The planet Jupiter reaches its closest point to Earth on Friday, right when “Jupiter Ascending” opens. That may be pure coincidence … or it may be the typical nutty maneuvering from filmmakers Andy and Lana Wachowski.
The eccentric siblings who brought us “The Matrix” trilogy again concoct an imaginative, distinctive world all their own. And again they fluctuate between immersive wonder and sensory overload. Thankfully, their latest extraterrestrial adventure provides such a tilted spin on a familiar genre that it’s easy to pardon some of the labored excesses of this $175 million endeavor.
“Technically speaking, I’m an alien,” Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) declares in the opening lines. Meaning she’s a Russian immigrant who lives with extended family in Chicago. Every morning she rises at 4:45 to clean toilets as a housekeeper.
This dead-end job gets a bit livelier when she’s rescued from an assassination attempt by Caine (Channing Tatum with Spock ears), an intergalactic bounty hunter who is a human/wolf hybrid.
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The grounded and practical Jupiter learns that her genetic code makes her a sister of the Abrasax family, an alien dynasty that owns this end of the galaxy. Brothers Balem (Eddie Redmayne) and Titus (Douglas Booth) and sister Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) have designs on keeping the coveted Earth asset for themselves. And all are not thrilled that Jupiter is now a legitimate heir.
“Jupiter Ascending” was supposed to open last summer but was pushed back, ostensibly for the visual effects. In the ensuing six months, the movie got a “Guardians of the Galaxy” makeover: More creatures. More effects. More costumes (great, by the way). More rollicking space opera.
But at the core of this flashy film is a very new take on how the universe is structured. The menace isn’t just another glowering warlord readying his armada. The Wachowskis view their Abrasax baddies the same way the Greeks did their gods: They are as petty and vain as humans. They are also privileged, litigious, profiteering bureaucrats who can’t make a move without a notarized contract.
“Life is about consumption,” Balem hisses. “Time is the single most precious commodity in the universe.”
So these one-percenters have been harvesting humans for genetic material (they seeded Earth a few millennia ago with their own DNA), which they use to create a gooey sperm bath that keeps them eternally young. No wonder the planet poses such value.
Shoehorning this heady concept into a movie rife with rocket boots and invisible hover-cycles leads to a mishmash of entertainment. “Jupiter Ascending” (a rather great title once you know the plot) feels like something adapted from a canceled cult TV series. Think “Serenity.” But this actually represents the Wachowskis’ first original property since “The Matrix.” (It fares a lot better than their seizure-inducing version of “Speed Racer” yet doesn’t match the dizzying ambition of “Cloud Atlas.”)
While the two lead performances are a bit prosaic, the supporting roles drive the story. None more so than the slimy, pharaoh-esque Balem. Redmayne, a current Oscar nominee for “The Theory of Everything,” seems to be most influenced by Gary Oldman in “The Professional.” He speaks with a laid-back whisper, except for three or four moments when he yells a line at the top of his lungs. It’s sort of hilarious. Still, it’s undeniable how much he commands the screen even when his decisions become increasingly ridiculous.
At times, “Jupiter Ascending” is both undercooked and overdone. The screenplay was reportedly 600 pages, and some plot strands seem to have been diced too much during editing. Meanwhile, many of the action scenes — which include a lot of scurrying and jumping — drag out as the movie progresses. The finale is all noise.
The Wachowskis have yet to put together a film from beginning to end that functions as well as their 1999 breakthrough, “The Matrix.” Yet there’s no denying how they constantly strive to bring something original to the science-fiction genre. “Jupiter Ascending” offers kaleidoscopic entertainment in all the right and wrong ways.
Rated PG-13 | Time: 2:07
3-D OR NOT 3-D?
The 3-D gives the tech-heavy visuals and busy action scenes more depth. A reach-into-the-screen standout: when a swarm of bees hovers around the hero.