Jupiter Ascending (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Jupiter Ascending (2015)

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Jupiter Jones dreams of a life beyond her atmosphere, working hard in the hopes to see those stars through the lens of a too-expensive telescope which.  But events beyond her control will bring her life to the attention of a powerful intergalactic family of entrepreneurs.  The Wachowskis wrote and directed Jupiter Ascending, with stars Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, and Eddie Redmayne.

Eternal youthJupiter Ascending is one of the rare films where our rating system of Like / Indifferent / Dislike has failed me.  I was too invested in Jupiter Ascending to venture into Dislike, but the bombastic action scenes left me to bored to continue on to Like.  Indifferent is the middle ground, but Jupiter Ascending finds the Wachowskis hitting such soaring highs with Jupiter’s ascendance into galactic royalty I would be remiss in burying my passion for the beauty on display.  So, with some unease, I choose the middle-ground, rate Jupiter Ascending at Indifferent, and still encourage you to watch it.

Jupiter Ascending is the next step in the Wachowskis increasing operatic bent in blending science fiction with social commentary.  Their previous film, Cloud Atlas, may have been the peak of the bubble but Jupiter Ascending shows they are not going to be slowing down in the slightest (and from what I’ve heard of Sense 8, for good reason.)  For some, this might be a disappointment after their pulpy debut with Bound or the relatively restrained techno-paranoia slash Christ allegory of The Matrix, but if Interstellar reminded me of anything it’s some of the best science fiction aims straight at the heart and doesn’t slow down.

Interstellar and Jupiter Ascending share that heart, a willingness to go big in visuals bolstered by ideas.  But the difference in the visual approach between the two is important.  While Interstellar embraced big ideas in a conclusion which broke a black hole with the power of love, Jupiter Ascending shows characters proving those loving connections with the same kind of smash crash blast action scenes which I’ve grown weary of over the last few years.  When Jupiter Ascending starts with the principle players getting into airborne highly choreographed fight scenes it’s hard to be impressed with the next, technically sound as they may be, and the length of each begins to dull my sense of wonder before long.

The performances of Jupiter Ascending vary wildly, but the imagination of The Wachowskis remains strong.

The performances of Jupiter Ascending vary wildly, but the imagination of the Wachowskis remains strong.

This is still loads better than the cynical and demeaning Guardians of the Galaxy from last year, and the diversity onscreen is better than a CGI tree and green-skinned woman who accomplishes nothing.  But Guardians, Jupiter Ascending, even Star Trek Into Darkness (which I loved), have left me numb to the sight of ships crashing into ships.  True, Jupiter Ascending’s alien landscape is more gorgeous than anything in either of those films, especially when returning to the swirling texture of planetary gases and spiritual genetic code alongside draconic guards and protocol droids built so you can literally see their gears turning as they think.  But when Caine (Channing Tatum) crashes his craft into a planet to try and rescue Jupiter (Mila Kunis), it was just one more crash on top of many.

But, by god, the fluidity of those scenes amazed me.  Throughout Jupiter Ascending there’s the thematic and visual subtext of gendered male and female traits blurring together.  Caine is part wolf, but moves with the grace of a ballerina, leaving a light touch on the world even when he’s engaged in a brutal fight.  Jupiter is the brawler between the two, and while she likes dressing up to prep for her intergalactic dream wedding she also gets her hands bloodier than anyone else in the cast in the climactic fight with Balem (Eddie Redmayne).  It helps that the Wachowskis seem unfettered by a single tone in their films anymore as they’re able to blend the violence with the beauty in precise editing.

In that sense, the crash bang ship sequences are the natural accompaniment to the smaller scale romances and grand ceremonies.  But I was still bored, and wonder what blend of story and visuals I would need to really be roused by these galactic destruction derbies. So while I sat waiting around during the explosions and flying debris, I let my mind drift to the beautiful moments where a colony of bees followed Jupiter’s movements like a current, or the brilliant sequence where intergalactic bureaucracy is another mess of forms and bribes.  In these moments I find my answer, as Jupiter Ascending is not at its best when blowing things up, but when it treats the rest of the universe as another property which can be explored and then, eventually, managed.

Even if the Wachowskis have moved away from the pulp noir of Bound, its influence lingers in many of the striking compositions in Jupiter Ascending.

Even if the Wachowskis have moved away from the pulp noir of Bound, its influence lingers in many of the striking compositions in Jupiter Ascending.

The minutiae of bureaucracy, and those who have to endure it, attains a kind of nobility when blown up to encompass the known universe.  It’s how Jupiter is still able to cope with her new surroundings, relating the science of genetic rebirth to vampire stories on her home planet.  Jupiter Ascending lives and dies by those stories and, when it’s great, adheres to the idea discussed in the opening scenes – that we embrace tales when people are trying their best, and not necessarily succeeding, than projecting the worst.  It’s something my favorite science fiction of the last few years shares, be it Europa Report or Prometheus (whose professionals might not have been good, but doggone it they were doing their best.)

The performances contributed to my wildly vacillating reception to Jupiter Ascending.  Starting off with the good foot, Kunis is great, and the way she treats her escalating predicament with bewilderment and wonder grounds even the most fantastic of scenes.  I like Tatum, but he’s dialed down to the stoic gruff type he now plays against so well, and doesn’t shine as I might have liked.  Then there’s the matter of Redmayne, whose performance in The Theory of Everything was the worst thing about that movie, and whose work here is perplexing at best and grating at worst.  He tuned into the inherent camp of the intergalactic struggle in the worst way possible, wheezing out his lines as a 80-year old with lung cancer while bursting out into screams which grate more than impress rage.

Redmayne’s ill-placed histrionics aside, Jupiter Ascending is still a bewildering experience for good reasons.  I love the way it repositions gendered behaviors in an intergalactic struggle, even leaving side-characters like Captain Tsing (Nikki Amuka-Bird) with strong bits of progressive ideas in a short amount of time.  Jupiter Ascending is the right kind of failure, one that will linger with me long after the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy has faded.

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Tail - Jupiter AscendingJupiter Ascending (2015)

Screenplay written and directed by The Wachowskis.
Starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, and Eddie Redmayne.

Posted by Andrew

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