Jupiter Ascending Review
My fandom of the Wachowski siblings tends to jump around a lot. It seems to me they always come up with some amazing concept and about half the time make something mindblowingly brilliant and the other half the the time trip on an unresolved plot thread from their last movie and fall on their face in the execution. Naturally I love the Matrix and V for Vendetta but all the other Matrices and Cloud Atlas all kind of sucked in weird ways.
However there is no one who can say the Wachowski’s lack ambition or vision and their films for good or ill don’t push the envelope. As for Jupiter Ascending it kind of reads like a mini map of the Wachoski’s total filmography: cool and up at times, lame and laughably silly at others. I walked into the film hoping for something great and was at times very satisfied yet at others bitterly disappointed.
Where this film rules is in some of the visuals, the scope of the story (truly the term “Space Opera” can be applied here), the acting (far beyond what the film called for), the art direction, the subtle details, and just plain being one of the few original sci fi concept films in current memory. Most of our science fiction derives from books, comics, or TV shows but let us not forget some of the great original concept films that defined our most beloved genre: Star Wars, the Road Warrior, Alien, Robocop, E.T., Avatar, District 9, Escape From New York, Time Bandits, etc. It seems these days Hollywood is terrified of doing a film that does not have a built in fan base and so we are stuck with a lot of retreads and sub-mediocre source material. I applaud the risk the Wachowskis are willing to take on something like this. (Image courtesy of the Star Wars t shirt category)
Plus the visuals were all great. Kind of a super advanced steam punk aesthetic. The universe created is potentially huge and contains a plethora of small details that could each in turn be fleshed out into it’s own movie. The costuming and sets were great. And of course my personal favorite: the rocket skate boots. Not only did they look and act super cool but they kind of looked like they could actually work. I sure as hell want a pair.
Where it falls apart is in what I like the call the “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” stage of script development. Wouldn’t it be cool if we wasted 20 minutes of the film having the main character go through a Brazil-esque bureaucracy for no reason? Wouldn’t it be cool if a billion year old human society were ruled by a 15th century backstabbing English royal family? Wouldn’t it be cool if we injected the main characters huge Russian immigrant family into this epic story to weight it down like a meal of pasta and assorted fishing weights? Wouldn’t it be cool if the main character started off as a housekeeper and then at the end after being named queen of the planet and insanely wealthy decide to keep on scrubbing toilets for…no reason at all? These and many more wouldn’t it be cool ideas are the ones you write on a dry erase board during the early concept meetings then steady erase them as you realize they are too ponderous, too complicated, or most importantly too off point for the film. Apparently the Wachowskis accidentally used a Sharpie instead of a dry erase marker.
I also had a problem with the ridiculous level to which the evil of the villain and his plan was portrayed. Remember in Time Bandits how David Warner played the physical manifestation of Evil and in the end turned into a black powder so evil that if you touched it you would explode? Well that evil is a mild fart in a sewer compared to the evil that is the bad guy here and his plan. SPOILER ALERT In the movie they spoke of “Harvesting” planets without going into the details of what they needed all the humans for. At one point there is a scene where a chariot is being piloted by a human incorporated into the machinery and I thought “Hey, that’s kind of cool. Maybe they need humans to become cyborg slaves. Sort of like Servitors from Warhammer 40,000.” Nope. They need to literally torture humans to death in order extract their immortality elixir like high tech vampires and at that point I completely stopped taking the story at all seriously. I’d give my father more credibility when he’d play the “Got your nose” game by grabbing my nose and sticking his thumb out of his fist (plus the one time he actually cut off the end of my nose). Kind of silly fun but ultimately irredeemably comically stupid.
Speaking of stupid I’m also going to dump all over the character of Jupiter. One concept that did not get written in permanent ink on the idea board was making her a strong willed intelligent female capable of getting herself out of trouble. In this film she is a dope who listens to and agrees with anything any male tells her and constantly is in need of rescue by Channing Tatum. Also they injected an awkward and stupid romance into this film with all the subtlety of a colonoscopy performed with a harpoon gun. It’s unfortunate as I am a fan of Mila Kunis and have come to like Channing Tatum. I honestly believe they are both capably of better roles and also that they delivered way more acting than the script really called for.
But for all that I can say: rocket boots. If all you want is great visuals and some decent action (although of course the fate of the universe once again devolves into a fist fight between two muscle boys. Why is it evil super villains and their good guy nemeses can never seem to recruit more than three guys each? When I move into the evil super villain stage of my career I’m going to have an army of henchmen big enough to overthrow most third world countries) this film will entertain you. If you want to take your sci fi seriously and are hoping for a new Matrix prepare for disappointment. However I am going to ask each of you to try to see it in order to support the much needed sci fi movie industry. We can’t have Tom Cruise carry it entirely on his shoulders. 3 of 5 phasers.
the Infamous Dave Inman