From the fevered brains of Lana and Andy Wachowski comes Jupiter Ascending, what may well turn out to be the reigning WTF? of 2015. It’s a gaga, flat-out insane, beautiful to behold, rip-roaringly stupid and eye-numbingly terrible sci-fi tale of a Russian immigrant toilet cleaner (Mila Kunis) living with her large extended family in Chicago while being clueless that she’s actually the Chosen One, the living, breathing genetic reincarnation of the 91,00-year old Queen of the Universe. Hey, when a Cinderella’s up to her elbows in plungers, brushes, and scrub bubbles, how’s she supposed to know she’s intergalactic royalty?
Finding herself the target of a weirdly breathy, swishy assassin who’s actually her brother (The Theory of Everything Oscar frontrunner Eddie Redmayne, way over over-the-top), our heroine gets herself rescued with annoying regularity by a part-man, part-canine mercenary hunter (Channing Tatum) equipped with pointy Spock ears, blond goatee, a transparent shield and cool anti-gravity roller skate boots. “I love dogs!” chirps the glassy-eyed Kunis and, a good thing, too, because she’s certainly acting in one.
Tatum, who looks mortified in every scene he’s in, is the gallant, high-flying, dull rescuer from whom the queen gets wise that she’s not only crazy rich but also has sway over the world’s all-important bee population. Sean Bean ought to know a thing or two about bees; he plays a soldier whose DNA has been spliced with those of a bee’s, which may be his excuse for uttering honey-covered b.s. like, “It’s not what you do, it’s who you are.”
The spectacularly ambitious, gonzo, great-to-look-at mess gets even nuttier as it goes on and on what with Kunis being forced to deal with her two other scheming royal siblings of the King Lear-esque Abrasax dynasty (Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton). In its cold, emotionless soul and heart, the 125-minute movie is just a galaxy-trotting space soap opera, a pale, imitative spin on those Matrix movies, with the characters breaking out in solemn dialogue that may have you howling with laughter the straighter the actors utter it.
Even forgetting logic and coherence, for a pair of filmmakers who dreamed up the astonishing The Matrix 16 long years ago, the Wachowskis — armed with a massive budget — have flunked out when it comes to creating anything more than a movie that feels mashed up from bits and pieces of everything from She and Flash Gordon, ‘50s pulp science fiction, Dune, Twilight and Prometheus. No harm there, except that the while the visuals dazzle, the storyline never grabs hold.
The romance between Kunis (not good but better than she was in Oz The Great and Powerful) and Tatum (not bad but nowhere near Foxcatcher level) is a non-starter, mostly because they’re not playing characters so much as paper-thin ideas for characters. As for Redmayne, he’s about as campy and arch as anything in that old ‘80s Flash Gordon debacle. He’s terrible but at least he’s big fun, a perfect analog for Jupiter Ascending itself — nowhere near good but epic and proud of being gloriously, recklessly delusional.