March 5, 2015 by bck1402
Directed by The Wachowskis
The feeling was that this movie was going to be divisive. I felt that those who would hate it are the ones who expected the Wachowskis to match or exceed the success of The Matrix, and then see the directors as one-time wonders. Sure, The Matrix came like a blast out of the blue at a time when movies could still surprise us because the internet wasn’t as wide-spread a promotional tool at the time, and trailers didn’t give away the whole movie.
If anything The Matrix movies have shown, along with the subsequent movies they have directed, is that the Wachowskis are world builders. The Matrix had a unique world design as did the sequels. Speed Racer was a live action anime complete with physics defying action, and Cloud Atlas traversed time (they directed the 19th Century, 22nd Century Neo Seoul and the futuristic ‘primitive’ segments). With Jupiter Ascending, they’ve layered a pulp Sci-Fi adventure over the current modern world, while providing their take on some alien mythology that has seeped into collective consciousness. They’ve also added the science fiction element with a subtle commentary on big business, doing whatever it takes to secure a bottom line with people generally viewed as a commodity.
Although the story feels recycled, there is a feeling that perception is often skewed. Mila Kunis’ Jupiter Jones is far less a ‘chosen one’ than a MacGuffin being tossed about among three siblings who are trying to get ahead in their galactic business. It does get a bit repetitive when Jupiter is in the clutches of any of the three and genetically mixed warrior, Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) has to swoop in for the rescue. Sure, it sets up the excuse for action set-pieces – and each of them is uniquely designed with stunning visual backdrops – but it also lends to a sense of fatigue for some. After all, it is pulp Sci-Fi; a format that has not had much success over the years (see John Carter, Riddick, Lucy, Ender’s Game, Dredd to name a few, yes, you can even toss in the Transformers series) with perhaps an exception for Guardians of the Galaxy which is in the same vein.
The action set-pieces are incredibly well-designed from aerial chases to standard fisticuffs, of which there are numerous. The filming style may seem rather frenetic at times to the point that it may seem like an over-compensation on CGI effects, if you aren’t aware of the lengths the Wachowskis went to film some of the action shots. John Gaeta, who designed the bullet-time effects on The Matrix, returned to assist in designing some of the action filming. The Chicago chase sequence alone reportedly took six months to film involving the two leads.
Then there’s the overall design from the environment – a shielded refinery in the stormy clouds of the planet Jupiter’s giant red spot – to the numerous ships and creature effects and make-up. The element of genetic designed warriors and castes give us many half-human/animal hybrids. Tatum’s Caine is part wolf, and perhaps eagle while Sean Bean’s Stinger is part bee. There are many others in the mix too. There are also the typical aliens, a caste of grunt workers that look suspiciously as Greys. The numerous ships on display – if you can catch them since they whizz by quite fast – occasionally leave crop circles too. It is a visual feast, but with little time to really savour it all without multiple viewings.
In terms of performances, Mila Kunis does much of the carrying as the titular character, very much the typical, normal, person who is suddenly thrust into events beyond comprehension. Jupiter is a quick study tho and by the final act, manages to step up convincingly if not stupendously like Neo in The Matrix. Tatum seems to be in typical action hero mode while Sean Bean is once again in the expositional mentor role, with a nice surprising twist that takes him a little further than his typical role. The Abrasax siblings, supposedly long lived but not immortal, don’t fair as well. They’re supposed to be business industry titans, but more like petulant children who have inherited a business and an eye on the bottom line. At least, for two out of the three as Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) motives are a little more oblique. Douglas Booth is smarmy as Titus while recent Oscar winner, Eddie Redmayne lays the ham as Balem, somewhat channeling Ralph Fiennes’ Voldermort in terms of line delivery, with the occasional petulant histrionics when he doesn’t get his way. In terms of villainy, it may seem most sci-fi fans would be reminded of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It is severely lacking, and yet, quite in tone with its pulp leanings. Sharp eyed viewers may notice Doona Bae and James D’Arcy from Cloud Atlas popping up.
While there are some attempts at humour, one seemingly a tribute to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, not all hit that sweet spot (“I love dogs.”), so the movie as a whole is very much a mixed bag. As a pulp sci-fi action movie, it’s loads of fun if you’ll accept it as such. Take in the designs and work things out in your head as the movie really zips, almost in old fashioned serial style, from point to point with little explanation to some of the larger schemes at work. A lot of things are set-up here and one can hope that if there is a sequel, a grander design will appear as there is a lot of promise here.