Published Feb 06, 2015The Wachowskis have slowly turned into their generation's George Lucas. Talented visual stylists who packed a lot of ideas into their signature work, they view themselves as personal filmmakers with blockbuster leanings when all anyone really wants from them is to watch Keanu Reeves dodge bullets and learn kung fu.
Jupiter Ascending, their latest stab at recapturing The Matrix's lightning, finds the directors shoehorning a space adventure into a didactic take on time, dynastic privilege and the quest for eternal life. In their world, Earth is little more than a farm and humans its cattle, part of a large swath of planets "owned" by the Abrasax family, who harvest their stock to create a youth serum that grants eternal life.
Jupiter Jones, played by Mila Kunis, is the exact genetic copy of the Abrasax children's dead mother. Through a twist of fate in intergalactic law, this makes Jupiter, and not the three siblings, the rightful heir to the Abrasax estate. Naturally, they aren't happy about this situation and each goes about manipulating the naive Jupiter for their own benefit in a Game of Thrones-esque battle for control. Caine Wise, (Channing Tatum) a disgraced legionnaire genetically spliced with a wolf, who also used to have wings, is hired by Titus Abrasax to retrieve Jupiter. Caine hopes that the job will have him reinstated into the military, but he soon falls for her, becoming Jupiter's protector as each Abrasax heir tries to wrest control of the universe from her.
Dialogue has never been the filmmakers' strong suit, a weakness that's magnified by the film's overly complicated plot and talented actors marble-mouthing exposition in between plenty of mouth breathing. Eddie Redmayne, as the film's primary antagonist Balem, brings new meaning to the phrase "chewing the scenery."
The Wachowskis are never shy about borrowing ideas for their films, and Jupiter Ascending is no exception. The business dealings and infighting between intergalactic houses brings to mind Frank Herbert's Dune novels, while much of its visual appearance evokes Brazil and The Fifth Element. But it lacks those two films' light touch when it comes to tone. At no point do the dramatic shifts between weighty seriousness, broad humour and fast-paced and often convoluted action gel together. Some of the action sequences are quite stunning, while others (pretty much anything involving Caine's gravity-surfing boots) are hokey. All feel wedged into the script in order to keep viewers from falling asleep during its 127-minute runtime.
Jupiter Ascending was clearly envisioned as part of a larger universe, or at least a longer film. There are enough abandoned plot lines and characters to fill out a trilogy, which was probably the Wachowskis' (or at least the studio's) hope. Guardians of the Galaxy, another space adventure about an ordinary human destined for otherworldly greatness, succeeded by putting fun before world-building, something this film could really learn from. Instead we're treated to their version of The Phantom Menace, trade disputes and all.