Although Lana and Andy Wachowski got noticed for their 1996 “lesbian noir” thriller Bound, it was The Matrix, with its visionary blend of trippy visuals, cutting-edge special effects, and mind-bending sci-fi plot, that propelled them into the upper orbit of name-brand writer-directors.
That was 16 years ago, and they have been scrambling unsuccessfully to match that achievement ever since. Although 2012’s Cloud Atlas had vast ambitions, its puzzle-within-a-puzzle era-hopping storylines became intellectually turgid. And now they have backtracked notably with the blockbuster silliness of Jupiter Ascending, a candy-coloured sci-fi extravaganza that starts on Earth before launching itself on an inter-galactic mission that’s an eye-popping pastiche of everything from Star Wars to Soylent Green.
Mila Kunis (Black Swan) stars as the improbably named Jupiter Jones, a Russian émigrée who scrubs toilets in Chicago. As it turns out, the unaware Jupiter is the “genetic reincarnation” of one of the leaders of the Abrasax clan, one of the most powerful and ruthless families in the entire universe. As such, she is heir to a staggeringly vast fortune – including the planet Earth, whose entire population is a crop due to be “harvested.”
Jupiter’s genetic original had three children, and they all have nefarious designs on Jupiter. Luckily, this resourceful gal has a protector in the form of Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a “hunter” who was originally hired by one of the Abrasax siblings to find the missing heir but who now has fallen for Jupiter and become her hunky guardian.
Ascending is a sometimes-effective hodge-podge of hyper-kinetic chase scenes, creepy critters appropriate for an ambitious space opera, and visually lush set design (riffing on everything from Art Deco-informed Egyptian statuary to the paintings of Maxfield Parrish). But even stunning images of space ships breaching like whales as they emerge from beneath thick clouds of space dust can’t compensate for all the genre clichés, plotting contrivances, and hammy acting (particularly Eddie Redmayne, so great as Stephen Hawking, who may have just put his Oscar chances in peril). Kunis is cute as anything, and some of the spectacle works well on its own terms. But after two hours of synapse-jolting/hell’s-a-poppin’ brain pummeling you’ll probably yearn for something slow-paced and thoughtful on PBS.
Jupiter Ascending **
Stars Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum
Written and Directed by
Lana and Andy Wachowski
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