Jupiter Ascending

Two weeks ago, I bemoaned the fact that Johnny Depp’s acting career (or, rather, his credibility) has taken a serious hit in recent years. Once upon a time there was some real promise (and real talent) there, but how long can you rest on your laurels? Apparently (for Depp anyway) it’s eleven years… and counting.

The exact same issue is now facing the Wachowski siblings, who in 1999 gifted us with The Matrix but haven’t done anything approaching it since. Their latest, Jupiter Ascending, does show some of the inventiveness and visual wizardry that made them two of filmdom’s pioneers way back when, but instead of bringing them out of their slump (which includes Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas), Jupiter is just another in a long line of overblown, slogging messes.

The base concept here is actually fairly interesting– Mila Kunis is Jupiter Jones, a toilet-scrubbing maid in Chicago who is kidnapped by space alien Caine Wise (Channing Tatum). Caine is working for Titus (Douglas Booth), part of the sibling trio which currently runs the universe. Turns out, Jupiter is the reincarnation of the trio’s mother and is therefore universal royalty, and her estate includes Earth. Titus wants Jupiter just so he can marry her and kill her and keep the Earth for himself. The other brother, Balem, (Eddie Redmayne) wants Earth, too– so sibling rivalry ensues.

More than once during Jupiter Ascending, I thought of Star Wars, but not in a good way. Back in 1977, we were introduced to all kinds of crazy space lingo, characters, and concepts. (Yes, there was a time when the world hadn’t yet heard words like Tatooine, Artoo, and Tarkin.) At the time it all sounded weird and fantastical, but it also worked, because the Star Wars story was fairly simple; we could easily relate to the situations and themes, even if we weren’t sure how to pronounce “Leia”.

The plot of Jupiter, though, is so ridiculously convoluted and esoteric that it should come with Cliff’s Notes– provided people still cared after seeing it. Maybe it’s because Star Wars was set entirely in a made-up world, while Jupiter is set partly in the all-too-familiar present-day Earth. Maybe it’s just that the Wachowskis are too creative for their own good. Either way, Jupiter is little more than a confusing, muddled mess.

Give Kunis some credit– she actually looks as if she’s invested in the role. Tatum, too. But that’s where it ends. Redmayne, particularly, will work the rest of his days to convince people that it was his long-lost evil twin who took this insipid role. (Filming for Jupiter began before he had even been cast as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.)

As with Cloud Atlas, Jupiter is chock-full of mind-blowing eye candy– the spaceships, alien worlds, and costumes are all among the most stunning things to hit theaters in a good long while, and an early battle/chase scene set in Chicago is a legitimate white-knuckle ride. It’s just a shame that the script is such a bloated, plodding let down.

If only movie theaters had a mute button.

2/5 stars