"It's the sort of awful where you don't even really want to complain or criticize. You just feel bad for everyone involved."
That quote is from me, answering an email from a colleague who missed the screening of "Jupiter Ascending" due to circumstance. Normally I don't presume my e-scribblings to be worthy of sharing. But I realized as soon as I dashed it off that it's a perfect 22-word version of everything else you're about to read.
The Wachowski siblings made "The Matrix," which will stand the test of time as one of the great science fiction films. Their work has gotten more head-scratching as time has gone on, through two increasingly worse "Matrix" sequels, a daffy Day-glo romp in "Speed Racer," and the confusing-yet-still-grand "Cloud Atlas."
You can always count on the Wachowskis for sumptuous visuals, dazzling CG action and mind-trippy plots. "Jupiter Ascending" has all that, minus anything resembling a soul or artistry. If "Cloud Atlas" was nearly incoherent, this one gets us all the way there.
Watching it feels like being stuck in a bad video game we can't turn off.
The action scenes are so frenetic and fast-paced, you can barely even follow what's happening. And when things do slow down, you've got Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum to stumble, glassy-eyed, through some ridiculous dialogue. Over the years I've riffed on them separately as lifeless performers, but finally we have a movie where they can combine their wondertwin powers in terrible acting.
She is Jupiter Jones, daughter of a murdered Russian astronomer spending her days as a maid in Chicago, cleaning toilets along with her mother and aunt, and hating life. Then one day Tatum shows up as Caine Wise -- I know, I know, these sound like porn actor names -- to protect her.
Tatum's get-up in this flick is just seriously weird. He's got brown hair but a blond goatee that looks like a Brillo pad spray-painted and stuck to his chin, plus heavily mascaraed eyes and pointy elf ears. Caine claims to be a genetically spliced half-wolf ex-military legionnaire "skyjacker" who used to have wings but they got cut off when he was court martialed for biting someone, and now works as a bounty hunter.
Y'know, just a boy from the block.
It seems the universe is actually controlled by competing siblings of the noble Abrasax clan, who like to let inhabited planets fill up with people and then harvest them to be turned into this blue goo that they use to stay immortal.
What's more, Jupiter is not just a lowly maid but the genetic "reoccurrence" of the Abrasax matron, which means she's actually royalty who owns the Earth, or something. The Abrasax overlords compete to see who can control Jupiter's fate, and she ends up getting kidnapped so many times we lose track of who's on first.
The worst of the lot is Balem, played by Eddie Redmayne using a strange low whisper/moan like he's trying to channel Greta Garbo on Valium. He sees Jupiter and her kin as mere playthings for the amusement and profit-making of their bettors.
"Life is an act of consumption. The humans on your planet are but a resource waiting to be turned into capital," Balem says, just in case the we-are-the-99-percent motif wasn't obvious enough for you.
Each of the three Abrasax factions has their own set of spaceships and henchmen, so we're treated to a constant parade of bizarre figures who appear and disappear quickly, including androids, lizardmen and a little elephant guy. A lot of the imagery is imaginative, but we're barely given enough time for it to register before more eye candy is thrown at us.
At one point, Gugu Mbatha-Raw turns up as a flunky with ears so ridiculously big and fake, they actually make Caine's seem cool.
The only time I smiled was when Jupiter and Caine wade into an intergalactic bureaucracy to establish her birthright, and it's a dense Dickensian steampunk fantasy of hobbit-like figures and gadgetry, and I thought we'd suddenly wandered into a Terry Gilliam movie. And we did, or at least a brief homage, complete with Gilliam himself.
But then it becomes "Jupiter Ascending" again, and how depressing is that?