I was right there with you.
You don't have to be embarrassed to admit it. The trailer for Jupiter Ascending, the latest film from the Wachowskis, looks campy and cheesy and horrible and anything but what we want a film from the makers of The Matrix trilogy to be.
I was right there with you.
I was right there with you even as Jupiter Ascending started playing, not helped at all by a careless projectionist who hadn't made sure the film was in focus as it started.
I was right there with you when I spied Mila Kunis in an early scene scrubbing a toilet. I couldn't help but let out a little giggle.
I was right there with you as I watched Channing Tatum, goofy-ass ears and all, struggling to make sense of material that was seemingly nonsensical.
I was right there with you, really with you, when I first witnessed Oscar nominee Eddie Redmayne playing a bad ass member of the universe's elite whispering his way through Riff-Raffian monologues and petulant proclamations.
Man, I was so with you.
Then, Jupiter Ascending clicked.
Don't get me wrong. Jupiter Ascending isn't a masterpiece. Jupiter Ascending isn't a Wachowski reclaiming of the science fiction cinematic crown. Jupiter Ascending is chaotic and messy and campy and nonsensical and weird and sometimes badly acted and sometimes really badly acted.
If you can surrender yourself to it, and that's going to be a big "if" for many of you, Jupiter Ascending is an immensely fun, outrageously over-the-top, action-packed and, at least in my estimation, an intensely personal film for the Wachowskis wrapped up inside their usual sci-fi thrills and moralistic reflections.
The film opens up in Chicago with a young woman named Jupiter (Kunis), who wakes up begrudgingly every morning at 4:45am and works alongside her family scrubbing toilets and making beds for who are seemingly more than she has even ever dreamed of being after having been born inside a steamer cargo hold to a widowed Russian mother (Maria Doyle Kennedy). When a plan to come up with some cash goes wildly awry, she is rescued from almost certain death by the mysterious Caine (Channing Tatum), a part-wolf, part-human hunter who has been sent to Earth on a mission of universal importance that involves the realization that Jupiter is of far greater importance to the universe than she knows. It seems that she is actually what is known as a genetic Recurrence, in her case a perfect genetic replica of a woman whose children now squabble amongst themselves for ultimate control of what amounts to being the universal stock market of sorts. These children include the disturbingly seductive Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), the pleasure-seeking Titus (Douglas Booth), and the ruthlessly ambitious Balem (Eddie Redmayne), the latter being the one whose power is most directly threatened by the sudden discovery of the long sought Jupiter for reasons that unfold during the film.
Jupiter Ascending is a wildly ambitious film that underachieves. Jupiter Ascending is an action-packed film with scenes that are occasionally so muddied in their choreographed that it's hard to figure out whose fighting what and where. Jupiter Ascending is yet the latest in a long line of films about a "chosen one," and it can definitely be said that the Wachowskis do very little to differentiate their story from the others.
Jupiter Ascending, I suppose, goes wrong in so many ways but somehow the Wachowskis have also crafted a film that has ridiculous fun with big ideas that are fun to watch come to life on the big screen.
If there is one big problem to be found in Jupiter Ascending, it lies in Mila Kunis herself. Kunis, a decent enough television actress, has never been an actress with tremendous range. In particular, Kunis has always struggled when required to project a larger than life presence - I'm thinking of her downright awful work in The Book of Eli as a perfect example. Working alongside the gravitas of an actor like Denzel Washington, Kunis came off like a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. While her screen presence is infinitely more balanced with Tatum, whose range is also limited, when she needs to really own scenes convincingly she's simply unable to effectively and believably pull it off. In the film's quieter scenes and funnier scenes, Kunis is fine. However, that's not when Jupiter really needs to ascend.
While Tatum does have his limited range, his only real requirement here is to be a kick-ass beefcake who can manage to project confidence while wearing wolf ears, eyeliner, and gravity boots. In other words, this is a role that Tatum could do in his sleep and, to his credit, he stays wide awake.
There will be those of you, maybe even most of you, who can't stand Jupiter Ascending. It is an unusual beast of a film and I'm not even sure it's a film I'd be willing to argue over. There came a point in Jupiter Ascending where I found myself willingly immersed in this world the Wachowskis had created and enjoying myself despite the various ways my critical brain kept getting in the way.
There are action sequences that are simultaneously confusing, yet breathtaking. There's a scene through the skies of Chicago that is simply breathtaking, while the Wachowskis get in touch with their inner Gilliam, complete with Gilliam, in a mysteriously flat yet still compelling scene of maximum bureaucracy.
John Toll's lensing builds a remarkable framework for the film's 3-D imagery, while Michael Giacchino's original music soars and confounds and toys with the Wachowski's words and imagery with tremendous results.
It is difficult to know what to say or what to make of Eddie Redmayne's godawful yet strangely compelling performance as Balem, a performance that is sort of the Borderline Personality Disorder of performances with its histrionic and attention-seeking tantrums and hilariously droll linguistics. At one point, I'd have sworn I was listening to Stephen Hawking if Stephen Hawking were an alien with only a hint of ALS.
Does that sound cold? Watch the performance yourself and see if you don't hear it, too.
There is much to not love about Jupiter Ascending, yet it's the kind of immersive sci-fi experience into which some audience members will simply surrender themselves without hesitation while still others will leave the theater going"That's the worst film I've ever seen." The truth is somewhere in the middle. If you are familiar with the inner workings of the Wachowskis, then you likely are familiar with their years long passion for children's issues and family violence prevention activities. It is an area in which they are relatively quiet, yet passionately involved. By the end of Jupiter Ascending, I became convinced that the Wachowskis had crafted, in some weird way, an almost absurdist domestic violence prevention film in which the hope of humanity is dependent upon our transcending self-interest in favor of some semblance of universal understanding and a willingness to accept the premise into which the story actually begins - It's not what you do ... it's what you are.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic