Jupiter Ascending was supposed to be released last summer, but the mega-expensive space opera by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) got pulled from the calendar to allow "additional work on the special effects" and was rescheduled for February. Everyone knew, of course, that the explanation was bullshit. I saw the film with my son on Saturday, after the barrage of negative reviews hit (around 80 percent negative on the Rotten Tomatoes aggregate website). Thank God for lowered expectations. My son was delighted by the movie and I had fun. Is it a good film? No, no, no, but there's stuff to enjoy in there.
Many reviewers complained that the story was ridiculously overcomplicated, but we figured it out: Once upon a time, human beings arrived on Earth in spaceships and killed the dinosaurs so they could plant their own kind here, as they did on many other planets. Much later, a pretty housekeeper named Jupiter (Mila Kunis) gets pursued in contemporary Chicago by aliens. Turns out she is the genetic match of the recently deceased owner of Earth. The owner's three kids (Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton and Douglas Booth) expected to inherit the planet from their mom, but the presence of Jupiter muddies up everything.
Luckily, Jupiter gets protected by Caine (Channing Tatum), a studly human-canine hybrid. Bad guys snatch Jupiter. Caine gets her back. Oh, and (SPOILER ALERT): The ruling race is virtually immortal, because they ingest a serum or something that's made out of people. I think it's called Soylent Blue. (END SPOILER).
See? Not complicated.
I liked the first part of the movie the most. After too many shots of Jupiter cleaning toilets (yes, she's a humble worker, we get it!), Caine shows up and we get to watch a heck of a dogfight over Chicago, with Caine zipping around the sky in antigravity sneakers. Very cool. Caine enlists the help of an old buddy (Sean Bean) — also cool — and the action moves to a farmhouse. The mix of recognizable places (the city, the farmhouse and the green fields) and the alien invaders is a treat.
A bigger treat is getting to look at Channing Tatum, who loses his shirt and keeps it off for about 10 to 15 minutes, including some standing around and talking time. It helped to make up for the dialog, which is stuffed with exposition, but somewhat lacking in color.
When the action moves to space, the fun factor lessens. There's still a lot of derring-do, and the visuals are sumptuous, but the computer graphics, untethered to reality, make everything look like the cover of an old sci-fi paperback novel. Lavish, but a little too creamy looking. In the midst of all the spectacle, Tatum remains suitably heroic, while Kunis too often merely seems overwhelmed. As the nastiest of the conniving space heirs, Redmayne tries to pick up the slack, evilly whispering most of his lines, with occasional shouts to show how dynamic he is.
Clearly the Wachowskis are commenting on the way the upper 1 percent in our society prey on the lower classes and ... just kidding. It's simply movie hooey, but if you're up for a space epic and your expectations are low, Jupiter Ascending delivers for a while, then uses big battles to coast to an ending. One last thing: Parts of Chicago get trashed early in the film, but the space people tidy up afterward. Isn't that thoughtful?