Gloriously goofy and spectacularly silly, Jupiter Ascending features eye-popping visuals and a storyline cobbled together from any number of operatic, science-fiction juveniles, the sort of fiction that has whiled away many a pleasant, indoor winter day for young men of a certain age.
Flipping the usual sex of the protagonist and making the character royalty in hiding also allows the movie to indulge in additional sets of stereotypical fantasy. This is, then, a richly derivative and old-fashioned Young Adult blockbuster that is more obsessed with gee-whiz special effects, presented in 3D, than character development or original storytelling. But, oh, what a ride!
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a young woman in her twenties who still lives at home with her boisterous, cantankerous, extended Russian family in Chicago. She goes to work with her mother and another older female relative every day, cleaning the homes and offices of the wealthy, returning home each night and dreaming of the stars. She is unhappy with the drudgery of her life and cannot even imagine the possibility of romance, much less love.
One day, she caves in to her cousin’s constant pestering and consents to a scheme whereby he will sell her fertilized eggs. (She wants a telescope.) Things go wrong at the clinic and she is saved by a mystery man who wears rocket-powered boots. Her very able savior is Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically-engineered warrior from another planet. It turns out that Jupiter is of royal blood, a Queen, and soon she is caught up in an extraterrestrial power struggle between the apparently nice Titus (Douglas Booth) and his older, obviously evil brother Balem (Eddie Redmayne), with their sister Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) around to explain things.
There is talk of planets — owned by immortals and developed until they are ripe for “harvesting” — but mostly there is much swooshing and blasting, without much concern for the laws of physics or narrative logic. Mostly there are insanely intricate and very pretty visuals, presented for graphic bedazzlement before being destroyed in very pretty explosions and extremely slow-motion splendor.
The overall effect is much like a ride at a high-tech amusement park, with tour guides talking yet not making much sense, all while sliding by a delightful display of lights and colors of all shapes and sizes. It’s a long ride, clocking in at more than two hours, and almost entirely borrowed from other sources, but if the seats are comfortable, it’s quite pleasant, even if it’s sure to be almost entirely forgettable.
In addition to those cited above, the cast includes Sean Bean as a grizzled warrior named Stinger, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Titus’ eye-catching assistant, Maria Doyle Kennedy as Jupiter’s earthbound mother, and James D’Arcy as, I believe, Jupiter’s father. But the real stars are production designer Hugh Bateup, costume designer Kym Barrett, cinematographer John Toll, and their teams, who created and captured the splendid visuals, as well as the hundreds of graphic artists who labored behind the scenes.
The Wachowskis, as Andy and Lana Wachowski take on-screen credit, have once again cooked up an intriguing premise, yet then served it half-baked, as with the two sequels to The Matrix and Cloud Atlas. Still, their sense of visual dramatics and snappy pacing ensure that Jupiter Ascending always pops on the big screen.
The film opens wide in theaters across North Texas on Friday, February 6, with early shows the night before at select locations. Check local listings for theaters and showtimes.