IN CINEMAS: 6th February
RUNNING TIME: 129 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
British astronomer Maximilian meets Aleksa in the Soviet Union, but Maximilian is killed by mobsters. The pregnant Aleksa flees to America and her child Jupiter is born en route in a steamer cargo hold. Many years later, Jupiter works in Los Angeles with her mother and aunt as a housekeeper. However, her dull life is about to become very exciting indeed. It seems that Jupiter is actually the genetic reincarnation of space royalty. Ownership of the universe is currently divided by three conniving heirs to the Abraxas family, and they all want to get their hands on Earth, which is highly overpopulated, and is therefore ready to be ‘harvested’…..
General opinion seems to be that the Wachowskis’ stuff since The Matrix [the first one] has been extremely disappointing, and box office takings have diminished wth each film, though the former is not something I would agree with. I’m one of those fools who loves their work, you see. I don’t think the Matrix sequels were let downs, I thought Speed Racer was a lot of fun, and consider Cloud Atlas to still be one of the greatest films of this decade, though I can understand why these films had the overall reception that they did. Their creators really don’t like to compromise and prefer to do their own thing, something that is increasingly hard with large budgets these days where the same old stuff keeps being churned out and folk seem to flock to it. Jupiter Ascending comes with more than a whiff of ‘potential flop’ about it, from its release date being pushed back nine months [ostensibly to allow more post-production] to a disastrous preview at Sundance [as if the majority of people that flock to that festival are going to like an effects-filled science-fiction actioner like this?], to it being….well….it being another Wachowski effort that won’t have attraction to many cinemagoers and will lose many of the ones who do give it a go.
Well, I hope the film at least does a ‘Pacific Rim‘ and ends up being a moderate hit, even if mainly overseas, and not just because I want the visionary siblings who created it to have one. Jupiter Ascending is their most unashamedly entertaining film since The Matrix, possibly more so. Though full of imagination and scope, it really does feel like an attempt to create a hit. The Wachowskis seem to be partly reigning themselves in here to try and make something that will appeal to more people. They don’t seem to be attempting to push the boundaries of what can be done on screen, or trying to get all philosophical, though Jupiter Ascending still has some considerable eccentricities and remains a Wachowski picture through and through. It’s perhaps because The Matrix remains their biggest success that the siblings in Jupiter Ascending seem to recycle some ideas from that movie, from humans as commodities to another ‘The One’, though this is not really to its detriment. Jupiter Ascending is messy and sometimes even unintentionally funny, but it’s also great fun. I enjoyed it more than, say, Guardians Of The Galaxy. It’s definitely a more uneven picture than the Marvel hit, but it has a sincerity about even its more absurd moments [which in some ways makes it funnier] that the looser, even cynical Guardians never really attempted.
Jupiter Ascending doesn’t waste any time, quickly introducing its heroine’s birth and showing her father being shot in quite an intense scene, though one good thing is that the Wachowskis don’t really seem compromised by having to go for a lower rating than they usually get. Cut to many years later and Jupiter is seen to lead a lowly life cleaning toilets. However, various folk not of this earth are on her trail, most having somewhat nefarious purposes, but one doesn’t. Caine Wise is a super-soldier with strains of wolf DNA who seems to be out to protect her. There’s a flurry of action where he gets to show off his flying boots while battling against some assailants, but the Wachowksis seem to be teasing us here as the scene really is brief. Then there’s a rather scary scene when Jupiter sees another woman being ‘harvested’ by some aliens in their true form [very familiar looking aliens, it must be said, but still quite creepy], and a similar one in an operation room that certainly makes good use of the terrifying potential of that setting, and then Jupiter is carried off by Caine. It’s rather like Superman The Movie at first when the two gently ascend – there’s even just a tad of that film’s erotic tension – but then the baddies turn up again, and we get a simply astounding action sequence which could turn out to be one of the best of the year, as Caine swoops and dives fighting spacecraft and dodging vehicles while buildings are destroyed. It’s a gasp-inducing sequence of sheer brilliance, and shows again that the Wachowskis are just so good at action. For Jupiter Ascending, they’ve speeded up the cutting and used more handheld shots in keeping with current trends, but not so that the many fights and chases become a sick-making, incoherent mess, unlike in many other current pictures.
