Film - Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending

Ren Zelen gives her verdict on the opinion splitting project from the Wachowski's, Jupiter Ascending, out on DVD this week...

Directors: Andy Wachowski , Lana Wachowski

Stars: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne 

In their last movie venture, Cloud Atlas, the Wachowskis tackled big questions about life and death. They contemplated the notions of reincarnation; déjà vu; the purpose of love; identity; karma; life as a repetitive cycle - one might even say that they attempted to address certain Quantum theories, but primarily the movie asked: Can enlightenment, love and sacrifice change what appears to be a recurring historical cycle of cruelty, oppression and greed? All this intellectual inquiry came via a daring, genre-spanning, non-linear narrative that challenged the limits of conventional storytelling. If you admired the Wachowskis then, for their ambition, chutzpah and a stubborn refusal to dumb down - their new movie will come as a cold cup of bitter disappointment.

Jupiter Ascending feels more like a patchwork of several science-fiction stories untidily stitched together, and even then, it doesn’t make a particularly distinctive pattern. The problem isn't that the movie lacks passion, but that the Wachowskis, with their comic–book sensibilities, have always put their greatest emphasis on design and aesthetics, and here unfortunately, they allow the visual image to get the best of them, investing so much attention in creating eye-catching technology, architecture and spectacle, that they seem to have become oblivious to huge logical gaps and the numbing conventionality of their story. Instead of serving as a launch-pad for interesting ideas as in their previous movies, Jupiter Ascending expects viewers to check their minds in at the door and take in a series of Technicolor displays geared to short attention spans, enlivening what is a routine damsel-in-distress story. Possibly originally conceived as an empowered female heroine, Jupiter Jones actually spends most of the movie being kidnapped and rescued, constantly falling from a variety of high places so that Caine, her hero, can soar in Superman-style, and scoop her up in his arms. Jupiter's half-man, half-werewolf warrior-protector zips around on gravity-defying boots, rescuing her over and over and over again, fighting off bounty hunters, winged lizards, skeletal assassins, arriving in the nick of time before she’s duped into foolish agreements, as spaceships explode or crash through wormholes and city-scapes. I found myself thinking ‘Well, that’s all very pretty and bright and colourful, and lots of things are going ‘Pow!’ ‘Whizz!’ and ‘Bang!’ but what’s actually going to HAPPEN next? What’s going on in the story?’ Disappointingly very little it seems.

The problem is that the film fails to find any distinctive way to express itself - there is too much going on too quickly. Visually it’s spectacular, but it comprises almost exclusively of escapes, chases and rescues, in which any kind of engaging storyline is lost.

The plot is basically this: Jupiter’s Russian mother Aleksa (Maria Doyle Kennedy) fled to America after mobsters killed her British astronomer husband Maximilian (James D’Arcy). Jupiter now works as a cleaner, lamenting her life of scrubbing toilets. Improbably, she is found to be the exact genetic replica of the dead mother of three inter-galactic ‘Royal’ siblings, which somehow makes her Queen of the Universe or something. It also entitles her to their property, and unsurprisingly, they’re not inclined to let her stroll in and take it. She’s also dismayed to find that the family business consists of ‘harvesting’ the inhabitants of overpopulated planets in order to make the elixir of youth, which only the privileged can buy. Here, the concept of an immortal human elite seeding other civilisations throughout the galaxy, functions as a vague critique of capitalism. In this universe, genocide is simply the pursuit of profit, and apparently there’s nothing more profitable to be done with entire worlds than to boil down their populations and drain their collective life-force.

Jupiter Ascending

Channing Tatum as Caine (playing a pointy-eared, half-albino dog-man for his sins) has been kicked out of space army or something for ripping someone or other’s throat out with his teeth, then had some wings surgically removed as a punishment, and now doesn’t go anywhere without a pair of hover roller-blades. Surprisingly, Tatum manages to invest this role with the vestigial makings of a character, thanks to his unusual ability to play a ‘tough-but-good-guy’ without making us laugh out loud at a lack of credibility. Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones never really gets much of a chance, poor girl - she really isn’t given much to work with. Kunis spends most of her time trying to understand what’s going on, staring perplexedly through those very big eyes of hers - mostly only having to react to things being explained to her (when she’s not being rescued).

The pair then team up with Stinger (Sean Bean) a fellow ex-space-soldier who has retired to Earth to lead a low-profile life in a house full of bees (providing the daftest notion of the movie – Bees are genetically evolved to recognise royalty, though of what use a human Queen is to their evolutionary progress I have no idea). Sean Bean makes a good fist of being Sean Bean, which at least brings a degree of naturalness to his role. The evil trio of Borgia-like siblings – Balem, played by flavour-of-the-month, Eddie Redmayne, pouts, shudders, whispers ninety percent of his lines and then shrieks the other ten, while Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth) purr their English-accented villainous schemes, but inevitably end up being subsumed by the visuals, sound effects and music (composed by JJ Abrams favourite, Michael Giacchino).

The Wachowskis again wear their personal preoccupations and interests on their sleeves – the ones I could spot were David Lynch’s Dune (if you hated Dune you’ll hate this movie, although if you loved Dune you’ll probably also hate this movie); personal transformation and genetic manipulation (unsurprisingly); a critique of capitalism and consumerism; the Flash Gordon movie; the art of Moebius and a homage to the movie Brazil, complete with reference to ‘27-B-stroke-6’ and a cameo appearance by Terry Gilliam. Artistically, this is the first time the Wachowskis seem to be behind the curve rather than surfing the next wave and in my humble opinion, they really should have spent that extra six months after the release date was delayed on the development of a decent storyline and script rather than the visuals.

In Jupiter Ascending - The Matrix has turned into near chaotic CGI overkill, and somewhere, Agent Smith is smiling, because he’s won... now, THAT was a terrific villain.

Image - Incodex.