Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: The Wachowskis

Stars: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Kick Gurry, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Doona Bae.

I really liked the Wachowski’s first film Bound; it was a tight and stylishly made erotic thriller shot on a low budget. Since then though Andy and Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski seem to have embraced science fiction themes with a vengeance and become obsessed with spectacular visuals and CGI effects to bring their original and ambitiously surreal vision to the screen.

The success of The Matrix has given them access to huge budgets and plenty of freedom to pretty much make whatever films they want. But they have learned that bigger does not necessarily mean better!

But after two sequels to The Matrix and then the garishly coloured comic book like Speed Racer the siblings seem to have lost their mojo. I’m still scratching my head over the wildly ambitious but confusing Cloud Atlas from last year. And with their latest film the siblings seems to have overreached and bitten off more than they can chew with this space opera. The Wachowskis seem to have become lost in space. To put it bluntly, Jupiter Ascending is a mess. And arguably this is a bigger mess than David Lynch’s misguided adaptation of Dune.

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a destitute Russian woman who works as a house cleaner in Chicago, but is dissatisfied with her lot in life. But then she discovers that because of her DNA she is actually the descendant of the powerful Abrasax family, a centuries-old line of alien rulers who seem to hold the fate of planets, including Earth, in their hands. But the Abrasax family is divided as the three rival siblings argue over who inherits what planet following the death of their mother. Titus (Douglas Booth, from the recent version of Romeo And Juliet, etc) wants to marry her to produce an heir to the family. The megalomaniacal Balem (from The Theory Of Everything, etc) wants to harvest the Earth to ensure the future of their line, but has to kill Jupiter first. Kalique (Tuppence Middleton, from Trance, The Imitation Game, etc) wants to protect her from her brothers for her own nefarious purposes.

Whisked away from her home in Chicago to a distant planet, Jupiter finds herself constantly placed in peril. She finds herself rescued and protected by a genetically modified former cop turned bounty hunter named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), who is part human and part canine and often moves about on futuristic-looking jetskates.

Very little of this seems to make sense, but the Wachowskis hope that audiences will be too distracted and dazzled by the visuals to really take notice of its illogical and incoherent plot. Visually the film is quite interesting with the Wachowskis creating a vivid new universe through CGI and digital effects and some stunning production design. And a couple of action sequences are quite well staged with energy and verve, but much of the action seems heavily influenced by video games.

There seems to be a huge disconnect between what the Wachowski’s conceived on paper and what they have put on the screen. I defy anyone to make sense of the narrative that drives Jupiter Ascending. The siblings seem to have borrowed liberally from a number of classic sources and sci-fi films, and even Shakespeare’s King Lear, but the film itself is all over the place. The action seems reminiscent of those classic Saturday afternoon matinees and serials -such as Flash Gordon, etc – with lots of wild action and cliffhangers virtually every five minutes.

And the dialogue is as clunky, inane and preposterous as any heard in a film for a long time. But Jupiter Ascending is nowhere near as much fun as last year’s free wheeling and enjoyable comic book adaptation of Guardians Of The Galaxy. There is a touch of satire in the clever sequence involving our heroes encountering lots of red tape and a robotic bureaucracy.

The Wachowskis draw strange and uncommitted performances from their stellar cast, but even they seem unable to bring the dull material to life. Redmayne, who was so good as Stephen Hawking, hams it up here as the villainous Titus and delivers a strange and simpering performance. He whispers most of his lines in a sibilant fashion. Tatum is a strange piece of casting here, and although his performance is rather wooden, he carries off the physical demands of his role effectively. Sean Bean pops up briefly as a kind of bounty hunter who has been genetically crossed with bees, but he is given little of note to do. Australian actor Kick Gurry (Looking For Alibrandi‘s bad boy) pops up briefly as Jupiter’s brother and sports a dubious accent.

Much of the rumoured $175 million budget is splashed across the screen, but when Jupiter Ascending inevitably fails at the box office maybe the studio will come to its senses and cast the Wachowskis adrift to find another source of funding for their increasingly ambitious visions.



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