There’s been a lot of shade thrown (yeah, I’m down with the kids) at “Jupiter Ascending”. In fact, it rapidly took over from “The Interview” as the film people wanted to talk down and it’s infuriatingly unfair. My expectations for “Jupiter Ascending” were pretty simple: I wanted a grand space opera, full of spectacular vistas, extraordinary technologies and the majesty and romance of interstellar travel – basically, the anti-“Interstellar”. If “Dune” and “Flash Gordon” had a baby, it would be “Jupiter Ascending” so: mission accomplished. But this is no garishly colourful high camp extravaganza: this is classic pulp sci-fi writ large, on a dizzying, dazzling canvas that only the Wachowskis could pull off.
When it’s discovered that humble cleaning girl Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) from Earth is actually the perfect genetic reincarnation of the late matriarch of the House Abrasax, it sets off an interplanetary conflict as the remaining descendants seek to secure their fortunes and positions by eliminating the threat.
With “Jupiter Ascending”, the Wachowskis return to their favoured ‘chosen one’ theme but this time, it’s draped in the majesty, romance and lavishness of an interstellar dynasty replete with noble houses, warring factions, exotic aliens and technology so advanced it seems like magic. The real delight, beyond visuals that seem like a Daniel Dociu or Chris Foss book cover come to life, is the rich, detailed and comprehensive world-building that’s been done here. From the millennium-spanning history of the human race to the genetically manipulated and designed alien races, there’s so much on offer here that you may miss much of it on a single viewing. Like the best science fiction, many of the flourishes and foundations of this fictional universe are allegorical and the film has smart points to make about exploitation, consumption, class and race relations. It even manages to throw a reconciliatory bone to Creationist thinkers by rewriting the history of life on Earth. It pulls off galactic political machinations with much greater finesse and excitement than the “Star Wars” prequels managed and provides us with a much more satisfying corn field prowling alien menace than “Signs”. There’s even a sly nod to “Back To The Future”.
But in addition to the highfalutin sci-fi trappings, there’s a ton of fun to be had too. Mila Kunis makes for an appealingly down to Earth (no pun intended) heroine while Channing Tatum continues his strong run with a Puck-eared turn as mercenary lone wolf Caine Wise, the second-best rocket-booted action hero to grace the big screen. Eddie Redmayne has been singled out for his villainous turn as the ruthless Balem Abrasax but his curiously soft-spoken approach really worked for me. As the most powerful man in the galaxy, why would he ever need to raise his voice when his every word is to be obeyed? His infrequent outbursts only underline the hateful nature of the man who is most threatened by Jupiter’s claim on the Abrasax estate. And did I mention there’s a Terry Gilliam cameo during an affectionate homage to “Brazil” too?
As you’d expect from the Wachowskis, the action here is first-rate and they even manage to make Chicago look fresh and new again despite its familiarity from action sequences in “Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight” and the grotesquely drawn-out final conflagration of “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon”. As with “The Matrix” trilogy, there are stylistic flourishes and cinematography here which other films will borrow heavily from in years to come, despite the source material being derided at the time.
Of course, it’s not perfect and like much of their previous work, the visuals and ideas on show sometimes overshadow the thin central plot but it’s hugely ironic that the very people who are lambasting this imperfect but creatively ambitious film as a folly are the same who constantly bemoan the never-ending tide of sequels and remakes.
Whether their end product is always as successful as it could be, there’s no denying that the Wachowskis are one of the most imaginative and ambitious filmmakers working today and they deserve more credit than they get. This is a kinetic, spectacular and enjoyable sci-fi romp. It does everything you need epic sci-fi to do, establishing a fascinating universe that I want to spend much more time in exploring its strange new worlds, new life forms and new civilisations, to borrow a phrase. If you go into it with the right frame of mind and free of the snidey, cynical dismissiveness that seems to have unfairly dogged it, you’ll have a blast.