Wednesday, February 25, 2015

'Jupiter Ascending' review

Andy and Lana Wachowski have long been known as two of the most innovative filmmakers in Hollywood, constantly dreaming up new films and concepts. The Matrix was considered to be an instant sci-fi classic, before The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions quickly brought the trilogy down. Speed Racer eventually became a cult classic, but was a major bomb back in the day. And the duo's Cloud Atlas was divisive, splitting fans and critics right down the middle (I personally could not get through it). That brings us to Jupiter Ascending, the latest sci-fi epic from the Wachowksis. After three weeks at the box office, it's clear that Jupiter Ascending will go down as their biggest failure- a $175 million megabudget picture that will probably lose over $100 million. But does that mean it's a total waste? Not exactly.

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is an Earthbound maid, who is always wishing for something more in life. However, Jupiter is actually a direct reincarnation of the Queen of the universe, and the all-powerful Abrasax family is out to kill her. After almost being killed during a medical procedure, Jupiter is rescued by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), the half-man, half-wolf warrior who is out to protect Jupiter for Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth), who wants Jupiter for possibly nefarious purposes. Jupiter and Caine shack up with Stinger Abini (Sean Bean), a hunter with a secret history with Caine.

After being pursued off of Earth, Jupiter finds herself on an intergalactic planet, facing off against the tricky family dynamics of the Abrasax dynasty. Titus wants to marry her (sorta bizarre considering she's the reincarnation of his mother), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) might want to help her, and Balem (Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in a thanklessly over-the-top part) wants to straight-up kill her. Jupiter's life is in constant peril and it will take a big fight to get out alive.

Jupiter Ascending received some of the most miserable reviews of the year so far. It finished with 23% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics called it "baffling", "muddled" and "misguided" and said that the film was a misfire. All of this is true. Jupiter Ascending is a mess. It's convoluted, with a bounty of plot details and some completely weird stuff that just doesn't make sense. However, Jupiter Ascending is an engaging, fascinating and wholly entertaining fiasco that works through its shortcomings to become a solidly compelling flick.

First off, Jupiter Ascending is a weird, weird movie. Seriously, there's some bizarre stuff in this flick. Channing Tatum plays an albino wolf/man hybrid who is able to smell fear. Eddie Redmayne's Balem speaks in soft whispers before screaming orders at his army. And speaking of his henchmen, Balem's warriors are giant dragon/lizard combinations who fly around chasing our heroes. A large group of bees surround Jupiter because bees are able to sense royalty (apparently). The Abrasax family members are able to dip into a pool of water and instantly become young again. Gugu Mbatha-Raw's character has some of the biggest ears I've ever seen in my life. The Wachowskis have done weird stuff before, but this takes it all to a whole new level.

But if you're able to get past the weirdness and buy into this film, there's quite a bit here to like. For one, the action is absolutely breathtaking and the visual effects work is astounding. Each action scene carried a level of excitement that couldn't be matched during the rest of the film. An aerial battle through the streets of Chicago is very cool and the final war on the Abrasax planet is a compelling setpiece. The Wachowskis may not be smart plotters or intriguing storytellers, but they know how to create a visually incredible film and Jupiter Ascending might just be their most wonderfully designed film yet.

The actors do their best with the script, and nobody but Eddie Redmayne was truly terrible. Mila Kunis is okay, but I've never been truly comfortable with her as a major action star. Same goes for Channing Tatum. It's obvious that Tatum is a great actor now- 22 Jump Street, Foxcatcher and Magic Mike have proved that over the years. However, whenever Tatum takes a dip into the action world, he just doesn't manage to pull it off. He's serviceable, but doesn't bring a ton of depth to Caine. Sean Bean and Douglas Booth do decent work, and the cast is fine overall.

Despite all the positive aspects of Jupiter Ascending, there's no denying that this is a misguided film. The plot is all over the board, continually confusing itself to the point where you're just taking in the spectacle. The motivations of each character are hard to decipher and the family dynamics of the Abrasax clan are hard to get a finger on. The film is also overlong, at 2 hours and 7 minutes. The film should end in one place, but it keeps going and deals more with Balem and the total destruction on the Abrasax planet.

Obviously, Jupiter Ascending is not the instant classic sci-fi masterpiece that I had hoped for, but it's a good bit of fun. The lunacy of the film is never tamed and it's obvious that the material became too much for the Wachowskis at a point. However, it's also clear that the filmmakers put everything they had on screen and delivered a unique vision, accompanied by oddball characters, stunning action and a fresh sci-fi world that we've never seen before.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.9/10)

Image Credits: Nerdist, Movie Pilot, Wired, Hollywood Reporter, Fat Movie Guy

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