It's been more than 15 years since the Wachowskis wowed audiences with The Matrix, and since then we've had a number of ambitious films from the siblings. Jupiter Ascending is their latest and by all accounts it's a film that displays their goofily bizarre tastes.
Effectively 'Cinderella in Space', Mila Kunis is Jupiter Jones - a young woman who starts the film cleaning toilets but, like many fairy tales, is destined for great things. She comes to the attention of the House of Abrasax, a Roman-like dynasty that has ruled the cosmos for several millennia, with the family's three siblings – Balem, Kalique and Titus (played by Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton and Douglas Booth respectively) – at war following the death of their mother, vying for control over planets in the galaxy with Jupiter holding the key to unlocking Earth.
If that sounds strange, well, it's just the tip of the iceberg, but thankfully Jupiter Ascending isn't sunk by its silliness. If anything, by embracing its more low-fi parts, the Wachowskis have made a curious film that's unashamedly entertaining.
It's a spectacularly designed film, too, which will no doubt leave many to accuse it of favouring style over substance. While that viewpoint has merit, Ascending can be staggeringly gorgeous to look at, the visual razzmatazz on show making this a film that ought to be seen on the biggest and best screen.
The technical excellence and production design is reminiscent of an Avatar or Gravity, the visual excess dwarfing a story that's relatively by the numbers.
It's a story not helped by employing hoary character archetypes, nor does the dense amount of exposition in the film's first half do it any favours either. There's a tendency for the Wachowskis' script to explain every nook and cranny of the universe they've imagined, over-complicating what should be a fairly simple narrative.
Channing Tatum's Caine - a genetically spliced human with trace DNA of a wolf (yes, really) - sent to find Jupiter before eventually becoming her protector, is saddled with the taciturn hunk role. If he's not shooting, punching or gliding about on his wonderful anti-gravity boots (which we want), you'll find him in the corner brooding about his past.
It's a tough role, and one that contrasts with Kunis's warm, shy turn as someone who's a fish out of water, constantly sought after and taken advantage of by the Abrasax family. Hers is a performance that serves the film even if it never quite stands out.
Booth (charming), Redmayne (raspy-voiced) and Middleton (coy) all take their turns to ham up proceedings when they're on screen, Redmayne going to some lengths with his Balem by employing a whisper before exploding into a rage (which is often). It's all ridiculous, not to be taken seriously and verges on being camp.
But if character bores you then there's plenty of action on offer as the Wachowskis bring flair, verve and clarity to the action sequences. The film's tempo is fairly high for the majority of the running time, Michael Giacchino's old-fashioned score a stirring and expansive effort, propelling the film along to its very noisy end.
We're betting that the response to this film will be all over the map, but one thing you could never accuse the Wachowskis of is being milquetoast. This film goes over- the-top and it does so in style. Jupiter Ascending's story isn't its strongest part but it makes up for it with some terrific visual flourishes and spectacular action scenes.
A fresher story and characters would have meant this film would have been remembered for far more than its visual accomplishments. Regardless, Jupiter Ascending is a space opera with an unrestrained imagination that delivers some enjoyably ridiculous moments.
- Duration: 127m
- Rated: 12A