|I must protect that ass, I uh, I mean, protect you, your majesty.|
The Wachowskis - Andy and Lana - show with a film like Jupiter Ascending, as well as their others (even Speed Racer, yes I said it) that they're not hacks. At least, not hacks to the money-grubbing system of Hollywood. Or, well, they DO like making money, I suppose - two Matrix sequels speak to that - but they mostly speak to what they love, and as it just so happens Hollywood is usually down for what they do (Cloud Atlas even, up to a point, thanks to the cast, which was their most ambitious outing to date). This is a work by filmmakers who are given a budget so gigantic that they do make sure to put the money on the screen... and the script has enough words to match any descriptions of space and ships and planets and Eddie Redmayne's costume and Channing Tatum's fake teen-wolf jaw.
The plot of this flick is about the discovery of Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis, and why she has the last name 'Jones' and is the daughter of Russians, hey, why carp, I guess). Turns out, she's royalty in the universe, and what a giant universe it is: various 'Houses' are on planets throughout the system, and the House Abraxas has its eye on Jupiter Jones - turns out she is the reincarnation of the mother to the children of the throne (or something, I guess, far as I could follow), James D'Arcy, Tuppence Middleton, and Redmayne. But she's eyed to be killed for reasons that involve things with the Earth and populations and things that I shouldn't go into for too many useless spoilers.
All that you need to know is - she's "The One", if not AS 'The One' as Neo was in the Matrix, and the reasons for so many other outside-Earth-beings wanting a piece of Earth are also similar for the main conflict of The Matrix (human harvesting, in short). And also as soon as the "Hunter" Caine (Tatum) shows up and sweeps Jupiter off her feet through (legitimately) breathtaking chases through Chicago or across star systems, you should know what you're in for: a big mashed potato mix of a science fiction space opera blockbuster. Characters explain quite a lot, in the second act at least, about how the universe really works and yet, ultimately, it all comes down to elements familiar as we've seen in many other space operas: rigged marriages, fiendish power plays, blue-blood royalty, dogged male determinism, and some enjoyable hijinks.
And yet the Wachowskis aren't doing a put-on, or even a wink-and-a-nod like we saw last year with Guardians of the Galaxy (which, if Warners had the gall to release it last summer would've surely had that awesome juggernaut to deal with). This isn't to say there aren't homages, oh heavens no - even down to an appearance by a wonderful iconoclast film director, and a reference to his own science fiction masterpiece come up pretty blatantly, albeit his appearance made me smile ear to ear for his full five minutes. And surely this guy/gal duo have read Dune, all of them, and sunk their teeth into Heavy Metal and Flash Gordon and, to their credit, they stick to their visions. This is hardcore sci-fi spectacle filmmaking, and they put clearly a great deal of love and thought with John Toll their DP and the special FX team. You do get your eyes worth here.
As far as substance? That'll depend on how much the viewer can take things like (I'm not kidding) telepathic, royalty-sympathetic bees, mind-wipes and easy-to-fix solutions for skyscrapers, and uh, well... Eddie Redmayne. I should let this go, but I can't. The nominee for best actor in a leading role this year also gives one of the most baffling, awful performances, and yet I'm not sure how it goes wrong. I can see why he was cast as this guy - he can pull off this snotty, fey royalty for sure, but trying to voice it like Lord Voldemort's kid doesn't do any favors. It's a glorious watch to see him act evil and conniving, and is surely on level with the most guilty-pleasure villain performances since... well, David Lynch's Dune, I suppose, or the more baffling Star Trek pictures. I almost recommend the picture just for him.
As for the actual leads, they're fine, far as it goes. Kunis is given kind of the short-shrift really with her character, basically a damsel in distress (mostly, she can defend herself if she has to), and Tatum does deliver some sincere work alongside the likes of Sean Bean. They seem to be trying, but with what? Jupiter Ascending is beautifully crafted fluff made by (I mean this in the most complementary way possible) grown-ass geeks who may have tapped out what they have left in the genre. It's a I-can't-recommend-it-but-I-won't-stop-you type of review here.