Within the warped wardrobe of the Wachowskis’ latest sci-fi extravaganza, “Jupiter Ascending,” there are some fantastical feasts of intergalactic ridiculousness. Channing Tatum as a combination elf and speed skater. Space dinosaurs in leather jackets. A robed Eddie Redmayne as the universe’s overlord, who so gravely whispers his lines that you fear he is being castrated just off camera.
Redmayne, who may be on the cusp of an Oscar for his more earthbound performance as Stephen Hawking, is the best and worst thing in a movie that rides the campy line of simultaneously great and terrible with intermittent success.
For more than a decade now, writer-directors Lana and Andy Wachowski have capitalized on their “Matrix” fame to conjure up mystical blockbusters of grandiose, garish style (“Cloud Atlas”).
“Jupiter Ascending” begins with the birth of a girl, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), to Russian immigrants while midway across the Atlantic. Looking back from later on, she narrates that she was born an illegal alien, betwixt worlds. As the film stretches out into the cosmos, it fills its adventure with mutants and “splices” who have genes of mixed species.
Tatum’s Caine Wise is one such fusion. He’s an elite soldier whose (literal) wings were clipped for a mysterious past incident. Made with part wolf blood, he has pointed ears and a blond goatee. Oh, and he has jet-propelled boots that he skates through the sky with.
Jupiter lives as a cleaning lady with her humble family in Chicago, a regular existence shattered when spindly aliens show up and try to kill her. Caine comes to the rescue, an unfortunately repetitive occurrence in “Jupiter Ascending,” in which Kunis’ character is always in need of being swooped out of danger by her hulking werewolf man. And after a lengthy chase above the Chicago skyline, she’s introduced to a wider universe ruled by the Abrasax dynasty and teaming with sci-fi tropes.
The full picture of the plot of “Jupiter Ascending” takes a long time to clear up, as it flashes between different worlds, space ships fly this way and that, and various bounty hunters (Sean Bean is one) cloud the allegiances.
Though why isn’t quite evident, Jupiter turns out to be a galactic queen fiercely sought by the ruling royalty. The Abrasax family are led by a trio of handsome Brits: Balem (Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth), who, we learn, use planets like Earth to harvest human DNA to create youth-preserving gels.
Though she has more space opera swirling around her than any actor could possible hold together, Kunis does an admirable job even if never given much of a chance to be the prime mover in her fairy tale.
Tatum is understandably undone by his get-up. But no one fares as poorly as Redmayne, who wins the most giggles in a blatantly silly movie.
“Jupiter Ascending” unfolds as a mostly entertaining mess, a cosmic soup of baroque grandeur that the Wachowskis swim happily through, even if few others will. They seem increasingly adrift in their own sci-fi seas.