Mila Kunis plays a young woman with the great comic book name Jupiter Jones, who leads an ordinary life cleaning toilets in Chicago. That’s until a band of evil homunculus aliens attempt to murder her while she’s in gynecologist stirrups. In bursts Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), an intergalactic wolfman in hover-boots, pointy ears, and a blond goatee. “I have more in common with a dog than with you,” he says after rescuing her. Kunis is an actress most capable of spouting off a joke and doesn’t skip a beat before exclaiming, “I love dogs!”
That line is one of a few in the Wachowskis’ latest misfire (made for a gargantuan $175 million and delayed since last summer) that receive a big, non-condescending laugh from the audience. At two hours and seven minutes, Jupiter Ascending is actually the directors’ shortest movie since their 1996 debut, the imaginative crime noir Bound, and more than any of their work in between (three Matrix movies, Speed Racer, Cloud Atlas), it edges towards that film’s saucy, self-aware tone. But Jupiter Ascending‘s early cleverness dries up quickly, especially when Kunis is offscreen, leaving us with just another incoherent sci-fi spectacle.
At least the Wachowskis know how to fill the screen. Shot by Braveheart cinematographer John Toll, the movie displays its visual gusto early with a dazzling dogfight over downtown Chicago. A disorienting device is used with palpable throttle, in which the perspective is reversed so that we see the characters as stationary, it seems, as skyscrapers and Lake Michigan spin dizzily all around them. Later, the sight of large spaceships needling into and out of the eye of Jupiter (to the squeals of composer Michael Giacchino’s score) has a florid majesty that lends a pulpy 1980s feel.
But that’s before we see who lives in the eye of Jupiter. It’s current Best Actor nominee—frontrunner, even—Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) as the owner of a rusty old refinery where human beings are turned into replenishing bath water. Insanely, Redmayne is presented as a formidable villain, shouting lines like “I create life!” followed in a growly whisper with, “And I destroy it.” He’s impossible to take seriously as dangerous, but too mechanical to enjoy as camp. Jupiter Ascending won’t have any impact on Redmayne’s career or his Oscar chances, but the same can’t be said for his directors. Perhaps the movie’s underperformance—miracles notwithstanding, it’s not predicted to earn back its budget—will have the good effect of bringing the undoubtedly talented Wachowskis back down to Earth. C+