Trading potential soul for egregious world building, The Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending places its titular downtrodden heroine (Mila Kunis) on a pedestal as her rightful place among intergalactic royalty is established. Relying on the agile aid of genetic misfit Caine (Channing Tatum), Jupiter soon butts heads with the omniscient and all-powerful Abrasax clan, of whom her very existence threatens to entirely upend. Now on the outnumbered side of a self-waged war, “Jupe” and Caine must fight to maintain order throughout the universe and – unsurprisingly – save Earth’s humanity from an imminently ill fate.
Time and again the Wachowskis have proven themselves as seminal if polarizing masterminds within the medium. Barring the notable and long-standing success of The Matrix in the realm of high-concept genre-bending, their projects have consistently exuded a palpable ambition that especially shines through via overall aesthetic. While Speed Racer was and remains a hyper-stylized acquired taste that’s earned a dedicated audience over time, 2012’s Cloud Atlas was a sprawling yet ultimately narrative-driven affair that was accessible if only by way of its characters and overarching thematic weight. As an entirely original outing, Jupiter Ascending loses sight of what made this preceding opus humanely appealing, opting instead for detail-heavy oppression in the form of informative but lifeless exposition.
Opening innocuously enough, the film’s rags-to-riches subplot is quickly rendered an afterthought once Tatum’s turn as a biologically-engineered mutt begins spouting off about world-building specifics. While the frequent establishment of the big picture is agreeably impressive from an imaginative standpoint, it’s easy to argue that who, what, where and when vastly overshadows what’s otherwise unimpressive dreck. The characters, despite how important they (literally) say they are, were or aspire to be, are instead soulless husks commissioned to convey the film’s ideas over the course of two-plus hours.
Said ideas are in fact the film’s only constant once the ball gets rolling, what with Jupiter’s romantic advances toward Caine ringing as hasty, sloppy and thoughtless as drunkenly microwaving a Hot Pocket. Supporting characters are just names attached to faces attached to rote motives, of which fail to evolve past the point of elementary-level archetypes with mommy issues played by Redmayne and friends. When fabricated technology and the Wachowskis’ ever-present action chops aren’t being exploited, well, the entire production reeks of a vapidity that can’t be redeemed despite its best intentions and gloriously rendered set pieces.
Artificial in every sense of the word, Jupiter Ascending is merely an encyclopaedia of self-contained fiction that fails to round itself out. Everything present exists only to perpetuate the skeleton of a story at-hand, the historical timeline and truth behind all of humanity’s existence across the galaxy and beyond serving to inject base-level intrigue and nothing more. The Wachowskis’ signature blend of eye candy and general loftiness is as present as ever, it’s just a shame that the pair seemed more preoccupied with reinventing the space opera wheel than leaving us with someone, let alone something to care about or leave a lasting mark.