In Jupiter Ascending Channing Tatum’s character is a “splice,” an intergalactic bounty hunter with a distaste for shirts. His genetically engineered DNA contains both wolf and human strands. He sports wee pointy ears, a lemon-brown goatee and a terrific pair of jet boots. He’s basically Shakespeare’s Puck plunked down in a story recalling The House of Atreus, but in space.
The movie doesn’t really work, but the jet boots would be the envy of Iron Man, and they allow our hero, unwisely named Caine Wise, to speedskate through the air, leaving pretty little trails of light over downtown Chicago.
Mila Kunis’ character, Jupiter Jones, works as a cleaning lady, and just before the film’s opening credits she’s shown scrubbing a toilet, looking sad. Her life lacks love and excitement. The movie takes care of business. Jupiter Jones may sound like the brand name for Tatum’s jet boots, but in reality she’s the rightful heir to planet Earth because she is a genetic ringer (reincarnated, sort of) for the late matriarch of a high-toned family of bores who rule most of the known universe.
Kunis falls a lot in Jupiter Ascending, from great green-screen heights, and screams even more, though with Kunis, you’re not getting a simpy, distressed damsel; she has actually learned to scream skeptically. She’s in the film so that Tatum can swoop in and catch her, over and over, en route to rescuing a better-written Cinderella in some other galaxy.
I am this galaxy’s least reliable judge of writers-directors Lana and Andy Wachowski, since I liked Speed Racer (and, more sanely, the first of their Matrix movies, among other projects). There are plenty of design details in Jupiter Ascending worth noting. As proved by the 22nd century “Neo Seoul” section of Cloud Atlas, the Wachowski siblings relish their van-art science-fiction landscapes, packed with scary urban development and gunfire.
But visionaries often lose their way in their own visions. The majority of moviemakers and movies stick to outdated, predictable formulas and conventions. The Wachowskis, on the other hand, are not afraid to strand you early and often in Jupiter Ascending.
The script struggles to tell a dull story straight. The sibling rivalry afoot in the House of Abrasax pits the sniveling Balem (Eddie Redmayne) against Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and when Redmayne whispers lines such as “I have not crossed the vastness of space for your pleasantries,” you know you’re in for another uninteresting round of expository catch-up.
Still, an image or two lingers. For one thing, Jupiter Ascending explains those endlessly debated crop circles without stopping in its tracks for a verbal explanation.
More bittersweetly, at one point a starship commander portrayed by the commanding (and welcome) Nikki Amuka-Bird scolds Tatum, who’s fretting in the background, by saying: “That pacing’s not helping.” It’s a touching critique of the pretty but stilted film itself.
Jupiter Ascending (PG-13): ★★✩✩✩