“I love dogs.”
The Wachowskis have unlimited chances. The way I see it, they made The Matrix, and thus can do whatever they want, forever. Speed Racer was ahead of its time and Cloud Atlas was too esoteric to ever stand a chance, but Andy and Lana Wachowski are back at bat to take another swing. This time, their wildcard project is the seemingly more conventional Jupiter Ascending, a space fantasy partway between Star Wars and The Matrix, with a splash of Harry Potter thrown in for good measure.
Mila Kunis is a miserable Muggle, so to speak, who discovers that she is the reincarnation of on ancient queen and is the rightful owner of the planet Earth. Channing Tatum is her protector/romantic interest who has a penchant for shooting things in slow motion, and the conflict ultimately boils down to corporate espionage in a family business; three super-rich siblings fighting over the ownership of the Earth and its most valuable resource: humans, who are turned into a youth serum for the most powerful of beings, like an intergalactic organ-harvesting ring.
While this seems like some pretty heavy subject matter, the film firmly remains more-or-less family friendly. There’s no gratuitous cursing or sexual content, and the action, though hard-hitting, stays firmly within its PG-13 confines.
Overall, the film does succeed at creating a cohesive universe with some really cool visuals. Facets of real-life alleged alien activity, such as crop circles and ‘little grey men’ give the early stages of the film a welcome degree of believability, and an extended sequence in which the CGI-overload gives way to rusty machines and a dash of magical realism (complete with a Terry Gilliam cameo) is a refreshing break, though the dissonance between the myriad tones may turn off some viewers.
Ultimately, however, the film is unsure of how seriously it should take itself, leading to some issues which, this being The Wachowskis, will be furiously debated among their devotees. Eddie Redmayne is either deliciously hammy or completely lost and unintentionally hilarious; Channing Tatum’s make-up is either uniquely other-worldly or embarrassingly inept; the dragon-dinosaur creatures in leather jackets are either the coolest thing in the movie or the last straw in losing the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Other aspects of the film are more irreconcilable. Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis are decent enough together, but not for one second do they have anything resembling romantic chemistry, despite the film’s attempts to prove otherwise. In addition, the interesting sci-fi concepts introduced throughout the film are rarely ever given the in-depth look they deserve, and feel more like window-dressing than fleshed-out plot elements. Instead, we are treated to more characters than the movie bothers to invest in, and action scenes which start out strong with some cool visual ideas, but prove to be endlessly repetitive slogs.
Jupiter Ascending fails because it is too hesitant, and lacking the “haters-be-damned” attitude of The Wachowski’s earlier works. It stops short of going all-in on its themes, despite having material there ripe for harvesting, instead falling back on endless and numbing spectacle. Still, I couldn’t help but childishly enjoy my time with the film, but maybe that’s just my affinity for dragon-dinosaur creatures in leather jackets.