Sean Bean probably resisted at first. I picture bitter arguments, impassioned pleas, point-blank refusals. Contracts will have been brought out, threats made against the future of his career, the safety of his family. Eventually he capitulated, agreeing to read the line. “Bees are genetically programmed to recognise royalty.”
Jupiter Ascending’s greatest – possibly only – achievement is being so badly written that this barely stands out. Andy and Lana Wachowski’s film follows Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a first-generation Russian immigrant with a crappy life doing a menial job (subtly demonstrated by endless shots of Kunis scrubbing the inside of a toilet bowl; always the same toilet bowl, which makes you wonder what its owners have been eating). Then aliens try to kill her and she’s rescued by a werewolf on flying roller blades (Channing Tatum) who whisks her into outer space, explaining she’s the mother of a trio of millennia-old intergalactic aristocrats with a lucrative business farming colonies of human beings.
The Wachowskis give the impression of drawing on an entire series of science fiction novels, cramming in esoteric detail after esoteric detail in a bid to please fans of the source material – but there is no source material: it’s an original concept. Take the bees: in one of many, many scenes existing solely for the purpose of exposition we’re told someone went to the trouble of genetically programming them not to sting royalty, thereby proving Kunis’ queenly status. After this, the bees go about their business, playing no further role in this garbled tale.
The Wachowskis’ aim is to establish a textured universe, a living, Tolkien-esque fantasy world filled with lore and history. But the focus on the minutiae leaves no room for a bigger picture; everything feels disjointed, as if it’s been directed by a child, with hollow characters and flimsy concepts picked up and shaken for a scene or two before being tossed away in favour of something shinier and louder.
Worse still, despite the layers of abstruse window dressing, Jupiter Ascending is sorely lacking in originality. The look and feel is close to David Lynch’s Dune, with a dash of Matrix-style cyber-punk. The characterisation (not to mention the leaden dialogue and propensity to explain the fun out of everything) is straight from the latter Star Wars films. It has the B-Movie camp of Flash Gordon without the knowing bellow of Brian Blessed.
The Wachowskis’ headache-inducing approach to action falls somewhere between Transformers and The Matrix Revolutions. Every inch of the Imax screen is crammed with explosions and lasers and tumbling buildings, all filmed on stomach-churning queasy-cam. Some sequences last almost 10 minutes, after which I was practically begging to get back to the exposition.
Jupiter Ascending, for all its ambition and budget, is proof, as if proof were needed, that a thousand bad ideas can’t compensate for a single good one.
First published in City A.M.