Jupiter Ascending film review: Unremarkable spacey fun

Have the Wachowskis got their sci-fi mojo back with Jupiter Ascending?

jupiter ascending

The synopsis for Jupiter Ascending reads like a textbook good, old-fashioned space opera: Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a down-on-her-luck caretaker who hates her life and wants to escape. After discovering she is space royalty and just a few bureaucratic procedures away from inheriting Earth, she sets off on a high-octane quest through the galaxy, accompanied by a genetically mutated wolf man called Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), to claim what is rightfully hers. But before Jupiter can become the literal Miss World, she and Mr Wise must deal with Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth), a trio of immortal siblings of the House of Abrasax, who each believe they are also in the running as Earth’s heir.

As the Wachowskis’ first original, non-adapted film since The Matrix Revolutions in 2003, we were expecting big things from it. Unfortunately, it’s not the timeless space epic it could have been.

Before nitpicking, you must understand that it’s pure sci-fi and pure fun. Two hours of non-stop universe traversing, kick-ass visual effects and insanely awesome gadgets (Caine’s anti-gravity boots trump Marty McFly’s self-lacing trainers in ‘things we so badly want to be real’) make for a good time no matter what kind of experience you have with space operas. It’s definitely worth watching if you’re into that sort of thing, but maybe just the one time. It’s not the type of film that warrants detailed analysis, expanded universes or even a sequel.

The story is fun, but pretty basic. It’s got a beginning, middle and an end, with limited surprises or standout moments. And, if we are all being totally honest here, it takes a bit of time wrapping the story up, i.e.: it’s too long. Sure, it’s exactly the same length as The Empire Strikes Back and shorter than Return Of The Jedi, but in Jupiter Ascending, 127 minutes of non-stop space capers gets tiring pretty quickly. The ending could have come much sooner without taking away from the story.

jupiter ascending

Aside from the stunning visual effects – in places, they really are something special – the characters are easily Jupiter Ascending’s strongest point. Mila Kunis makes a brilliant sci-fi lead, which is not necessarily surprising. Though some of her dialogue is a little clunky at times, she’s funny and charming, and reacts the way you’d expect you would act if you found yourself in Jupiter’s situation. Basically, she’s believable, which doesn’t often happen with female-led science fiction. She’s not massively bad-ass – the only training she’s had is janitorial, which likely didn’t teach how to execute a high kick or strangle your assailant to death using nothing but your thighs. But she gives it her best go, whacking her movie showdown sparring partner over the head with a pole.

There aren’t any jaw-dropping performances, but that’s fine and unsurprising (again, space opera). It’s just good, spacey fun. The Abrasax siblings are all suitably creepy and mysterious. Middleton’s elegant but conniving Kalique and Booth’s smooth playboy Titus are intriguing, with their intentions easily hidden behind masks. Redmayne is a scene stealer, but mainly because he keeps up a gravelly, breathless voice throughout the film, and permanently looks as if he’s trying not to cry. It’s difficult to decide whether the combo makes his performance cool and alien or a bit weird, but it’s easy to forget about it.

The amusing dialogue, the interesting, three-dimensional characters and just how darn spacey and fun it all is makes Jupiter Ascending one to watch and enjoy, but ultimately forget about once you’ve seen something better.