Battlefield Earth: Jupiter Ascending

While the stacks-on internet opinion Star Chamber may have you anticipating otherwise, I come here not to apply the renowned Jones Bile Hammer (patent pending). Rather, I am here to lament the first (let’s be real, here) honest to Zion failure, albeit noble, in the Wachowskis’ increasingly diverse filmography.

Jupiter Ascending, it turns out, is hardly awful, just cripplingly inert. It’s a kaleidoscopic scrapbook of the siblings’ sci-fi touchstones, a raggedly edited patchwork of fantastic intergalactic vistas and loopy pulp high concept ruthlessly pared back into debatable comprehensibility by jittery WB bean counters.

The garbled plot, similarly hobbled, concerns Russian émigré bog cleaner Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis, somnambulatory), whose backstory is suitably laden with Chosen One portent; her gravity ice skating mercenary albino wolf hybrid protector, Caine Wise (indeed), played by the occasionally animated Channing Tatum; and the aforementioned’s convoluted destiny as ‘Queen of the Universe’.

So far, so very space opera, so very Flash Gordon or John Carter, all with requisite sumptuous visual razzle dazzle.

Our heroes’ opposite numbers are hardly veiled Harkonnen knock offs (paging the Frank Herbert Estate legal team), the blue blooded Abrasax siblings — three inbred, poncing space CEOs whose precious commodity is…well, you’ll just have to wait and see, eh? (Chief amongst the siblings is Eddie Redmayne‘s by now infamous performance as Balem Abrasax, a thesping effort most kindly described as ‘compromised in the edit bay’ at best).

Also along for the increasingly nonsensical jaunt is a cast of Splices (human/fauna hybrids, how novel) including Sean Bean as, er, Stinger (bees, natch), and an elephant Nien Nunb called Nesh.

Five bucks if you can tell me why (not really).

There’re also some ace cyberpunk bounty hunters who make you lust after a potential mid-budget Wachowski Shadowrun flick, and some unintentionally camp space plod known as the Aegis (Greek: the shield), all looking sort of like Lobot meets SeaQuest DSV.

The Abrasax’ henchmen are winged dinosaur blokes, best described as nastier big brothers to the Super Mario Bros movie’s Goombas; turns out dinosaurs went extinct because…well, why ruin the incredulous laugh?

(The less said about Jupiter’s ‘hilarious’ (think Con the Fruiterer) extended family, the better. A ‘leaden ear’ for comedy would be too generous a compliment to dear Lana and Larry).

Careening through a breathless greatest hits compilation of science fiction aesthetics (hello Fifth Element, hello Brazil, hello prog rock, hello, yes, even The Prequels), the Wachowskis’ shiny-shiny pow-pow fixation dispenses with contemporary concerns like, say, womens’ agency, in a frustratingly underdeveloped, increasingly disconnected series of zero stakes set pieces and confusingly staged, heavily truncated space battles (rejiggered Matrix Revolutions bits, to boot) leaving the audience adrift and rudderless.

All of this arch nodding and winking and homaging is slung around a plot that could, at a stretch, be another Matrix-nod in regards to over-consumption and mortality. Or something.

‘Space opera’ insinuates emotional resonance, grand narratives rich in treachery and romance and skin of the teeth derring do. Here, instead, we find the most exhilaratingly executed sequence to be a series of exchanges between an advanced public servant Real Doll and the increasingly labyrinthine bureaucracy involved in getting your regency verified (with Terry Gilliam cameoing, lest we thought it was all a cosmic coincidence).

Ah, but for, at very least, a bombastic pomp rock score laden with anthemic flourishes.

Alas, not to be.

Consider, also, that Jupiter Ascending‘s many production delays have left it in the unenviable position of being compared with the far superior Guardians of the Galaxy. Compounding this handicap? Several scenes that parallel James Gunn‘s surprise hit almost spookily, albeit suffering for their lack of the candy glow and scope of the Chris Foss via Jack Kirby universe of Starlord and his fellow cosmic buccaneers.

The very definition of opportunities missed, Jupiter Ascending, it seems, is a victim of the skittish test audience demands of the super-budgeted ($175m plus) flick dumped unceremoniously in February, savagely edited to fit optimal session times for the quick cash grab salvage job, all at the expense of the Wachowskis’ increasingly frayed reputation.

Even with their increasingly lengthy run of box office failures (no yard stick in any sane punter’s critical evaluation), the siblings are clearly creative forces to be reckoned with.

Given an extra, breathless twenty to thirty minutes, trims in the ‘risible comedy’ department and an edit sympathetic to the leads’ (admittedly sporadic) charismatic bursts, a Jupiter Ascending Directors’ Cut could well turn out to be an oddball cult gem of the future.

As it stands, though, it’ll makes a far greater coffee table art book (or ASIA album cover) for the time being.

Originally published at www.hopscotchfriday.com.