It took some time but I have finally come to an unimportant realization – I am not a fan of the Wachowskis. I’m not sure why it took me so long to admit it because I’ve never had the best experiences with their films. “The Matrix” was a good movie, but I never saw it as the monumental classic others have. It’s sequels interested me less. “Speed Racer” was an unwatchable mess. “Cloud Atlas” was one of the most laborious theater experiences I’ve ever had. Yet despite these not-so-stellar reactions I always find myself watching whenever a new movie comes around.
The latest from the Wachowski siblings is “Jupiter Ascending”, an ambitious science fiction romp that has all the ingredients to be yet another slog. Six years ago Warner Brothers approached the Wachowskis about creating an original sci-fi franchise. Lots of money and resources were put behind the project in hopes of producing a profitable series. That hope looks unlikely. The film barely recovered its production costs and it found very little critical support. But here is the big surprise – it’s not a terrible movie. That being said it is another Wachowski movie whose ambition is only surpassed by its flaws.
The story isn’t nearly as intelligent as the Wachowskis probably think, but it’s also not as incoherent or convoluted as some critics proclaim. In fact, at times it is pretty basic stuff, but at other times it’s just downright silly. The story is basically a melding of Cinderella and the Wizard of Oz thrown into a big, vibrant science fiction world. Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a young woman who housecleans for wealthy Chicago elites. But actually Jupiter is the reincarnated heir of planet earth.
Make sense so far? Probably not so here’s the deal. Earth and a number of other planets are owned by a powerful alien royalty called the House of Abrasax. The Matriarch of the royal family has been murdered leaving the ownership of the planets split between three siblings: the power-hungry sociopath Balam (Eddie Redmayne), the conniving playboy Titus (Douglas Booth), and the sweet but equally devious Kalique (Tuppence Middleton). The planets are considered harvest grounds by the aliens and Earth is the most profitable. Jupiter’s existence means the siblings can’t control Earth and therefore the profit so she finds herself stuck in the middle of one big family squabble.
Thankfully there is Channing Tatum as the ridiculously named Caine Wise. He is a genetically engineered “splice” – a half human and half….ahem….wolf. Yep, you read that right. To add to the character’s absurdity, he speed skates through the skies with a pair of rocket boots and has a penchant for eyeliner. His main contribution to the story is to constantly rescue Jupiter from various states of peril in the nick of time. We also get Sean Bean as Caine’s buddy Stinger. He is half human and half honeybee but do we really need to get into that?
I will say the Wachowskis know how to world build. The creativity behind some of the effects are impressive and the locations are a lot of fun. For example to get to Balam’s “refinery” you enter through the big red spot on Jupiter’s surface. On the flipside not all of the action sequences work as well. Watching Tatum skate through the sky or fly around in these bird-like ships is cool at first but the movie milks them and they grow tiresome. The movie relies heavily on its CGI which is both good and bad.
But the film’s problems don’t stop there. The story is built upon a pretty interesting mythology and foundation but most of it is told through a ton of exposition. Rarely does the film show us anything. Also for all of the cool and interesting things the story does, there are also too many moments and details that are beyond. And then there are a couple of key performances that don’t work at all. Tatum is cold, emotionless, and uninteresting. Some of it is the role but Tatum does it no favors. And what on Earth is Eddie Redmayne doing? His husky mumbling and sudden outbursts are laughably bad at times.
In a weird way “Jupiter Ascending” was a nice surprise. After my past experiences with the Wachowskis I was expecting the worst. But this is a watchable bit of sci-fi and often entertaining. Unfortunately some of its ideas are shockingly silly, it relies too heavily on its special effects, and a couple of the more important performances hurt the film. So while this may be better than some Wachowski films, it’s only marginally better and definitely not enough for me to call myself a fan of their work.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS