Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure
Run Time: 2 hours 7 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton
Written and Directed by Andy & Lana Wachowski (Cloud Atlas, Speed Racer, The Matrix Trilogy)
Harsh criticism is nothing the Wachowski Siblings haven't dealt with before...they are used to being bashed. Their last film, Cloud Atlas, was a box office flop and was universally hammered by critics (for the most part anyways...I on the other hand, stand by naming it not only a good film, but the best film of 2012). And if I found Cloud Atlas to be akin to a mesmerizing albeit ambitious acrobat act, where spinning plates are skillfully and beautifully placed on each appendage one by one in perfect symmetry and union, never once allowing any of them fall, then the Wachowski's latest effort, Jupiter Ascending (opening today), can be likened to a bull rushing full-speed into a china shop.
Yes, the symphonic rhythm, connectivity and deeper meaning of Cloud Atlas is all but abandoned in Jupiter Ascending, a bloated, lazy, messy, uninspired jumble of science fiction and action-adventure tropes. It is chock-full of mind-blowing special effects and action sequences...mind-blowing not for breaking any new cinematic ground, but for contemplating how much all of this nonsense must have cost. It wasn't a good sign to begin with, when this epic tentpole picture was delayed from its projected Summer of 2014 opening to the dumping grounds of an early February 2015 release. Now we know why.
The problems begin with the miscasting and misuse of its central character, Jupiter Jones, portrayed by the lovely Mila Kunis. Kunis is one of the most beautiful working actresses today, but this role doesn't help in convincing us that she is ready for leading lady material. Blaming the poor script, dialogue and lack of character development on her alone would not be fair, but she must be given some of the blame. She just doesn't appear comfortable, and seems an odd choice to build an entire action franchise around.
As the convoluted story goes, Jupiter is quite important. There is an intergalactic economy that we learn Earth is only one component of. Out in space, on planet Jupiter to be exact, there is a royal family, the Abrasax's, who own, buy and trade planets as if they were playing the stock market. Jupiter - for reasons I won't bore you with here - is the heir to Earth, so the greediest of the Abrasax's look to find and destroy her, so that they can claim the rights instead. Meet the meddling siblings: Titus, played by the statuesque Douglas Booth; Kalique, portrayed by Tuppence Middleton; and the uber-evil Balem, played by Oscar nominee Eddie Redmayne, who with this performance, is as much a shoe-in for a Razzie next year as he is for an Oscar this year. If Jupiter is ascending, Redmayne's reputation is in free-fall. Not to rub salt, but Gargamel and Skeletor have turned in more worthy and less-cartoonish villainous performances.
Lucky for Jupiter Jones though, there is also a maverick renegade roaming the galaxy, who aims to defend her. This half-dog, half-man (no not Barf from Spaceballs, and no, I'm not making this up), is played by Channing Tatum, who will at least not disappoint females who accidentally wander into Jupiter Ascending, as he does end up battling aliens with his shirt off for a good stretch of the story. It might not be worth the price of admission, ladies, but hey, I'm trying to look for positives here. Jupiter and Caine (Tatum) also end up working with an old soldier-friend of Caine's, Stinger (Sean Bean). Bean appears to be the only actor in this entire space opera who seems to be trying.
So what went wrong? Where Cloud Atlas's story and themes worked together and complimented one another, the opposite seems to be true here. There are long stretches of exposition as the Wachowski's attempt to have their characters explain the banal universe they've created, where Earth is but a chess piece in some sort of cosmic squabble. Where The Matrix had envelope-pushing special effects and intense, inspired sequences of action and suspense, Jupiter Ascending has boring, over-stuffed action sequences that seem to go on forever. It's predictable but simultaneously makes no sense. Kunis is not strong enough to make us believe she is a heroine, but even worse, the film squanders the opportunity to give us a strong leading lady. Much of Jupiter's journey is spent acting as the damsel in distress, waiting for her man to swoop in (literally) and catch her as she falls. Which she does, several times over.
There has been so much good science fiction, this movie also feels like a collection of borrowed ideas. The whole "chosen one" storyline is so over and done with, that I'm officially calling for its retirement. I'm also totally over feuding royal families, a staple in storytelling since the beginning of time. Worse still, Jupiter Ascending even steals from Scooby Doo and cartoon villains in general, where bad guys go through all hell to catch the good guys, only to then explain to them their entire sinister plan, before letting them escape in the most ridiculous of ways.
Perhaps the most disappointing element of this Wachowski Sibling's film, is that, unlike many of their previous films, Jupiter Ascending seems to lack an intellectual center...a deep, grounding theme that makes all of the on-screen wonderment worth a damn. The Matrix said something about our society. Cloud Atlas has tons to say about life, spirituality and the flow of time. What does Jupiter Ascending say?
There are a few hints of deeper meaning - dealing with humans being a farming ground for aliens, and how the Earth's resources are being harvested for evil purposes - and the film would have been much improved had they focused more on these themes instead of trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Because ultimately, while it may not appear to be so, the best science-fiction has always been high-brow. Intelligence is usually required in order to see what real-life themes are being reflected or projected back at us. The viewer must know when he is watching a Klingon, that he is not really watching a Klingon...hopefully you get what I mean.
Jupiter Ascending instead bucks the trend. Talk about artificial intelligence. The Wachowski's have created a low-brow epic, one that disappoints mostly because of its utter failure to even entertain. If nothing else, to me, it makes Cloud Atlas an even greater achievement. Sometimes being ambitious is just not enough.
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