It’s never a good sign when a movie gets its release date pushed back. Unfortunately, “Jupiter Ascending,” a film originally slated for last summer, is not the exception to that rule.
“Jupiter” is the latest from Andy and Lana Wachowski, the same duo that brought us “The Matrix” back when we were all partying in 1999. They’re still playing with a science fiction toolkit, but “Jupiter” feels more like their muddled Matrix sequels than the streamlined original hit.
The film’s title refers to its protagonist, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian immigrant named for a stargazing father who died before she was born. She lives in Chicago with her mother and extended family, waking up at 4:45 a.m. to clean homes for a living.
But it isn’t long before Cinderella’s prince arrives in the form of Caine (Channing Tatum), an interstellar bounty hunter who has been hired to rescue her from her life of servitude. Turns out Jupiter is actually intergalactic royalty, a member of the infamous Abrasax family, and as a bonus, she literally just inherited the Earth.
Jupiter’s rags-to-riches story isn’t without its hiccups, though. The royal family isn’t the type to share, and three siblings in particular are coveting the Earth like it’s the last flat-screen on Black Friday. One of them, Titus (Douglas Booth), hired Caine without letting on to his evil intent. Another, Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), also hides a decidedly inhuman purpose behind a pretty face. Only the so-soft-spoken-he’s-pretty-much-whispering Balem (Eddie Redmayne) is an obvious bad guy.
At the heart of the family business is a mysterious pool that restores youth to anyone lucky enough to take a dip. When Jupiter figures out the source of this pool, she decides her royal blood may not be thicker than water.
Sadly, the clarity of the last four paragraphs is only discerned by intense concentration on the part of the viewer. “Jupiter” invested a lot of time and effort into its special effects and action sequences, but its story is so convoluted that you’re never quite sure what is going on or what to care about.
Early detractors complained about “The Matrix” being all style and no substance, but “Jupiter” is more than happy to steal that title from its older brother.
Kunis’ character is a puzzle who often doesn’t have much to do outside of fashion different outfits. For someone who was cleaning toilets one day and battling for the fate of the planet the next, she seems to handle the twists and turns of her life with a strangely vacant detachment.
There’s also not much to justify her affections for Caine, a genetic hybrid called a Splice, who technically is off-limits to royal types like Jupiter. Then again, the fact that he’s the only character in the film who isn’t trying to kill her may be enough to win her over.
One of the best things “Jupiter” has going for it is its expertly crafted visuals, but even that exposes a weakness. Most times a film like this will either lean toward adding CGI to a real-life environment (See: the Lord of the Rings trilogy), or place real-life actors in a CGI environment (See: the Star Wars prequels). “Jupiter” goes the latter route, which looks cool, but also makes it difficult to engage with any real emotional stakes.
CGI can provide some great-looking animation, but in your mind you still know it is animation, and the available 3D option doesn’t do much to help.
Overall, “Jupiter Ascending” isn’t an awful film, but it wasn’t really worth the wait. It’s a decent idea that was overwhelmed by excess story and excess effects. Jupiter may be ascending, but its audience will leave shrugging.
“Jupiter Ascending” is rated PG-13 for considerable action violence and mayhem, some profanity, and some sexual content, including brief nudity.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.