There’s a line in “This Is Spinal Tap” that I like a lot: “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”
In the same spirit, while I was watching “Jupiter Ascending”, I thought about how it’s such a fine line between cool and ridiculous. Furthermore, the side on which each element falls will vary depending on the viewer.
A young Russian cleaning lady (Mila Kunis) who’s the reincarnation of a space queen… A hunter (Channing Tatum) who’s a hybrid between man and wolf, hence the pointy ears… Walking and talking dinosaurs… Small aliens who can become invisible… In each case, the question remains the same: cool or ridiculous?
In the definitely cool department, there’s the Wachowskis’ undeniable talent for crafting exciting action scenes. “Jupiter Ascending” suffers from a convoluted plot, with an overdose of exposition explaining the pointlessly complicated mythology of the universe in which the story takes place, but when the characters stop their monologues, we’re treated to several spectacular set pieces. Particularly impressive are the vertiginous chases that have Channing Tatum using his “gravity boots”, which allow him to surf on air in a way that reminded me of Marty McFly on his hoverboard!
In the obviously ridiculous department, there’s the villain played by Eddie Redmayne, an effete aristocrat who talks in a hushed voice, only to suddenly scream at times. This performance is so awful that Redmayne should almost be disqualified from the Oscar race, where he’s in the running for his extraordinary interpretation of Stephen Hawking.
Cool or ridiculous, “Jupiter Ascending” would have benefited from taking itself less seriously. Mila Kunis brings a welcome dose of humor, but the film has a whole might have done well to adopt a sense of self-mockery à la “Guardians of the Galaxy”, the new high-water mark of the genre.
Ultimately, we’re faced with an uneven experience, visually stunning on the one hand thanks to John Toll’s cinematography, but much less stimulating on a narrative level. We’re still far from “The Matrix”, but this film is marginally more satisfying than “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas”.