Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Well, our march through the cinematic wasteland of January and February continues, with nervous studios trotting out potentially bad films to be torn to shreds in the court of public opinion. Movies that perform well in the post-Christmas slump tend to be the exception, rather than the rule, with the summer blockbuster season still a haze in the distance. Imagine my delight when a winged, tattooed Channing Tatum swooped down from on high with promises to whisk me away on an exciting science fiction adventure. Imagine my disappointment when he flew too close to the sun like a modern-day Icarus, dropping me and leaving my hopes for an enjoyable filmgoing experience splattered across the pavement.

My initial response to “Jupiter Ascending” is positive. It is written and directed by the Wachowski siblings, known for their original and engaging “The Matrix” trilogy. Also, it closely resembles “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a movie I really enjoyed. The setting and ship designs between the two films are wildly similar: The hero of both stories is a relatively normal person from Earth with a stupid name (Starlord in “Guardians” and Jupiter in “Jupiter Ascending”) and the villains are carrying out a nefarious plan to eradicate billions of lives. “Jupiter Ascending” is able to distance itself from its cinematic cousin by having a much less concise plot and by not being very good.

The film borrows heavily from common tropes and visuals seen in science fiction today. The villains dress and talk like the villains in “The Hunger Games,” the supporting cast of aliens with odd skin tones and dumb names is reminiscent of “Star Wars” and the subplot that aliens live among humans reminds me strongly of “Men in Black.” There are several Wachowski-isms in place as well, including excessive use of slow motion during fight sequences and a cast of characters that all dress like they’re headed off to a bondage convention. These associations aren’t necessarily bad, as it can provide some support when we step into the uncertain waters of a new cinematic world.

However, the excessive use of recycled tropes and visuals served only to remind me of more original, better films, and “Jupiter Ascending” began to feel like a stitched-together creation devoid of any truly original ideas. Things lose their punch and charm the more we’re exposed to them, and mixing several things that are good on their own won’t necessarily make a better product. You can’t throw a dozen of your favorite foods into a blender to make a delicious gourmet meal, and you can’t mix together a bunch of tropes from successful films to make cinematic history.

The oddly wooden Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, the daughter of Russian immigrants who works in Chicago as a maid, scrubbing toilets and wishing for a better life. Eventually, she meets a few aliens and discovers she is at the center of a plot to destroy Earth and melt the inhabitants down into some blue Kool-Aid with restorative properties. She is aided by a shirtless, grim Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), who works to protect her from the machinations of the Abrasixes, three siblings in a quasi-incestuous relationship who are all vying for control of Earth. The film is characteristic of the Wachowksis in having what I like to call a “drive-home plot,” in that much of the plot is elucidated by discussing what happened with your friends on the drive home from the theater. Rather than introducing the canon of the film’s universe and the characters by showing it to us, the film instead focuses on telling everything to us in oddly long soliloquies delivered by the supporting cast.

If there ever was a film that would benefit from being part of a trilogy, it’s “Jupiter Ascending,” as the Wachowskis have tried to fit 20 pounds of story into a five-pound box. There’s also a problem with many of the characters mumbling their lines, with Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne and Tatum being the worst offenders. I’m sure I missed several key plot points whenever two of these characters spent their time on screen incoherently grunting at each other, and the entirety of what I know of the plot is the small snippet I included earlier in this review. On an unrelated note, Sean Bean actually lives through the entirety of the plot, which is nice to see for once.

As Hollywood legends known for their talents in screenwriting, it’s amazing that the Wachowskis could misstep in writing a protagonist as bland and one-dimensional as Jupiter Jones. They try to portray her as a strong female character, but she spends the entire film being duped, crying and being rescued by Tatum. It would be like a Mario game where you play as Princess Peach, and the only time she asserts herself is at the end when she beats up an effeminate Benedict Cumberbatch knock-off.

The film also retcons its entire universe at the end of the film, with Jupiter throwing up her hands and saying “Oh well, back to cleaning toilets for me.” It would be like Neo choosing the blue pill instead of the red pill, and spending the rest of the “Matrix” trilogy going about his day-to-day life. Speaking of which, “Jupiter Ascending” tries to do the whole “reality as you know it is false” plot like “The Matrix.” But whereas “The Matrix” postulated that we are all trapped in a false computer-generated reality, “Jupiter Ascending” posits that extraterrestrials exist, and that most of them are jerks. Wow, what a bold claim.

As I sat in the theater, comically large soda in hand, the projector malfunctioned and the screen froze on the “Please, silence your cell phones” card that is commonly displayed before films. Most of us were content to continue fiddling with our phones, laughing and ignoring the film’s absence. One enterprising young lad, however, decided to inform the staff of the malfunction so they could fix the problem and screen “Jupiter Ascending.” I’d like to take this time to remind everyone that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Rating: 1.5 stars