Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a cleaner in Chicago, is identified by as the genetic match of a murdered alien matriarch who used to own the Earth. Human-wolf warrior Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) shows up to protect her from alien assassins and take her to outer space, where the heirs of the Abrasax Dynasty are plotting against her.
The great achievement of the Wachowskis’ 1999 The Matrix was that it brought cyberpunk to the screen only 15 years after it had peaked in science fiction literature. With Jupiter Ascending, they revert to the default of big screen sci-fi by using a panoply of awe-inspiring, cutting-edge special effects to deliver concepts pulp magazines had outgrown by 1935.
Like John Carter and Flash Gordon, heroine Jupiter Jones (a great comic-strip name) is whisked from a dull Earth populated by comedy Russians (played by the likes of Maria Doyle Kennedy and Jeremy Smith) to faraway planets run like Arabian Nights fantasy kingdoms. Decadent sibling tyrants are played as exquisitely camp by respectable British actors who relish raised eyebrows and model a succession of outfits that make the casts of Dune and The Fifth Element look underdressed. Despite stiff competition from molten-eyed Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton bathing in a tub of human goo, Eddie Redmayne triumphs as the most thinly-sliced outer space ham since Max von Sydow’s Ming the Merciless and even manages to make ponderous, thudding dialogue sound elegant.
At heart, it’s a loopy wish-fulfilment fantasy whereby a toilet cleaner turns out to be secret owner of Earth. After so many Luke-Harry-Frodo heroes’ journey franchises, it should be a bold stroke to make the Chosen One a princess – but Mila Kunis’s Jupiter is so utterly wet and ludicrously trusting she needs Channing Tatum’s huffy werewolf-with-flying-boots hero to rescue her from certain death every six minutes. The ridiculous love story is sadly more amusing than bizarre attempts at Terry Gilliam/Douglas Adams s-f comedy. Action set-pieces follow the Matrix sequel tradition of falling unscathed through miles of CGI explosions, though the early skirmishes – one featuring the way bees have an innate respect for the royal heroine – are at least exciting.
Like too much filmed space opera, this is wonderfully imaginative when it comes to costume, art direction, special effects, spaceships and incidental alien creatures but stuck with old-hat character types and a resolutely unspecial storyline. It’s frequently entertaining, but as much for its terrible moments as its inspired touches.