Of course any film with action that has its best action scene early on is structurally a little problematic, though it didn’t really hurt, say, Casino Royale. Jupiter Ascending gets something of a Star Wars vibe as everything relocates to space and there’s an inordinate amount of planet hopping, and what with the political machinations, huge amounts of CGI and clunky dialogue, there’s more than a whiff of the prequels, though Jupiter Ascending is a much more enjoyable and fluid picture, and by the time Caine and his companion are flying as fast as they can to stop Jupiter being forcibly married to another ruler, what we are watching is probably closer to Flash Gordon that anything else. The Wachowskis’ fondness for New Age mythology is still in evidence, and parts of the script could actually have been written by David Icke, at least in the first third. There actually is a bit of intentional humour in the film, such as in the depiction of Jupiter’s Russian family which again shows that comedy is not the Wachowkis’ forte, and sad to say [or maybe not sad to say, as it makes the proceedings even more fun], some dialogue where I don’t know if what was being said was intended to be funny or not, though it certainly made the preview audience I saw the film with laugh. “I love dogs. I’ve always loved dogs” says Caine to Jupiter after he’s told her he’s part lupine, and: “Bees are genetically engineered to recognise royalty” just made me think of Donald Pleasance’s ‘classic’ Phenomena line of: “It’s perfectly normal for insects to be slightly telepathic”.
Other chuckles can be gained from, for example, Caine engaging into a lengthy fight with another soldier [Sean Bean] for no apparent reason [well, I suppose I could have missed the reason], or King Titus living in the [though PG-13 depicted] kind of sexual bliss you’d think all kings would want to as they have the power to do so. It’s almost reassuring that in this day and age it’s still occasionally possible to get a film where the heroine needs constant rescuing by the hero, and actually the muted romance at the heart of the film is quite sweet. While it seems at times very complicated, the plot is when you get right down to it quite simple really for all the elaborate world-building, while there are homages to everything from She to, in one wonderful little sequence climaxing in a cameo from Terry Gilliam himself, a lengthy riff on Brazil. The costumes and sets are striking while doing their best not to be too influenced by other movies, and the special effects are largely great though as usual CGI explosions still stick out like a sore thumb. Shots of Jupiter have an interesting look to them, the gas looking rather like paint. The Wachowkis don’t do as much with 3D as I would have expected them to though. The 3D doesn’t detract from the experience, but probably doesn’t enhance it much either.
Sadly the Wachowskis don’t succeed in doing with Channing Tatum what they achieved with Keanu Reeves [taking a pretty poor actor and using his weaknesses to advantage], and Mila Kunis just looks lost. The most entertaining performance has to be by Eddie Redmayne, who rasps in a most disconcerting way and occasionally goes totally over the top. It’s entirely appropriate. Michael Giacchino’s score provides strong musical backing and especially some thrilling action cues, though like many modern scores it lacks a distinctive main theme. Jupiter Ascending is a badly flawed, often ridiculous, and often eye-popping science-fiction actioner that provides fine escapism and is definitely more than the sum of its parts which do rather vary in quality. Saying that, and whether it becomes a hit or not [my guess is that it’ll be something in-between, which still isn’t that good and will be another stage in the death knell for original properties, but I hope I’m proven wrong], I’d like the Wachowskis to embark on a cheaper, simpler, more down to earth project next, something closer to their first movie Bound. Some chance. As I write they’ve already been working on a TV series for NetFlix called Sense8 which doesn’t at all sound cheap, simple and down to earth. God I love ‘em.