Jupiter Ascending, film review: Wachowski's kitsch sci-fi thriller isn't worth the candles

(12A) Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, 127 mins Starring: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth
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The Independent Culture

Jupiter Ascending, the kitsch new sci-fi blockbuster from Lana and Andy Wachowski, blends astonishing special-effects work with plotting that would barely pass muster in a bad Saturday morning episode of Flash Gordon or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Seen on a big screen in 3D, it certainly provides an eye-popping spectacle.

You won't grumble that you've been short-changed in terms of either action or production and costume design. The opening few minutes are masterly. Love, death, birth and the entire back story are condensed into only a few moments of screen time. We learn how Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) has lost her father and come to be working as a cleaner in Chicago.

Early on, the contrast between Jupiter's grim daily existence and what is happening on distant planets is drawn in comical fashion. Jupiter is a "recurrence", which is to say she has the identical genetic profile to Seraphi Abrasax, the deceased matriarch to one of the most powerful families in the universe. That puts her in mortal danger.

The performances are enjoyable enough in their own overcooked, pantomime way. Eddie Redmayne is clammy unctuousness personified as the whispering villain, Balem Abrasax. Channing Tatum yet again reprises his action-man routine, this time in saving-the-galaxy mode. Kunis brings vigour and humour to her role as a modern-day Cinderella, a poor Russian girl who discovers that she is actually Queen of a distant universe – and soon gets to dress the part, as if she auditioning for Jane Fonda's role in a remake of Barbarella. The script, though, is a dud. The glory days of The Matrix seem light years away as the Wachowskis' work grows ever more juvenile.

The Wachowskis borrow from Under the Skin (notably the idea of "harvesting" humans) and other offbeat recent sci-fi movies as well as from Star Wars. They're caught, though, in some purgatorial world between kids' action-adventure and cerebral adult thriller. The arch dialogue (Jupiter telling Tatum that she likes dogs when she discovers he's part wolf, say) and horribly predictable denouement don't help.