Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jupiter Ascending Review

(dir. The Wachowskis)

Warner Bros. Pictures

“I will harvest that planet tomorrow, before I let her take it from me.”

Jupiter Ascending is batshit crazy, the kind of crazy that makes Star Wars look like a product of realism. In The Wachowskis latest science-fiction endeavor, we learn that the Earth (along with all other planets containing life) has been “seeded” with the genetic material of alien royal families. At the center of the film is Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a housemaid who, after being abducted by aliens, learns that she has the same genetic code of a deceased alien queen who held ownership over the Earth. With the aide of genetically spliced, exiled royal soldiers, Caine (Channing Tatum), and Stinger (Sean Bean), Jupiter must prevent the earth from falling into the hands of the former matriarch’s children, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas Booth).  Trust me when I tell you that this brief synopsis doesn’t even begin to cover all the zany plot intricacies of the film.

While the central story is easy to follow, and far less philosophically and scientifically complex than The Matrix Trilogy or Cloud Atlas, The Wachowskis still can’t resist stuffing the film with details. There’s a lot of exposition used to set up the universal hierarchy that the film’s plot revolves around. A lot of these details come too quickly to fully digest on an initial viewing and some of the political structures and clauses seem purposefully wordy and overly complex. Despite the fact that not every detail sticks, and some of the made up words sound comically arbitrary, The Wachowskis craft a fully fleshed out universe for their film. I mean, there’s literally enough alien races, space crafts, political relationships, backstories, and Soylent Green-level twists to fill seven seasons of any high-concept sci-fi show.

The cast seems to have had a blast making this film, and it shows in every single performance. Not a single one of them seems afraid of looking silly (and with a number of supporting characters as animal-human hybrids, it’s nearly impossible not to look silly). Eddie Redmayne is finally able to break out of his Oscar-season glow with a scenery-chewing performance that he delivers in a husky whisper that occasionally shifts into abrasive yelling like he’s got some kind of space tourettes. While Mila Kunis’ personality makes her a solid hero, it also makes her seem less out of her element than the story needs her to be. There are some moments in Jupiter’s character evolution and her romantic relationship with Caine, where you can tell that the film’s length was cut in the editing room. Part of this could also be attributed to the almost fairy tale portrayal of romance that The Wachowskis have in this film (not unlike the six month, ‘I’ll love you forever’ relationship between Neo and Trinity in The Matrix series). Still with such a cast amassed, it’s a shame that the film couldn’t run longer to give them all a little more to explore, both in terms of character and concept.

On the technical side of things, The Wachowskis haven’t lost any of their skill in crafting imaginative action scenes. There are some truly impressive battles in this film, and while some have criticized the film’s high budget, you can see every penny of it on screen. The designs are just incredible, each one a work of art. While there’s nothing as cinematically transformative as “bullet-time,” Caine’s air boots are pretty stellar and contribute to some great fight scenes. All of this dazzling effects work is set to an adrenaline pumping score by Michael Giacchino that borrows a few notes from his fantastic Star Trek score. The Wachowskis go all out with the technical wizardry of this film, as if they made their last big-budget feature ever. Sadly, they very well may have.

While so many big-budget films are made dour by directors who want their film to be the epitome of seriousness, The Wachowskis embrace the pulp nature of their film. It’s as if they spun a drug store book rack containing the most absurd, science-fiction novels of the 60s and 70s, and plucked the strangest, and cheesiest, details from each, in order to create something that feels refreshing. It’s disappointing that the film’s box office results have ensured The Wachowskis won’t get to make their proposed trilogy of Jupiter Jones’ story. Regardless, I celebrate the film they made and if this was truly their last big-budget hurrah, they sure went out in style.

Grade: B+

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