Some movies do nothing but remind you of other movies. Far fewer movies are like nothing you’ve seen before. But “Jupiter Ascending” is that rare beast, a hybrid of the two extremes, and also one of the most beautifully misbegotten, bewildering dollops of insanity in recent history—no, all of film history.
Even trying to explain the plot produces fits of giggles. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a housekeeper who yearns for a better life, like a toilet-scrubbing Disney princess. When she agrees to sell her eggs to science for extra cash, aliens try to kill her, but Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a bounty hunter who’s part wolf, part albino and part self-insert fanfiction character saves her and informs her that she is actually the heir to Earth. He knows this because she has the ability to control bees, and in the immortal words of Caine’s ex-superior Stinger Apini (Sean Bean): “Bees are genetically predisposed to recognize royalty. Bees never lie.”
But Jupiter’s reign is threatened by the House of Abrasax, an alien dynasty whose three children, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) all desire to control the Earth and its resources to produce a serum of eternal life that comes from harvesting living creatures. And so Jupiter, the reincarnation of the matriarch of the House of Abrasax, is bounced between the three like a sexy basketball while she putters and pines for Caine, who is always conveniently there to save her when she falls off high places. That happens a lot.
One can accuse the Wachowskis of many things (messiness, style over substance, repetition of themes), but you certainly can’t say they’re un-ambitious. “Jupiter’s” plot most resembles “Dune” in its adherence to the typical “Chosen One rises to power against evil empire” narrative. But also like “Dune,” “Jupiter Ascending” wants to be so much more than that, and fails at every single thing it tries in spectacular fashion.
The most crucial failing is one of character: no character in this film has a real arc or even that many identifying traits that aren’t purely aesthetic. Jupiter is a blank slate who, despite being the film’s central figure, doesn’t do much of anything except be told she’s unmarriageable, snark and get rescued…but then she suddenly beats the crap out of some baddies at the climax.
Caine, conversely, is an unbelievable Superman of ridiculous extremes who constantly weasels out of impossible scenarios without a scratch, and his motivations are a muddled mush of redemption and fighting for love that are never clear. Kunis and Tatum’s bland performances don’t do much to elevate the tepid characterization or build believable chemistry in their rushed love story (where the climactic line is Kunis’ flat “I love dogs”).
Leading the Zero Fucks Brigade is Redmayne, who randomly alternates between a loony whisper that recalls Tim Curry and an insane shriek more resembling Faye Dunaway in “Mommy Dearest.” As much as he camps it up, he can’t disguise Balem’s lack of depth beyond under-developed mommy issues. The brief glimpse of his ass is nice, though.
The film also toys with an anti-capitalist narrative (the film’s one attempt at depth) that bizarrely recalls “Repo: The Genetic Opera,” but that’s lost amid multiple protracted action scenes that do almost nothing to further the plot, such as a borderline incomprehensible race to stop an incestuous wedding, which serves as the first of two climaxes. The stink of studio-mandated re-writes is all over this film, with its disjointed structure and numerous pointlessly showcased side characters.
The lack of a compelling narrative only draws more focus to the film’s chaotic and directionless visual design. It regurgitates everything from the Wachowski’s own back catalogue to “The Chronicles of Riddick” to “Brazil,” which is paid homage to in a sequence smack in the middle of the film that doesn’t fit tonally and takes up far too much time for its own good. By the time Terry Gilliam makes a cameo, it begins to induce awkward laughter at its own try-hard-ness.
But really, you just can’t get mad at a film this inept. You merely surrender to grinning like an idiot through every bonkers line of dialogue, every ludicrous stunt and every dopey Lady Gaga-esque outfit Jupiter dons. With any luck, “Jupiter Ascending” will become this generation’s “Battlefield Earth:” a bastion of supreme sci-fi mockability that will bring unintentional smiles to drunken Netflix subscribers everywhere.
Speakeasy Grade: A++
Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton
Rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity