JUPITER ASCENDING * * *
Starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski.
It took a long time, but I guess I’ve finally come around on the Wachowskis. A cursory glance at my old hate-mail folder gives me hipster street-cred for loathing the Matrix sequels way before such a stance became fashionable (dare you to look up how many top critics gave Reloaded a free pass on opening weekend yet have been mocking it ever since) but it was about halfway through the jumbled, adorable mess of Speed Racer that I found myself sorta smitten. Ditto for Cloud Atlas.
Blockbuster filmmaking suffers from such a cookie-cutter mentality, even the Marvel movies that I (mostly) enjoy tend to all culminate in near-identical action sequences during which some giant thing crashes into a major city while everyone’s running around chasing after a glowing object. You can say a lot of things about the films of Andy and Lana Wachowski — windbaggy, naive, silly — take your pick because I’ve probably said the same. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that these are personal visions executed on a massive scale, and the blander our big ticket entertainments become, the more I tend to treasure individual idiosyncrasies.
I wasn’t looking forward to Jupiter Ascending as a film so much as I was looking forward to another two hours hanging out in the Wachowskis’ world. It’s a goofy place of unabashed sincerity where everybody has hilarious names, outlandish costumes and they all spend far too much time talking over an excessively convoluted plot about which I couldn’t care a lick. There’s a kind of groovy, multicultural, pansexual vibe where all are welcome and the deliberately artificial visuals are to die for.
This one didn’t disappoint. Jupiter Ascending stars Mila Kunis as a Russian-American cleaning lady in Chicago who (for reasons I dare not even try to recount here) is actually the Queen of the Universe. Whisked away from her humdrum everyday life cleaning toilets, young Jupiter Jones (what did I tell you about these names) is protected by Cane Wise (ibid) a gene-spliced man-wolf played by Channing Tatum, who jets around the movie doing good deeds in rocket-powered boots.
Jupiter gets caught up in an outer space power-grab between squabbling siblings of the galactic royal family Abrasax. (It’s awfully hard not to giggle thinking of Dick Dutton from the Columbia Record Company every time they introduce themselves.) Eddie Redmayne is the big bad Balem, outfitted in foppish Dune regalia and doing that thing Meryl Streep did in The Devil Wears Prada where he’s too contemptuous of his subjects to even move his lips when speaking to them. Then every once in awhile he screams a random line like Gary Oldman after a double espresso. (The kid’s probably gonna win an Oscar in a couple of weeks for simpering his way through The Theory Of Everything, but this is his first performance I’ve actually enjoyed.)
I’d like to think it’s an inside gag about how needlessly elaborate the Wachowskis’ plots are that this one necessitates a trip to an old-timey analog filing basement straight out of Brazil. Everyone’s so constantly over-explaining the intricate laws of succession and etcetera that when Terry Gilliam himself turns up as a clerk you just shrug and go with the flow.
And that flow goes pretty well. Jupiter Ascending achieves a doofy grandeur from time to time, borrowing heavily from Dino De Laurentiis and Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon with a gee-whiz sense of wonder. It’s a gloriously gaudy spectacle and every penny of the $175 million budget appears to be up there on the screen. Also kudos for being a 3D movie where the effect didn’t annoy the living shit out of me.
But it probably isn’t for everybody. I’ve heard certain pissy-pants critics lining up to crap on Jupiter Ascending sight-unseen ever since the release date was delayed from last July to the traditional dumping grounds of February. (By all means, let’s allow a studio marketing department to determine a movie’s worth. Way to make your job even more irrelevant, boys.) These same folks are ragging on Channing Tatum’s prosthetic wolf ears here, yet had no problem with the cauliflower ones he wore in Foxcatcher — a far more egregiously stupid picture that people still insist on taking seriously for some insane reason. (Must be the release date.)
Whatever, don’t get me started. This was a fun movie. I had a good time.