Only people that are “Matrix” fans would get my snarky pun up at the title of this review. Judging from the box office, probably the only people that went to see this film are “Matrix” fans. Eventually though the Wachowski siblings are going to have to give up riding that coat trail of “Matrix” fame and come back down to Earth. Other than their excellent produced work (which they did have a large part in the making of) in “V for Vendetta”, what have they delivered to audiences? You could argue “Cloud Atlas” but that is a very much a love it or hate type of film. One thing we can always salute the Wachowski’s is their daring efforts to knock one out of the park. You can tell the siblings take a lot of time and energy into these projects. In that respect you can applaud the Wachowski’s for taking challenges that others maybe would shy away from.
“Jupiter Ascending” is one of those ventures. A lot of effort was clearly put into the making of this film and has a few good core ideas but falls short of succeeding. While this movie is a visual feast to the senses (as all Wachowski productions are) and the action sequences are thrilling, the story gets bogged down by convoluted messy story telling with two dimensional characters that don’t grow or evolve.
A young women in the not too distant future lives out her life as a Janitor. Living among a broken family, she hates her life but still isn’t very ambitious. She comes across a telescope online that she wants to buy and decides to sell egg embryos to raise the money (give the movie credit I’ve never heard that used as a plot device) when she falls victim to an attack from aliens. Saved by a part man part wolf genetic hybrid, this young women named Jupiter learns she is royalty in the galaxy. Amongst an inter planetary political system involving different royal families, she is the rightful heir to rule over Earth. But, a prime destination for so many, one family hatches a plan to assassinate her to claim Earth for themselves to Harvest.
From that brief little summery of the story you can get the idea that a lot is going on in the narrative. A bit too much is going on. There is a lot of extra material placed in the movie that attempts to make the world richer and the characters more interesting that don’t really go anywhere and instead feel like added weight. Admirable as it is to attempt and create a fully fleshed out world, doing it all in the first film’s story isn’t the place to do it. There is a lot of learning what goes into the hierarchy of the families and trade negotiations, and cross species genetics, and history of the extinction of the dinosaurs and it goes on and on. It’s a lot for an audience to take in all at once and not because this movie is secretly smart and audiences just don’t get it; but instead it’s because it becomes a jumbled mess.
Think back to the first “Star Wars”. What did George Lucas tell us about the universe? He gave us some basic information of the worlds and the political state of things. Some small details might have initially went over our heads; but Lucas was smart enough to realize that with the first movie, it’s best if you take the time to give the audiences the basic mythology and only hint towards bigger things. Then in later films you could expand upon things. Making the universe deeper and deeper with every installment. “Jupiter Ascending” however tries to throw everything at you at once and doesn’t take proper time to explain the mythology so now the movie feels convoluted as a result. The time it tries to take to explain everything, feels rather wasted. Instead of focusing so much on world building it could have been focusing on developing characters more.
The other problem I have with the film is the characters. More specially the character of Jupiter. Jupiter is our main character. Similar to Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” or Neo in “The Matrix” they live ordinary lives until they get “the hero’s call to action” and go onto the “hero’s journey”. In that journey the character changes and evolves. Luke Skywalker, and Neo are different characters by the end of the movie. A very basic pathway of science fantasy or fantasy stories in general. The Wachowski’s yet again (just like they did in “The Matrix”) use the “hero’s journey” as their basic narrative archetype; here though it’s not as effective. Jupiter doesn’t change nor does she evolve. She is actually quite bland and forgettable as a protagonist always needing to be saved by someone else. By the end, she is the same person as before. The character never goes through a journey, even though this movie is about her journey; she instead just feels like she is along for the ride.
On a positive side the Wachowski’s deliver a once again visual “eyegasim.” The special effects are outstanding and the look of the picture is nothing short of eye appealing. Some of the world and creature designs are also very interesting (the Lizard hybrid character is just look so damn awesome). All these effects help drive the equally as impressive action sequences, some are exhilarating and very fun to watch. If “The Matrix” did prove one thing it’s that the Wachowski’s are great at staging large and extended action sequences.
The acting is very hit or miss. Channing Tatum once again shows he is a capable actor and gives a good performance. Mila Kunis is serviceable in an otherwise bland role. The two together do have some decent chemistry but both their characters are underwritten. In that respect their performances feel under whelming.
Follow me here for a second. In “Space Jam” all the Looney Tunes take a drink from Michael Jordan’s “Secret Stuff” and as a result play ten times better in the Basketball game against the “Monstars.” Then slowly though “the stuff” wears off and the Looney Tunes play like crap again and everything goes to hell. This has to be what happen to Redmayne. He took a drink from “Mike’s Secret Stuff” gave an amazing performance in “The Theory of Everything” and then it wore off and we got the “Jupiter Ascending” performance. I am convinced this is what happened, there is no other explanation.
“Jupiter Ascending” is by no means a horrible and unbearable film to watch. The action thrills and the special effects are awe inspiring. If this was on cable I would say take a watch, there are some good ideas in here with the story and the style is worth a view alone. However, the substance lacks greatly. I can once again give credit to the Wachowski’s for giving it their all, their effort is shown here. Still though the Wachowski’s couldn’t hit the home run they were looking for and instead it feels like they got tagged out in a run down in between first and second base.