Cinematic Releases: Jupiter Ascending

Could this be the Wachowski's next Matrix?

It's baffling how the Wachowskis, two of my favorite film makers in existence, can go from making what I consider to be one of the best films in the last several years, Cloud Atlas, and willingly jump from those heights into a spinning, twirling, lavishly ridiculous nose dive into brazen absurdity. Jupiter Ascending is stunningly juvenile.

"Starring Rocket Wolf..."
The Matrix, Speed Racer, and Cloud Atlas all have an individual tone and style, that while unique per film, still resonate with that brilliant Wachowski grasp on world building and endearing complexity. Jupiter tries to be all things at one time, pulling inspiration from anywhere and everywhere possible, resulting in an extravagantly diluted identity. What in the hell is this thing? You can see elements of too many great films colliding into a teenage boy's wet and utterly incoherent dream. A great film pulls its inspiration and transforms it into its own fingerprint, making the audience forget the outside world and commands your attention. A bad film makes you painfully aware of how much better every other film like it is. Jupiter Ascending is The Fifth Element only nowhere near as fun, charming, or original. It is Star Wars, only all the bad Star Wars movies. It's Dune minus the dark tone or cool villains. The Wachowskis even copied and pasted themes from The Matrix, injecting the plot with a jarringly similar subject or two, yet removing all intrigue, style, or a reason to care. It even shares strong themes with the lesser known Japanese cyberpunk epic, Casshern, or the clever visuals of the Russian supernatural action flick, Night Watch, but nowhere near as creative or exciting as either one.  Jupiter Ascending is so many other films, yet hardly anything of its own. Anything unique about it lies hanging in this stale, dead limbo of just why?

"Also starring New York Department 
Store Mannequin..."
You'll be saying that a lot as you endure one asinine scene, character, or plot device after another—why? I don't think I've ever seen a film so tonally confused and out of control. It's like the Wachowskis dumped out a box of left over ideas onto a board room table, rolled it into a greasy ball, and presented it to some rich morons that thought it didn't look like a wad of glued together garbage. I really can't believe this got any support beyond the Wachowskis themselves. How did it get this far?

It's very difficult to pluck anything good from this film. Hardly anything is. Mila Kunis is either horribly miscast or lazily directed and spends the entire movie doing a Kristen Stewart impression, staring dull faced, biting her lip, breathing too loudly or sighing. When she's not doing one or all of these things in a recurring pattern, she is reduced to reading questions off of a script baiting other characters to explain the outrageous plot to the audience. It's nauseating. Channing Tatum isn't nearly as bad, but makes up for it by flying (or running?) through the air with his arms chugging and legs spread like someone too old to be ice skating. Kunis and Tatum are so dry and uninspired yet we're expected to care about them. They have absolutely zero chemistry. It's like seeing a cardboard box try to seduce a concrete wall.

But, dude, come on! That action, though. The Wachowskis have always delivered with inventive, often entrancing action sequences. And while there is, I think, two times, I silently chuckled to myself when seeing a delightful flash of classic Wachowski spice, the action sequences in Jupiter were otherwise a tiring assault of noise, mushy editing, cluttered unidentifiable visuals, and a perfunctory effort at tension. Smashy smashy, blowy uppy. Why? Or how might be the better question. How do two film makers who created one of the biggest milestones in action film history make something this tedious? You should expect the action to at least be good, right? Let me stop you right there. Please, don't.
"With special guests, Token Black 
Chick and Babar the Pilot..."

This film throws you no bones. Even the special effects were shockingly weak, showcasing egregious green screen composites you're more likely to find in the straight-to-DVD knock off of itself. It never ends with Jupiter. The reptile animation is something you'd find in an Xbox 360 game. Every creature design is as generic as possible, looking like something the effects artists dragged and dropped from a Computer Generated Monsters 2015 DVD they bought from a broke art student. If it was at least shot well, I'd have some forgiveness points to hand out, but 90% of Jupiter is packed to the brim with actors heads filling half the screen with wholly unconvincing backdrops rendered behind them. More forgiveness points if anything they were saying was interesting in the slightest, but, no. We can't have that either.

Seriously, it never ends. Even the score rarely fits, being far too majestic, or excessive for nearly every scene, practically begging the audience to be enthralled at every possible second by this flood of nonsense. See, guys! This is so cool, huh? Like me! Why don't you like me?! Jupiter Ascending is so incessantly arid and serious that any miserable attempt at comic relief is awkward at best, shoehorned or dead on arrival at worst.

ETs! Dragons! Elephants! Rocket boots! Lasers! Spaceships! Vampires and werewolves, too, sort of?! Woooohooooo! Let's just see how much crap we can shove in here! You got any cyborgs? Sweet! Throw them in there, too! Wait! AND BEES! We forgot them! Duh! How did we almost forget bees? Exactly what grade do you have to be in to enjoy this? There's no cohesion here. All of this sounds cool on paper, if you're high, but even then, if woven through any environmentally, politically, or socially driven story foundation, such a diverse collection of races can gel. Star Trek does it. There isn't a reliable tone or plot that could imply any unity between these clashing aesthetics. Nothing makes sense. Nothing belongs. Nothing feels right.

"And Every Asian Cyberpunk 
Girl on Deviant Art."
Just a few hours ago, I would have considered myself a diehard Wachowski fan. I am deeply questioning that now. They have released three of my all time favorite films—films I consider to be damn near masterpieces—some of which have cast a ripple of influence that will be felt for generations. You'll find yourself like me, sitting in that theater, incredulously shaking my head, wondering just what in the ever living hell happened here? A score of 4 I felt was too generous as that's a notch just below mediocre. Because of the sheer, unabashed ridiculousness of it all, and the perplexed state this has left me in, morally, I'm obligated to knock it down another peg. It hurts to admit that not only is this one of the very worst films I've seen in the last year or two, it comes from a pair of my most admired directors. And that's what hurts most of all.

- J.G. Barnes