Action overload: Lack of cohesion deflates Jupiter Ascending

Passion cannot overcome confusion in the new Wachowski-directed sci-fi thriller Jupiter Ascending starring Channing Tatum. Photo: Warner Bros. Passion cannot overcome confusion in the new Wachowski-directed sci-fi thriller Jupiter Ascending starring Channing Tatum. Photo: Warner Bros.

Every Wachowski movie, for better or worse, is a passion project. There is no theme, visual detail, character or line of dialogue to which the sibling duo does not have a deep personal attachment, from the hopeful nihilism of The Matrix to Cloud Atlas’ meditation on reincarnation and the risk and reward of realizing your true potential. Silly outliers like Speed Racer are still full of humor and energy that most workaday directors probably wouldn’t put into such a niche franchise flick. Even when a particular film falls flat, the Wachowski’s drive to stylishly ensure the audience gets the movie’s message—regardless of whether anybody cares—is almost always contagious.

Unfortunately, the contagiousness of Jupiter Ascending isn’t fun this time round. It’s measles from an unvaccinated script treatment. Too sincere to be campy, too short to be the epic it wants to be, and too bogged down in minutiae to be exciting when things speed up, Jupiter Ascending is an incomprehensible mishmash of esoteric space politics and New Age science that never manages to find its footing as it barrels along through a convoluted plot and spatially disorienting action sequences.

Here’s the scenario you are expected to follow: Mila Kunis stars as the eponymous Jupiter, the St. Petersburg-born daughter of a Russian woman and an English diplomat with a passion for astronomy. Just before she is born, her parents’ flat is ransacked by unnamed Russian brutes who shoot the father when he won’t let them take his telescope. She is subsequently born on a ship carrying her mother and her family across the Atlantic to the United States. Flash forward to today, where the now-adult Jupiter is living with her extended family in an overcrowded house while working as a maid. One day, aliens show up to kill her as she’s about to donate her eggs, but not before half-soldier, half-space-dog (really) Channing Tatum shows up with his skyskating boots. He takes her to see Sean Bean, who lives in a house of bees that immediately recognize her as the exact genetic match of a queen. Jupiter, it seems, is needed by the more conniving wing of her proto-clone’s family for some reason involving space real estate and harvesting rights of Earth.

That summary barely covers the first hour of this clogged 127- minute movie. The pace at which Jupiter Ascending flies along without catching its breath makes it feel like strung-together clips from a much, much longer film. This raises some questions about its much-publicized delay, plucked from summer blockbuster status and dropped into February’s no-man’s-land; the official reason was that it wasn’t completed, and the Wachowskis are famous for retaining rights to final cut. If this is indeed their vision in its totality, then they’re the first capable filmmakers in history to intentionally create something that feels like it underwent studio-ordered cuts. The real chemistry between Kunis and Tatum is never allowed to develop, and their inevitable romance ends up falling somewhere between modern young adult sci-fi and the hammy Star Wars prequels.

The classic Wachowski energy and attention to detail is here, and it does occasionally flirt with the philosophical and psychological issues raised by its plot, only to ditch them for more uninteresting intricacies of space law and undercooked galactic backstory. Had the classic Wachowski elements been stronger than its Divergent-esque tendencies, it’d be easier to enjoy the action sequences instead of being confused by them. Ascend, this one does not.

Passion cannot overcome confusion in the new Wachowski-directed sci-fi thriller Jupiter Ascending starring Channing Tatum. Photo: Warner Bros.

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