Photos: Warner Bros.
Part “Star Wars” style sci-fi soap opera epic. Part “Pacific Rim” special effects spectacle. Andy and Lana Wachowski’s seventh feature film combines the best core elements of what makes the science fiction and fantasy genres so great and succeed in creating one of the most spectacular, in-your-face, enchanting visual experiences since “Avatar.” While the script and acting occasionally flounder in the face of all the glitzy, glossy CGI, “Jupiter Ascending” is a true return to form for the filmmaking duo that made the “Matrix” trilogy.
Before going into flying part-dog, part-human creatures, T-Rex lizard minions, and one of the most awesome spaceship fight scenes ever caught on film, at its heart “Jupiter Ascending” is about a girl. Said girl, whose name just happens to be Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is the proverbial Cinderella living in present day Chicago. Day in and day out, Jupiter — whose mother brought her to America from Russia after her father was murdered by the mob — spends her days waking up at 4:45 in the morning and scrubbing toilets for various starlets and socialites living in the Windy City.
Okay. So that’s what is going on here on good ol’ mother Earth. Now for the planet hopping craziness.
In a galaxy far, far away, three noble siblings of the highest order — the Abrasax family to be exact — discuss the utterly apocalyptic process of “harvesting” worlds. In laymen’s terms, “harvesting” is to space humans what we do to the cows and chickens we buy at the local Ralphs Supermarket. But instead of livestock, the Abrasax and their people systematically murder humans for profit.
The latest planet up for “harvesting” is — you guessed it — Earth. Here’s the catch though. None of the three greedy children can murder the inhabitants of Earth because they do not possess ownership of the planet. Their mother was the sole possessor, but because she is dead, Earth’s fate is held in limbo until her rightful heir takes her place. And that rightful heir ends up being — wait for it — Jupiter Jones on the planet in question because she was born with the same exact genetic code as the former Queen of the Abrasax family. In science fiction mumbo jumbo, this process of genetic reemergence is called a “recurrence.”
Enter Caine (Channing Tatum), who plays a bounty hunter humanoid that is sent to Chicago to apprehend Jupiter and bring her to meet her new family. Of course things don’t go according to plan, and tons — and I mean tons — of space action ensues.
In a pseudo-futuristic world where there are half-elephant humans, half-canine humans, and half-dinosaur humans, it’s nice to see that some familiar Hollywood faces play a handful of these half-human things. Joining Tatum and Kunis is a pretty eclectic cast of up-and-comers including, “The Theory of Everything’s” Eddie Redmayne and “The Imitation Game’s” Tuppence Middleton. They both play wicked Abrasax siblings, with Redmayne’s Balem functioning as the overall super-villain of the film, and are both solid in their roles. Redmayne might sound like a chain-smoking Yoda, but however you describe his accent; it will surely send shivers down your spine.
As far as the leads are concerned, I like the Disney princess-esque Jupiter Jones and hearty hero Tatum. They are great together, and definitely infuse a bit of reality into the otherworldly nature of the script by the Wachowskis.
Story wise, I am very thankful that the Wachowskis are in on the fact that “Jupiter Ascending” definitely requires a hearty spoonful of suspension of disbelief. Unfortunately, the only draw back is that the script doesn’t always live up to its lofty premise. Some of the dialogue is admittedly cheesy, and Tatum, Kunis, and company cannot always salvage it.
But when it comes to all that out-of-this-world stuff, Cinematographer John Toll (Braveheart) along with the Wachowski’s, create pure magic. From the mesmerizing zero-gravity fight scenes on Earth to the gorgeous topography of various far away planets, there are a lot of visual stimuli to ogle over in “Jupiter Ascending.”
In a year that promises a new addition to the Star Wars franchise, an Avengers sequel, and even a Jurassic Park reboot, “Jupiter Ascending” is nonetheless 2015’s first — and so far best — big budget epic.
After sinking $170 million into production and pushing back the release date from July 2015 to this Friday, I am not alone in wishfully thinking that this costly space odyssey reaps intergalactic returns at the box office. Warner Bros. is thinking the same exact thing!
Maybe some of those far away planets could open up a few Regal Theaters before the final box office numbers come in.
By David Morris
Rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity
Running Time: 127 minutes