Soylent Green, etc), where humans are meat or lab animals to be consumed or used.
Much of the movie splices DNA from better sci-fi: the rejuvenation-elixir-as-resource, castles and dynasty smack of Dune, a bureaucracy sequence pays homage to Brazil and stars its director, Terry Gilliam; Star Trek is hologrammed in a starship where we hear “shields down” and the crew’s multi-alien. (It all makes Guardians of the Galaxy seem like 2001: A Space Odyssey.) Worst of all’s the romance—Jupiter isn’t just saved from death by but held in the arms of “lycantant” Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), not once but thrice. Their relationship never rises above Hollywood hunk staring at Hollywood hottie. Kunis tries to assert Jupiter’s earthy gravity, but mostly she has to moon over a wolf-man, shotgun-wed a scheming sibling, dress up in couture costumes, run around and generally act the hapless heroine. So much for feminism beyond this world.
By the time Caine’s gone back for the girl for the nth time, plummeting and smashing through mega-buildings much like the story keeps exploding and razing any depth or profundity, you’ll feel like telling one of the writer-directors, “Hey, your movie’s Descended Into Uranus.”