Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Movie Review: Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending
Directed by: Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski.
Written by: Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski.
Starring: Mila Kunis (Jupiter Jones), Channing Tatum (Caine Wise), Sean Bean (Stinger Apini), Eddie Redmayne (Balem Abrasax), Douglas Booth (Titus Abrasax), Tuppence Middleton (Kalique Abrasax), Nikki Amuka-Bird (Diomika Tsing), Christina Cole (Gemma Chatterjee), Nicholas A. Newman (Nesh), Ramon Tikaram (Phylo Percadium), Ariyon Bakare (Greeghan), Maria Doyle Kennedy (Aleksa), Frog Stone (Aunt Nino), David Ajala (Ibis), Doona Bae (Razo), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Famulus), Edward Hogg (Chicanery Night), Tim Pigott-Smith (Malidictes), James D'Arcy (Maximilian Jones).

You have to admire the Wachowskis. Since making The Matrix back in 1999 – which was a game changer in many ways, they have not been content to simply repeat themselves. Since the end of the Matrix series, they have made three films – and they have tried to do something different each time out. I hated Speed Racer (2008), which was brightly colored and headache inducing in the extreme – but it was different from every other blockbuster of its type to come out in years. I actually quite like Cloud Atlas (2012) – which was wildly ambitious, and even if it had its problems, was yet again, unlike anything else to come out of a studio that year. Now comes Jupiter Ascending – delayed from its planned summer 2014 release, and apparently edited down from a longer version. It is an original space opera – and one that like all Wachowski films I wanted to like. I can’t though – the film is bad, really, really bad, with moments that are laughably bad, an overly complicated plot that makes zero sense, and horrible performances from just about everyone. But damn it – it’s different. The Wachowskis are trying to do something different. They fail this time – and that’s too bad. What’s worse is that they may not get a chance to work on this level again, and film culture will be poorer for that.

Jupiter Ascending stars Mila Kunis as Jupiter – the daughter of a Russian immigrant, who works in her family’s house cleaning business – which basically means we get several scenes of her cleaning toilets. What she doesn’t know is that she is about to play a key role in an intergalactic family squabble. The three Abrasax siblings, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), who are warring about their inheritance from their mother. Earth is just another planet to them – and one that is getting to the point where it will be ripe for harvest. But Jupiter may be able to stop that – and she finds an alley in Caine West (Channing Tatum), a lycant – which means he is a creature who is part human and part wolf. Oh, and he was also born a half albino, meaning that he has been shunned by his lycant kind.

There’s a lot of plot in Jupiter Ascending – much of it impenetrable, overly complex and just plain silly. Perhaps the worst thing about all this plot is how little it actually matters to the movie itself. The film is basically a very simple chase film – with various alien life forms chasing Jupiter trying to kill her, or rescue her, or rescue her so they can then kill her, etc. Jupiter gets into trouble – she spends much of the film falling off or out of things – so that Caine can swoop in at the last second and save her at the last second, using his flying boots.

Not much in Jupiter Ascending works. The action sequences are not all that special – some fine effects work, sure, but nothing all that great. All that flying around with floating boots, frankly, looks rather silly – and every action sequence eventually devolves into the same thing – dozens of aliens floating around trying to get Kunis, who runs away screaming, until Tatum comes in and somehow manages to kill them all, often while upping into the air in slow motion. It doesn’t help that they slap some silly looking dog ears on Tatum, which just makes him look silly. The two leads are supposed to fall in love – but they have zero chemistry together - through no lack of effort on Kunis’ part, who does try really hard, while Tatum seems unable to have more than one facial expression. Tatum, who has been great in several movies recently (especially Foxcatcher) – is quite bad here, but he’ll get a pass because everyone loves him so much, and because of just how horrifically awful Eddie Redmayne is in this movie. He looks like he’s about to fall asleep at every moment in the movie, speaking in a monotone whisper until, all of a sudden, he starts screaming at the top of his lungs.

Dear reader, I wanted to like Jupiter Ascending. The Wachowskis are virtually alone (along with Christopher Nolan) is that they want to make large scale movies that are distinctive and not the product of corporate groupthink. But because Jupiter Ascending is going to be their third financial failure in a row, it’s unlikely we’ll see them work on this scale at any point in the near future. As much of a failure as Jupiter Ascending is – and make no mistake, it is a failure – American blockbuster filmmaking will be poorer if the Wachowskis can no longer work on this level.

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