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A big, busy mess

OUT NOW! The Wachowski brothers' new sci-fi flick JUPITER ASCENDING tries to be larger than life, but leaves much to be desired.

Even to someone who’s ready to defend Cloud Atlas anytime, it’s clear that the Wachowski siblings have let their size problem run out of control with the follow-up to that millennia-and-continents-spanning epic.

The inheritance dispute at the center of Jupiter Ascending is wrapped inside some imperial power games, reincarnation myths and intergalactic politics, a touch of Shakespearean tragedy, and complemented by certain domination/harvest plans. Aliens, humans and an entire hierarchy of unspecified species populate a mind-boggling universe whose order and rules of entitlement would seem to take a book to explain. By all appearances, the Wachowskis have lost their ability to tell a story of moderate scale and reasonable budget since their breakout sci-fi classic The Matrix, which was in fact an indie-spirited, highly conceptual movie that only got blown to monstrous proportions in its sequels. Their latest original screenplay feels like a botched hybrid of larger-than-life ideas that’s undoubtedly grand in vision but lacking in craftsmanship at every turn.

Technically this movie also leaves much to be desired. While the production and especially the costume design wows in moments of otherworldly beauty, with a million gowns, uniforms, headpieces, gears, ornaments, vehicles splashed across the screen, a homogeneous or harmonious design is missing. Same goes for the action choreography. It produced some memorable scenes: like the final chase/combat between lead actor Channing Tatum and a giant lizard, or the spatial ballet of Tatum’s character after being ejected out into void, but also numerous terribly unexciting shoot-outs and flight sequences. Cinematography and score are neither here nor there, both contributing to an overall hurried sense of unrefinement. 

There are some obvious casting problems, starting with the female lead Mila Kunis, who, with her well-groomed features and dreamy eyelashes, never for a second looks like a lowly maid. Douglas Booth is another choice who stands out like a sore thumb beside the other two young British actors cast as his rival siblings. Of these Eddie Redmayne is the best in show by far. As the evil, hollowed-out heir apparent, he communicates an inner vacuum not just through his parched lips and dead eyes, but also a peculiarly whispery voice/speech pattern that renders his every blink and utterance an effort. 

Stuffed, loud, erratically executed, the few patches of fabulousness aren’t enough to disguise the fact that Jupiter Ascending is a big, busy mess. 

Jupiter Ascending | Directed by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (USA 2015) with Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne. Starts February 5