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Jupiter Ascending **

Is it worth $10? No

“Jupiter Ascending” is bloated sci-fi cheese, an intergalactic and extravagantly over the top saga that simultaneously wows and confounds. It’s nice to see every cent of a $150 million budget on the screen, but that’s not always a good thing.

Written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski (“The Matrix” trilogy), the story centers on Jupiter (Mila Kunis), a woman destined for great things and true love, so naturally she starts the movie cleaning toilets. Even Chosen Ones have to make a living. Soon her life is saved by a half man/half wolf named Caine (Channing Tatum), whom we know is a good guy because early on he’s unfairly ambushed by three space goons and heroically/inexplicably fights his way through.

Then all the space drama comes and it feels like a soap opera. Interplanetary siblings Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) control planets throughout the solar system. Earth belongs to Balem, though Titus also covets it. Knowing the rightful heir to owning Earth is Jupiter (the person, not the planet), Titus sends Caine to protect her from Balem’s henchmen, but Jupiter and Caine are captured. Complications ensue.

Even when they’ve struggled to tell a story the Wachowskis have always been great at wowing us with action, and they do so again here. The first major set piece starts high above the Chicago skyline and plummets in, around and sometimes through the high rises, only to end up in the Chicago River and then high atop the city again. With Michael Giacchino’s pulse-pounding score it’s stunning to watch the scene in IMAX 3D, as the aerial action is superbly shot and combined with visual effects to render a truly breathtaking sequence. This, in addition to other solid but not spectacular action, is the Wachowskis at their best.

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Jupiter Ascending opens February 6th!

The metaphysical high-mindedness the Wachowskis bring to the story, however, is them at their worst. As much as one appreciates them creating their own “Star Wars”-inspired mythology, the surplus of characters, betrayals, and family drama both on Earth and in outer space gives the film a heaviness that makes it harder to appreciate. The Wachowskis are operating on an epic scale here – reports say one draft of the script was 600 pages – and one gets the sense that they’re trying to incorporate so many elements that the finer points got away from them.

Here’s another thought to consider: Going into the Oscars on Feb. 22nd, Redmayne is the favorite for best actor (for The Theory of Everything) while Julianne Moore, who has a fantasy adventure film called Seventh Son opening this weekend, is the favorite for best actress (for Still Alice). Neither new release is going to earn them much regard with Academy members, who have until Feb. 17 to cast their votes. But will it actually cost Redmayne and Moore votes? It’s possible. In 2007 Eddie Murphy was the favorite to win supporting actor for "Dreamgirls," but the abominable “Norbit” opened and dashed his hopes (he lost to Alan Arkin for “Little Miss Sunshine”). Similarly, in 2013 Jessica Chastain was nominated for best actress for “Zero Dark Thirty” but likely lost some votes with the release of “Mama” shortly before the ceremony (she lost to Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook”). How this may affect Redmayne and Moore – if at all – remains to be seen, but it’ll be curious to note if anyone points to these films if either doesn’t win.

Back to “Jupiter Ascending.” It’s a summer popcorn movie in the dead of winter, and it doesn’t leave us wanting summer movie season to come any sooner. Worse, once more we’re left yearning for the Wachowskis to be great again.

Did you know?

The film was originally slated for release July 18, 2014, but was delayed to the dumping ground that is February because more time was needed to complete more than 2,000 visual effects shots.

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