With Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean
Written & Directed by The Wachowskis
The Wachowskis rose to cult status (and beyond) writing and directing their Matrix trilogy on the cusp of the new millennium, changing filmmaking in the process and opening a whole new world of cinematic possibilities including action / camera techniques (like the legendary bullet-time), bringing Manga-style to live-action, daring costume design, intense soundtrack inclusions, and shooting sequels back to back – in the process spawning innumerable imitations. The look, mythologies and new cinematic techniques of The Matrix gave the viewer a brand new world of storytelling (and high energy entertainment).
The duo of Andy and Lana (formerly Larry) consistently build their cinematic vision into huge tales, from the CGI-laden (and surprising Matrix follow-up) Speed Racer, to the highly ambitious Cloud Atlas (joining forces with Run Lola Run and Perfume director Tom Tykwer).
Larry’s gender transition to Lana and her dominatrix wife also makes for a fascinating subject to re-visit and read more into their productions, but we won’t get into that here.
With their brand new Jupiter Ascending which opens globally today (6 February), they set out to create a Sci-Fi Space Opera, a term which reminds one of the ultimate in the genre, Star Wars, but an imitation of that is not the plan here. What you get is a convoluted concept that boils down to a controlling and manipulative immortal race inhabiting Jupiter – the powerful Abrasax family who populates planets across the galaxy (like earth), for commercial / longevity purposes, having done so across aeons.
On our planet, Jupiter Jones is an unassuming daughter of Russian immigrants (Mila Kunis), genetically the heir to this world (unbeknownst to her) – though her name sounds like a Blaxploitation heroine, this shouldn’t be too distracting.
With factions within the Abrasax family squabbling over who is to inherit planet Earth, Caine (a genetically fused half-man half-wolf warrior played by Channing Tatum) can literally sniff out genetics, and becomes her saviour instead of her capturer.
But everything comes at a price.
With action, spectacle, a romantic sub-plot and a new mythology the audience needs to grasp amid the unabated CGI visuals, as you’d expect from the Wachowski’s, none of this will be in half measure (including a fast and vicious battle across the skyline of the Wachowski’s hometown of Chicago between Caine on his anti-gravity boots & Jupiter on his back, against relentless alien craft).
The size and scope of the design is often phenomenal, but can sometimes be a bit overwhelming (the detail resulting in it blurring into the background – which can be advantageous as your suspension of disbelief absorbs it as the real landscape or architecture, focussing on the characters and their struggles). The 3D may also sometimes be less of an advantage as it darkens the image, losing a lot of the futuristic / organic blend in favour of occasional dimensional effects.
Fairy tale elements are also strong within the narrative, one of the villains portrayed by The Theory Of Everything’s Golden Globe winner and current Oscar nominee, Eddie Redmayne.
Even though it is not too blatant (and the Wachowski’s hate repeating themselves), in many ways Jupiter can be seen as a female Neo (from the Matrix), faced with choices (many conniving and unclear), and holding the key to be a global saviour (and beyond).
A trilogy or more chapters seem inevitable (from Jupiter Descending to Jupiter Conquers? - who knows…), especially with some characters merely falling away or disappearing from the story with no explanation or exposition as to their fate (open to return with their own new missions, gripes or purposes).
Kunis remains cute, and while it’s lost on me, many hormonal young girls and frustrated housewives believe the same of sleepy eyed Tatum (naturally running around with no shirt for a good part of the movie).
Admittedly, I admire the Wachowski’s energy, huge vision, visual awareness, deeper thematic sensibilities and ground-breaking legacy, but sadly I didn’t enjoy this movie as much as I could have, had I been 13 years old…
I like to enter a theatre without too much information, gossip or speculations about a movie, and try not to read too much about it to avoid soiling the water of my own thoughts on the experience (and indulge a bit in hopefully being surprised in the midst of the formulaically structured movies of our time) – extra research can be done after seeing the movie. While I do have many favourite directors (as opposed to stars), and don’t Twitter stalk any moviemakers / actors, or follow TMZ or E! gossip runs to stay in the loop, with Jupiter Ascends I had very little knowledge of its existence, surprising as to its scope and potential block buster size (until a trailer for a special MTV / Warner Bros. screening, seeing Channing Tatum as one of the stars). While trying never to get prejudiced, I have to admit this gave me an instantaneous expectation of the demographic at whom this is aimed (and I wouldn’t have guessed it was a Wachowski movie).
On the same level, but in reverse, when the movie ended after over 2 hours, I was a touch relieved, but then saw the first of the end credits sprawling across the screen that it was a Wachowski film(!) - The cinema staff were unaware that the press screening was in 3D and didn’t supply us with glasses, so when it started, I had to run out and collect some – were the Wachowski’s mentioned in the opening credits? Would the movie I watched have been a completely different experience, or at least perceived experience for me with this knowledge? Perhaps. In a way I wish I had known.
Was it a failure on their marketing end not reaching me about this being their new movie, or did they want to keep it low key? Did the poster not draw me in enough to notice “from the makers of the Matrix trilogy”?
Whatever it may be, there is now no way you cannot be aware of the fact that this is their new movie (so maybe I’ve become part of their wider subliminal plot to be a gospel spreader, talking more about them than the current movie at hand?)
For every person who hates a Wachowski movie, someone loves it, and many dissect and find flaws or try to point out discrepancies – Just remember, they’ve thought this shit through and put on the screen what they want to convey – unfortunately, if you don’t like it, that’s tough shit – unless you have the means to do it your way and bang out a 300 page script that would excite Joel Silver or the Weinsteins to throw $100 million or more at it…
In so many ways the siblings injected such a paradigm shift into not just cinematic execution and perception, but also the history of the art form itself – the latter also something they care a lot about – aesthetics and art that needs to stir and convey something other to the audience than mere fleeting entertainment. Accusations of style over substance are not exactly accurate.
The Matrix can be analysed, picked apart and over-analysed with its metaphors, underlying philosophy and projected symbolism, but at the end of the day, it can easily wash over the audience as entertaining therapeutic audio-visual escapism (shut yourself within the matrix and not bother looking deeper than the surface).
Same with Jupiter Ascending - you can also dig into it and draw many a metaphor or symbolic meaning from its narrative, characters and events, but to me it was a more fleeting flash of entertainment - and expecting filmmakers who rewrote the book to outdo themselves each time without repeating their definitive style (which has become the norm), is not an easy task.
Some feel there is more to The Matrix than its face value, and with Jupiter Ascending those who believe our planet is a mere experiment or target for higher intelligence with superior technology, can read a whole lot into this.
As with most movies, go watch this and make up your own mind.
4 / B
- Paul Blom
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Check out The Wachowski's Matrix-linked releases :