Jupiter Ascending Review

(2.5 STARS)

After The Matrix, the Wachowski siblings received carte blanche from Warner Bros. Clearly enamored by the world they created, they returned to finish Neo’s story with two Matrix sequels, but following the creative and financial disappointment that was Revolutions, it was time for Lana and Andy to step away from this world and create something new.

Speed Racer was strike one—an interesting failure. Four years later, they returned with Cloud Atlas—an excellent film that nonetheless struggled to find an audience, despite the presence of bankable stars, including Tom Hanks.

So one can’t help but think Jupiter Ascending, the newest Wachowski film, is a sort of last chance. It’s an original science-fiction film with a huge budget, and it’s full of really weird and wild ideas—not necessarily good ones, but kooky ones. It’s not a film that will put you to sleep, but it’s probably not the one that will make WB repunch the Wachowskis’s ticket. Forget its poor opening weekend at the American box office, in terms of creativity and creativity alone, Jupiter Ascending is kind of a fiasco. It’s an entertaining, occasionally inspired fiasco, but a fiasco nonetheless.

The film tells the story of Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a young cleaning woman who hates her life. Good thing some aliens are about to try to kill her. Or not, but at least this inexplicable incident brings the dashing wolf-man Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) into her life. He explains that an intergalactic royal named Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth) has hired him to find Jupiter and bring her to him in space. But Titus isn’t the only Abrasax with eyes for Jupiter. His cold older sister, Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and downright evil older brother, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), both also hire bounty hunters to track down this seemingly regular girl.

However, Jupiter is far from ordinary; she’s actually the heir to, well, many planets in the universe, including Earth, for a variety of reasons that make little sense. There’s a lot of The Matrix in here when it comes to the end game of these three interstellar oligarchs, but more noteworthy are the film’s parallels to the real life of one of its creators. Jupiter Ascending is the second Wachowski film since Larry came out as Lana, and it’s very overtly about defying one’s genetic makeup or destiny and being one’s own person. To that end, it’s a little hard to truly hate the film, despite being equal parts rote and ridiculous.

The “rote” comes in the form of the film’s dull-as-dirt action sequences. Jupiter Ascending is at its best when it’s focused on the politics of its universe—whether that be the Machiavellian machinations of the Abrasax trio or the amusing, Gilliam-esque riff on intergalactic bureuacracy. Unfortunately, because it’s a Wachowski film, there must be a series of chases and explosions, and while they’ve exceled on that front in the past (hello, The Matrix Reloaded freeway scene), Jupiter Ascending‘s action is a right snooze. A lot of it is—I’m not kidding—based around Caine’s boots that allow him to skate through the air because of differential equations and gravity. But there are more traditional elements, like fighter ships and lasers guns and fisticuffs with giant lizards. They all suck.

Then, there are film’s ridiculous elements, which I’ll posit eminate mostly from the cast. A lot of ink has been (and hopefully will forever be) spilled over Eddie Redmayne’s phenomenal-for-all-the-wrong-reasons performance as Balem. Every line is either whispered or screamed, and some of the things he’s asked to do simply cannot be defended. But hey, when it comes to below average performances, I’ll remember this one over what Redmayne does in The Theory of Everything.

Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum are also disappointing. I’m not sure the former belongs in films like this—she also struggled mightily through Oz: The Great and Powerful. As the “cool girl,” she’s unrivaled, but trying to save planet Earth is not her look. Tatum can and should always save planet Earth, but maybe not with wolf ears. It’s silly. Sean Bean is a bright spot, however. He doesn’t have much to do, but it’s a change of pace over the man’s usual schtik.

But hey, in the end, the film really does kind of get by on its earnest lunacy. There’s only so much credit you can give the Wachowskis when there are significantly more bad elements than good ones in this motion picture, but I like this brand of filmmaking so much more than the endless stream of cookie-cutter Marvel monstrosities that the market seems to want for us. Alas, it might be strike three for these filmmaking siblings, and it’s hard to blame the studio. Jupiter Ascending isn’t good, but it crashes and burns memorably.

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