Jupiter Ascending | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Jupiter Ascending

The Wachowskis' space saga is a mess, but packs a lot of fun for those who enjoy deliriously bad movies

Yeah, the space opera Jupiter Ascending, written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix), is a hot mess, but it's not all bad. In the moribund realm of big-budget franchise pics and remakes, Jupiter is an original story and straining with ambition. It's got a lot of visual panache, and its trappings — sets, costumes, aliens — are groovy to look at.

And its awfulness — which commendably runs unchecked from start to finish — is of that rarer quality: bad, but entertainingly so. Years ago, Movieline magazine ran a column celebrating "Bad Movies We Love," heralding those special films that were bloated, self-serious, miscast with big stars and delivered howlingly bad dialogue and buckets of unintentional camp. Let Jupiter now ascend to that celebrated pantheon.

Try not to laugh: A Russian toilet-cleaner named Jupiter (Mila Kunis) has her DNA sniffed out by a wolf-man "splice" named Caine (Channing Tatum, with pointy ears), and learns that she is space royalty and owns Earth, if she can keep her nasty space relatives from tricking her out of it. Plus, Chicago and a crappy part of Jupiter (the planet) get destroyed, and space battles, and zap-zap raygun fights, and a to-die-for wedding. And bees. But beneath the loopiness, it's ho-hum: a Dynasty-level family drama and a plucky girl hero who needs constant rescuing by a wolf-man.

click to enlarge Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis
Wolfmen are from Jupiter, women are from Earth: Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis try love.

The film is oddly padded — every scene on Earth and the flatline romance — but also feels truncated from, say, a 12-hour version. I appreciate that the Wachowskis are world-building here, plus setting up a mythology and laying the groundwork for sequels, but a lot is left unexplained, even with the film's frequent, and clunky, data dumps. (Here's an example of some head-scratching background: "Bees are genetically designed to respond to royalty.")

Many characters are part animal, but for reasons that are never very clear. Some bad guys are giant upright lizards in leather motorcycle jackets, and Caine's lupine-ness is restricted to having once ripped out the neck of some royalty, which sounds pretty human-like, too. Then, there's that awesome scene where a spaceship is in trouble, and a quick edit shows that an elephant is flying the craft. Get a human on deck, for Pluto's sake!

But I can't deny that Jupiter wasn't mostly entertaining, particularly if you've got a penchant for deliriously off-track bad movies. Soak up Academy Award-nominated Eddie Redmayne's bizarre vocal stylings; marvel at Caine's glowing "gravity boots" (really, roller-disco skates made for air); and savor dialogue like "Does any part of you want to bite me?"

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