Jupiter Ascending

Posted on February 5, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers

“Jupiter Ascending” was released in early 2015 but it was originally scheduled for release in the summer of 2014. It does feel like a summer movie. Somehow warm weather makes us more in the mood for explosions and less in need of superfluities like plot, character, and dialogue that never feels snicker-worthy. It is not quite up to snuff for this time of year. The story feels like a mash-up of sci-fi/fantasy movies past (especially “Terminator” and “Star Wars”), with a little “Cinderella” and “Princess Bride” added in for romance and some rage against the one percent to add some political heft. It is often downright silly, even snicker-worthy. It is well over the quota for just-in-time saves, both in the falling and about-to-make-an-irrevocable-decision categories.

And yet, it is fun, especially on a big, big screen. And there are even a few moments that are shrewdly conceived and hit the mark. The Wachowskis (“The Matrix” trilogy, “Cloud Atlas,” “Speed Racer”) specialize in vast, colorful, grandly conceived new worlds and in this film they mean that literally. We visit several planets, and each is visually complex, sumptuous, and wildly imaginative, often dazzling. If you’re in the mood for eye candy, head for the box office. Don’t wait to see this one at home.

Mila Kunis plays Jupiter, an illegal alien (get it?) from Russia, working in Chicago as a maid and living with her extended family. “I hate my life,” she says when she has to get up at 4:45 am for another day of scrubbing toilets. But like Neo and Speed Racer, she is special. Not for a particular talent or quality of character but because of her very essence. Like infinite monkeys banging away on infinite typewriters until one of them randomly produces “Hamlet,” it seems that throughout the universe there are so many humans that every so often the random accumulation of cells produces a genetic mix identical to someone who has already lived. Jupiter, whose father was a British astronomer killed in a robbery, turns out to be identical to an intergalactic royal, which makes her a threat to three battling siblings in a dispute over their inheritance. Yes, this is a story about inheritance and real estate. We might as well be back at Downton Abbey or in “King Lear.” The particular piece of real estate they are so concerned about: Earth.

One of the noble siblings wants her captured. Another wants her killed. Just as assassins are about to take her out, Caine (Channing Tatum), a pointy-eared hunk arrives to carry her off like Richard Gere at the end of “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Except that this is the beginning, and he will have many more opportunities to lift her in his manly arms as things develop. He has some cool toys, too, especially some wonderful shoes that operate like a hoverboard crossed with ice skates, so that he glides through the air.

There are some clangers ahead, like the fact that Jupiter’s special genetic makeup is recognized by bees. But there is some fun stuff, too, especially an extended sequence through a delightfully steampunk series of bureaucratic offices that show that even the most highly evolved civilizations we can imagine still have not found a way around petty rules and red tape. In the rare category of both clangish and fun is Eddie Redmayne as Balem (the names are all faintly Latinate, “Hunger Games”-style). If Mount Everest were built on top of wherever over the top lives, he’d be on top of that. But I got a kick out of his full-on commitment to petulant decadence turned up to 11.  And Gugu Mbatha-Raw shows that a spectacularly beautiful and talented woman can take a costume reminicient of John Candy in “Spaceballs” and make it work.

It’s long and messy and unforgivably silly in place, but somewhere under all the eye candy and under-written dialogue there are some interesting ideas about the true meaning of consumption and what, if we had all the time in the world, we would do with it.  I wasn’t sorry to spend some of my limited time seeing Channing Tatum treat the air like a 3D ice rink.

Parents should know that this film has extended sci-fi/fantasy peril and violence, some graphic images including brief torture, characters injured and killed, rear nudity, some strong language, and drinking and sexual references.

Family discussion: If life requires consumption, how do we make responsible choices? How were the siblings different?

If you like this, try: “The Princess Bride,” “Looper,” “The Matrix,” and the “Star Wars” series

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3D Action/Adventure Fantasy Science-Fiction

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