With Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Written and directed by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity. 127 minutes.
JUPITER ASCENDING is a lot like “John Carter” (2012) and that’s meant as a compliment, not an insult. Sure to be dismissed as a “special effects-laden science fiction movie” by critics who don’t know much about the genre, it is, in fact, an imaginative and exciting space opera.
“Space opera” is essentially a story with a lot of science fiction trappings–spaceships, robots, aliens–but which owes just as much to its fantasy elements. Not derived from any comic books characters, it is a fairy tale in which a fatherless young woman finds out that she may be one of the most important people in the universe. With various factions trying either to kill her or save her, she comes to discover the strength to face these challenges within herself.
Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter Jones, whose Russian émigré family ekes out a modest living as housecleaners (cue repeated shots of her scouring toilets). One day she finds herself under attack by strange aliens, and rescued by Caine (Channing Tatum), a part wolf/part human who has been hired by a member of the wealthy Abrasax family. As is slowly revealed, her unique genetic inheritance puts her in line to literally own the planet Earth, something that the three Abrasax siblings (Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppance Middleton) each want for themselves.
Why? That would be telling, but since this is written and directed by the Wachowski siblings, Andy and Lana, who were responsible for “The Matrix” trilogy, you know it’s not going to be good for most of humanity. Jupiter is the wild card in the proceedings, not quite sure why people like Stinger (Sean Bean) call her “majesty,” but learning not to be bowled over by the smooth manners and fantastic tech she’s exposed to on her journey.
Visually, the film is stunning, with creativity going into character design as well as art direction. We’re constantly being amazed by spaceships and devices, as well as the increasingly bizarre outfits that Jupiter finds herself required to wear. The fight scenes are equally impressive but since this is fantasy and not hard science, you’d do well to leave your knowledge of physics, astronomy, biology, etcetera at home.
This is not a serious–well, too-serious–statement on the human condition, along the line of, say, “Blade Runner” or “Gattaca.” This is more like “Star Wars” or the aforementioned “John Carter.” Go with it. If you still have a sense of wonder with which a popcorn movie like “Jupiter Ascending” can connect, you’ll have a good time.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.