I think my first big eye roll (of many) during Jupiter Ascending was when Sean Bean informs Mila Kunis that bees are genetically conditioned to acknowledge royalty. And if you think that maybe that only sounds ridiculous out of context, I assure you it’s just as ridiculous in context. As are most things in The Wachowskis’ newest opus, a dead-on-arrival bunch of sci-fi hooey that’s the worst film I’ve seen at the theater in recent memory.
Basically, this is a movie where nothing works. Certainly not the story, which has Kunis playing a young Chicagoan named Jupiter (ugh), whose life seems to consist entirely of scrubbing toilets as part of some vague shit job and putting up with her wacky family of Russian immigrants. (Her cousin hatches a scheme where Jupiter can sell her eggs to a fertility clinic for cash. Hilarious!) But, wait, it turns out Jupiter is a “chosen one,” the sort-of reincarnation of an extraterrestrial queen and the rightful heir to a number of inhabited planets, including Earth. Sounds like a great deal, right? Except for the fact that the three other-worldly children of the dead queen don’t take too kindly to their inheritance being threatened and immediately begin concocting schemes to have Jupiter eliminated.
She ends up with a protector in the form of Channing Tatum, playing a half-human/half-wolf warrior — I swear I’m not making this up! — who flits around on a pair of gravity shoes like he’s the Silver Surfer by way of Johnny Weir. Also sometimes on their side is Bean’s grizzled ex-space cop who, like everyone else, has a half-formed back-story that’s awkwardly jammed into the movie. (The final script of this thing, which starts on Earth but eventually sends our heroes throughout the cosmos, had to read like a first draft at best and something that should have been immediately burned and/or deleted at worst.)
Kunis is just dreadful here. In theory, she’s playing a human who, much like Neo in a Wachowskis’ film before her, has the veil pulled back from her eyes so that she might see the universe as it is. Yet her reaction to these revelations isn’t much different to her reaction to cleaning toilets. It’s impossible for a viewer to get emotionally pulled into a film when the lead character can’t even bother to act invested. (And she’s not helped by the fact that script positions Jupiter as a damsel in distress whose only actions are making bad decisions.) Bean is wasted, popping in and out when the script demands it. Eddie Redmayne, currently up for a Best Actor Oscar for The Theory of Everything, might have seen his chances of winning torpedoed via association had Jupiter Ascending come out last year, as was originally planned. He’s god-awful here as the most vicious of the queen’s three children, delivering a performance that consists of lots of whispering until it’s time to SCREAM AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS. Perhaps the only actor who comes out unscathed is Tatum, who’s far from great but at least moderately sells the exotic action hero he’s playing. Hey, the guy’s wearing pointed wolf ears and is forced to take part in one of the dullest on-screen romances I’ve seen in a while. The fact that he’s not terrible is practically a miracle.
The Wachowskis are known for their action-scene visuals, and there are a few times here when they live up to their rep, including a nifty, if a little overdone, chase through Chicago airspace. But there are even more sequences, like a space battle where Tatum and Bean blast through hundreds of boring little drones, that are woefully unimaginative. The filmmakers are constantly introducing various aliens and creatures into the script — lizard brutes, masked gimps with no arms, little “grey aliens” who scamper around like crazed monkeys — but none of them are particularly cool or feel like they naturally fit into a cohesive universe. (Seriously, what is with those gimp guys?!)
Nearly every joke lands with a thud. As do the little sci-fi/fantasy flourishes — the film has coy explanations for crop circles, vampire myths and the extinction of the dinosaurs — that keep popping up needlessly. Like I said, the entire movie is just one big eye-roll — clunky and inert and wholly involving. So which pill do I take to forget all about this thing? Is it the red or the blue? I’ll have it and a glass of water, please.