Jupiter Ascending (**)
Running time: 127 min
Director: Andy and Lana Wachowski
Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean
[Movie House Dublin Road Press Screening 02/02/2015]
IT’S been 16 years since the Matrix first appeared on cinema screens, a redefining sci-fi genre entry that launched the career of the Wachowski siblings as two of the freshest, most exciting new faces within the film industry. Sadly the duo never really built upon their phenomenal success with a string of underwhelming cinematic offerings that includes two below par Matrix sequels, Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas. Their stock at the box-office has been hugely diminished and their newest feature Jupiter Ascending shows no sign of bucking that trend.
There’s no doubting their ambition with this feature though, it’s an old-fashioned sci-fi space opera, in the mould of Star Wars that re-treads similar ground to their work on the Matrix and even their previous feature Cloud Atlas. Once again we find humanity living in perpetual ignorance of their role within the universe, nothing more than ‘livestock’ to an alien ruling race who laid claim to Earth centuries ago when they ‘seeded’ it. Now that ruling élite finds itself in the middle an inter-family power struggle and humanity’s only hope is Mila Kunis’ character Jupiter Jones, the ‘chosen one’ and rightful heir to the planet.
Much like Keanu Reeves’ character Neo in the Matrix, Kunis’ character, an illegal Russian emigrant working as a cleaner in Chicago, lives in complete ignorance of her importance within the cosmos. Until Channing Tatum’s genetically-modified character Caine, who arrives bare-chested, on hover-boots to save the young woman from her mundane life and reveal her true identity.
Tatum’s goateed elf-like character, who looks like he’s walked straight out of an underground techno nightclub, informs Jupiter that she is actually the reincarnated head of the Abrasax family, a royal dynasty who govern most of the galaxy. The three remaining members of her family, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth) are all squabbling over ownership of the Earth for their own selfish needs and desperate to eliminate her.
The film’s central problem is it’s overly-complicated, overcooked plot, which has simply way too much going on right from the offset, viewers already struggling to keep up with the Wachowski’s bizarre theory of humanity’s existence will find themselves further bamboozled by concepts like DNA splicing and genetic reincarnation that are simply thrown into the mix. It only further bogs down an already bulky screenplay with tediously boring dialogue and exposition to explain what’s actually going on.
There’s simply so much going on and nothing really sticks, which means the story never really gets into first gear; many viewers like myself will have surely switched off long before this interstellar Cinderella story reaches its conclusion. It’s all Sci-Fi gobble de gook of the worst possible kind, with cringe worthy plot revelations about Jupiter’s relationship to bees, a burgeoning romance between the two central characters that’s simply shoehorned into proceedings and Eddie Redmayne’s annoying inability to decide which tone of voice to use throughout the feature.
Originally slated to open last year, the film’s release date was pushed back by Warner Bros to allow more time for post-production work on the film’s 2014 elaborate visual effects. Despite being wonderfully bright and colourful the films’ visuals just felt so mediocre when compared to some recent offerings within the Sci-Fi genre, particularly Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The CGI is clunky and the landscapes uninspired, they just feel like they’d be more at home in a video game and not the big screen.
Furthermore the film’s 3D effects only make everything look worse, recently filmmakers have radically improved the use of the technology within their movies, Edge of Tomorrow, Gravity and Godzilla being some notable examples of such improvements; but here it all just looks so flat and ultimately unnecessary. This is the first time the Wachowskis have dabbled with the technology and from evidence from this viewing I hope it’s their last, where available I’d recommend watching a 2D print over 3D because the effects add nothing to the viewing experience.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Wachowskis as filmmakers, with multiplexes increasingly overpopulated by endless sequels and comic book adaptations, it’s an admirable sentiment that they continually try to bring something original to the big-screen with a commendable love it or hate it attitude. It’s not as if they know what they’re doing behind the camera, they can choreograph an action sequence to near perfection and have a fantastic visual flair, but it’s their screenwriting ability that continually seems to let them down.
Viewers hoping that Jupiter Ascending will recapture the Wachowski magic from their work on The Matrix will be left sorely disappointed, because all this film will do is merely remind them of the bad taste left by that film’s two underwhelming sequels.
Review by Jim McClean