JUPITER ASCENDING (PG13)
127 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**
The story: A power struggle has broken within the space dynasty that owns parts of the galaxy, including Earth. Earth woman Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a house cleaner, becomes involved after her kidnapping by outcast soldier Caine Wise (Channing Tatum). She becomes embroiled in the intrigues of the planet-owning Abrasax clan, including Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton). She discovers that she, too, is space royalty and that the fate of the human race is in her hands.
Somewhere in this overlong and over-elaborate mess of a space opera, there is a story begging to emerge, if only the Wachowski siblings would let it show itself.
Instead, the makers of The Matrix (1999), its sequels and Cloud Atlas (2012) pack the narrative with enough backstory for three movies. It is clear that this is intended to be the seed of a franchise, but did they have to make it so obvious?
The siblings seem to have raided the Marvel closet to borrow the comics empire's worst practices: galactic history intoned in large, indigestible chunks; a cast that feels three times too large; battle scenes that rage endlessly but feel inconsequential.
This is everything that was wrong with the Thor movie enterprise (2011 and 2013), but with an ineptly handled Cinderella story mixed in.
It feels as if Kunis, as Jupiter, yells: "But I am just a simple Earth girl! This cannot be happening!" at least thrice.
Driving the plot is a device stolen from the Wachowskis' astoundingly tone-deaf Cloud Atlas, the notion of the transference of identity from one life to the another.
Here, DNA-matching is how and why a house cleaner is actually a galactic queen. Like most movie attempts at explaining magic with pompous pseudoscience, it sounds ridiculous.
The heavy-handed fairy-tale referencing reaches its sad climax in one scene, where bees are employed to prove Jupiter's royal heritage.
When it is not being faintly ludicrous, the film offers relief in the form of stunning visuals. Sets and costumes are richly detailed and spaceflight sequences, featuring ships tearing through clouds of ice and dust, are gorgeous.
The Wachowskis seem to have watched David Lynch's Dune (1984) and felt it should be improved with modern computer graphics. The fault with Dune lies in its incoherence, its stiffness, its obsession with texture and form over story, not in its visuals.
Like queenly DNA, Dune's flaws seem to have migrated in full into this movie, with sad results.