Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

The Wachowskis have been getting a lot of flack in the years after their trilogy of The Matrix films ended, some might say it began right after The Matrix Reloaded was released, due to their strange affinity for making ultra cheesy films that are a lot of style with very little substance. I’m not one of those people.

I am a big fan of their heavily panned Speed Racer not only due to the beautiful visuals that fill the film, but the simple and (as far as I’m concerned) well told story that was incredibly hokey but also likable and surprisingly heartfelt. Unfortunately it didn’t make the kind of cash at the box office that their previous films had so The Wachowskis stepped back from filmmaking for a short while (and to allow for Larry to transition to Lara out of the limelight).  I also thoroughly enjoyed their super serious and somewhat convoluted co-directing follow-up project with Tom Tykwer, Cloud Atlas. Audiences felt otherwise and it was a huge bomb.
However, words cannot describe how excited I was about their next film, Jupiter Ascending. The Wachowskis excel at world building and the trailers to their newest epic sci-fi yarn looked to be filled to the brim with creative tech, bizarre costumes and (unfortunately CGI) set designs that made my eyeballs melt a little bit with how colorful and rich they were. And then it was delayed from its summer 2014 opening to the dog days of February 2015 for some unknown reason. I feared the worst since 96% of the films pulled from their release in this fashion are done so for one reason and one reason alone – they are shit and the production company doesn’t know when a good time would be to unleash said cinematic skid mark upon the world and hopefully turn a profit. Still, I held out hope that these two fellow Chicagoans hadn’t finally lost their edge and churned out some unwatchable crap like another former favorite filmmaker of mine. You might remember him… Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master).

I saw Jupiter Ascending, which was shot here in Chicago (a couple filmmaker friends of mine actually worked on the film as well), opening weekend in IMAX 3D. While it isn’t the second coming of The Matrix like some people expect it to be, it is a super fun and campy trip into the absurd that reminded me of a beloved cult classic from 1980 – Flash Gordon.
Lowly housecleaner Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) learns that she is the heir to the planet Earth due to her alien DNA, and along with a hybrid bodyguard (Channing Tatum) attempts to trace a bounty placed on her head back to its off-world source.

Honestly this is not a good movie. Not a good movie at all. What it does have is an infectious sense of fun and adventure that I ate up. The plot is simple and pulpy, and the film wears its intentions plainly on its sleeve. It is filled to the brim with insane visuals, fast paced and somewhat bizarre action scenes (that bit that takes place above the Sears/Willis Tower is completely bugnuts), stupefyingly awful dialogue (“No, my mother never cleaned a toilet in her life.”), mediocre acting, overblown CGI, beautiful costumes and sets and some of the coolest technology I’ve seen invented for a movie in years (I want a pair of those gravity surfing rollerblades). Yes, this clearly is a case of style over substance but in the best possible way because this film is just fun on top of fun on top of fun.
Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis don’t set the world afire with their thespian chops, but they do share a nice chemistry and that works wonders for their likeability on screen. Sean Bean kills it in his small part and the rest of the cast chew the scenery like no one’s business, specifically Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as the lead villain Balem Abrasax. Some of Redmayne’s dialogue deliveries are so over the top that it made me laugh out loud because most of the time he speaks in a whispery voice, but when he loses his cool it explodes all over the place. His performance is a total blast that reminded me of Gary Oldman’s Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg from The Fifth Element.

The main reason to see this flick is the ridiculously awesome technology invented for the story. Like I said, The Wachowskis are great world builders in their films and they have carefully crafted a ludicrous amount of awesomeness to fill out the weird and wonderful universe of Jupiter Ascending. Their creative touches fill every frame of every scene. If you thought some of the ideas behind The Matrix were cool you haven’t seen anything yet. And those starship designs… SPOOGE!
But this is not going to be a completely positive review. I mentioned earlier that this is not a good movie. Why? Because it is too long, features way too many characters and ideas that go nowhere, focuses on shady business deals and other pointless One-Percenter crap that reminded me of George Lucas’ simplified politics from the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the love story is a goofy joke in and of itself (“I love dogs, I've always loved dogs.”) and the MacGuffin of the story is a large scale rip-off of Soylent Green.

There also are some serious storytelling glitches that bugged the crap out of me. For example, at the top of the film we are rapidly and rather awkwardly introduced to the lead villains of the story as they walk through a demolished world. This is a completely unnecessary scene that should never have been shot. It ruins the surprise of the outer space elements that should have been shown off at the same time that Jupiter learns about them. As an audience member I would have appreciated discovering this new world outside our own alongside the main character.  What if the audience was shown the real world outside the Matrix before Neo was unplugged? The big reveal wouldn’t have had the same impact as far as I’m concerned. Ball dropped.
The Wachowskis may have come up with creative visuals and tech for this flick, but the story lacks it in the same amount. Some of it is downright stupid. But sometimes I just want to watch a big idiotic spectacle for the sake of sheer escapism which is why I love Flash Gordon to this very day. The siblings probably took some of the criticism aimed at Cloud Atlas to heart, namely the fact that it was overwhelmingly serious and intense, and decided to go for something light and frivolous for their next project. In my opinion it was a great decision since their epic space opera is a ton of dumb fun. I highly recommend it if you have a high tolerance to cheese flying at you from all angles. If that sounds appealing to you I’m pretty sure you’ll find a lot of love about Jupiter Ascending. If not stay clear as you might become lactose intolerant by osmosis.

3.5 out of 5


  1. I saw it twice. It's not the worst. It's popcorn entertainment at it's finest. Bad good as they say.