After taking a couple of adaptations – popular anime Speed Racer and literary success Cloud Atlas – Andy and Lana Wachowski return to their own imaginations for their first original film since The Matrix. The result, Jupiter Ascending, is a frequently ridiculous and fast-paced piece of eye candy. It’s also the most entertaining film released so far this year by a mile.
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) works as a cleaning lady in Chicago with her mother and other members of her immigrant Russian family. Since she was born at sea, she has no formal land to call home, feeling alien everywhere. That is, until a routine medical treatment brings her to the attention of the Abrasax siblings – Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) – who own various planets in the universe. One of the siblings sends a team of assassins after Jupiter, who is saved by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum).
The concept of “The One” is nothing new to the Wachowskis, so fans of the siblings shouldn’t be surprised that Jupiter fits into the type of protagonist role previously filled by Neo and Speed Racer. It turns out that Jupiter is an exact genetic match to the mother of the Abrasax siblings, and is entitled to ownership of a significant portion of the universe, including Earth. Earth, it turns out, is a key focus for the Abrasax siblings, and each has their own reasons for getting it from Jupiter.
There’s nothing particularly unique about the basic story of Jupiter Ascending. Where it excels is in the minutiae. Visually, the film continues the Wachowski’s focus on an environment that’s aesthetically pleasing and different from any similar story. The most prominent example comes from Caine’s gravity boots, which create trails wherever he goes – and he can go pretty much anywhere with them. Along those lines, the Wachowskis also know how to stage a fight scene, and while there’s nothing quite approaching The Matrix‘s bullet time, the action scenes are still skillfully crafted.
If I had one major complaint about the film, it’s Mila Kunis. I normally like Kunis, and even here she’s not horrible. There’s something lacking in her performance, though – a total commitment to character. Her major costars, particularly Channing Tatum and Eddie Redmayne, commit to their characters in all of their unusual glory. Redmayne, in particular, alternates between a barely-there, eerie calm and furious rage in a test of how far between two ends of a spectrum he can act in a given scene. It’s something that could easily come off as campy, but it works here.
More than anything, I’m impressed by the world building going on here. Aside from Kunis, my biggest complaint is that there’s so much of the universe presented here, and it’s compressed into just over two hours. I want to see more of this universe, and while I have my doubts that we’ll return to what the Wachowskis have created here, I hope that they’ll at least continue to explore new ideas. Goodness knows we could use more original concepts with big budgets.