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Blockbuster Film Review: "Jupiter Ascending" (Written & Directed by The Wachowskis)
The Wachowski's Return To An Original Script Is An Ill-Conceived Misfire That Puts Too Much Emphasis On Visuals And Slacks On Narrative
Call it fate, or the logical step to their careers, but the Wachoswki siblings have finally netted their most extravagant project and budget to boot. To the tune of a cool $170 million, their latest effort, "Jupiter Ascending" now eclipses, in terms of budget, all of "The Matrix" movies and their last modest, but also incredibly ambitious achievement 2012's "Cloud Atlas." Rather amazingly, the pair have been given pretty much free reign to take on any project to their heart's content - especially original material, despite their films not making it on the return investment that their studio commits to their films. It is a rather bizarre and inexplicable arrangement they have but they sure as hell aren't about to complain. Would you?
Summoning all of their toolbox tools, the visual FX mavens invited us on a journey through time and space - a story centered around intergalactic strife complete with the requisite internal political quarrels, the rebel factions dueling it out in sweeping glory bursting with high-powered future tech, and of course, "the one." Initially, "The One" was Neo in "The Matrix" series and he was portrayed by the least likely of actors to fit that description - Keanu Reeves who, up until that point was known exclusively for the "Bill & Ted" movies. It was also the role that Will Smith regrettably turned down. In any event, that formula for "The Matrix" has been repackaged here and given a less subtle treatment in terms of VFX and the hypnotic beauty of the latest incarnation of the savior of mankind - Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones. Yes, you read that right. JUPITER JONES.
Ladies and gentlemen, the absurdity doesn't end there. This plot - my god - it is complicated and in the most unnecessary way possible. Remember how your eyes glazed over and your head went berserk trying to figure out the whole issue with Zion aka The Machine World and The Matrix which is their creation of our perception of our reality when "The Matrix" sequels first hit screens? What initially started out as something relatively digestible to understand morphed into this lofty entanglement that by the time "Revolutions" was revving up, you just wanted everything to be resolved and be over. "Jupiter Ascending," out of the gate is a flabby mess of a plot that includes dueling alien brothers' and sisters' trying to stake claim as the rightful heir to the Earth. Ah, that doesn't sound so bad, right? It would if each of the siblings didn't have their own backwards agenda that includes things like "harvesting," a completely unwelcome and cringe worthy marriage proposal and ceremony, hiring bounty hunters to do their dirty work (admittedly, pretty cool), and a screaming Eddie Redmayne as the prima donna royal prince who, when not shouting, talks in a merciful whimper of a speaking voice that you can barely hear anything he's saying. Not that it matters, of course, because all of the characters speak in high-minded blather that makes Lambert Wilson's Merovingian in "The Matrix Reloaded" sound intelligible.
A lot of the film is balls-to-the-wall in maddening visual FX that are daring and sick - Channing Tatum's genetically-altered ace bounty hunter Caine Wise is fitted with anti-gravity flying boots and (oh my gosh) wings! Everyone and I mean everyone, users these phaser guns that give off that 'Star Wars' blaster sound and a lot of the renegade bunch and alien royalty pilot massive ships that would easily put the Nebuchadnezzar to shame. It is all well and good but the tonality is way off in a lot of the scenes and this flick attempts to inject some humor into it particularly with Jupiter's occupation as a house maid. So many scenes of her saying "I hate my life" as she slams the alarm clock at 4:45am before the arrival of the oh-so-studdly Caine get rather monotonous very fast. And of course, no Wachowski film would be complete without some ethnic stereotyping. Jupiter's family consists of a family of Russian immigrants and this movie sprinkles a fair bit of family dinner scenes that play strictly for laughs - the domineering, food garbage disposal of a father, the demure, put-upon housewife mother, the idle youngest brother who just looks on in awe of his abusive family but doesn't have the capacity to speak up. Many of these scenes are face-palm moments and are meant to make you empathize with Jupiter's level of squalor. All they do is make you shake your head and hope that the subsequent scene makes up for the last.
Also, BEFORE you see this film you need to leave all understandings of logic at the door. There is simply no logic throughout this film especially as it relates to science and biology. At one laughable moment, Sean Bean's Stinger who *SPOILER ALERT* doesn't die in the film, says to an awestruck Jupiter: "You do know that bees have a way of detecting royalty." Hold on, Stinger, back that up! Are you saying that one of Earth's fairly primitive creatures know all about descendant species and lineages? That just by buzzing around Jupiter they instinctively know that she'll be the savior heroine of the universe? Mila Kunis, bless her soul, reacts to this statement like most of us would - by widening her eyes in substantial disbelief as if to almost say "can you repeat that?" In any event, what follows is a lot of physics-defying space battles with speed hover bikes, blasters and even, much like Zion's ill-fated end, the entire alien headquarters going up in flames with a screaming and later, dead Eddie Redmayne. It is a glorious sequence that you kind of wish could have happened sooner instead of copious amounts of rhetoric we are forced to be subjected to.
Think of the worst qualities of "The Matrix" movies amped up to an insane and comical level with minimal disregard for your audience's state of mind or attention span and, you get this movie. It isn't sickeningly bad per say in the way that films like Eddie Murphy's "The Adventures Of Pluto Nash" or Adam Sandler's "Jack and Jill" are, but just overlong and too many wasted scenes and wasted opportunities. But, you gotta hand it to the siblings who know how to engineer quite a spectacle. It is just too bad they valued aesthetic quality over narrative cohesion. Here's hoping their next flick will be the return to form that we all dream they can muster.