Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Jupiter Ascending

The Wachowskis flame out in a welter of digital overkill.

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Jupiter Ascending
Warner Bros

To judge by their plunging box-office grosses, the once-celebrated Wachowski siblings are an object of dwindling interest for many filmgoers. In the 16 years since they wowed the world with The Matrix, Andy and Lana Wachowski have tested their audience with movies of mounting inscrutability. First came the dumb-and-dumber Matrix sequels. Then we had the candy-cane manga oddity Speed Racer. And then, three years ago, the hilarious but entirely un-amusing Cloud Atlas. Now they've written and directed Jupiter Ascending, a $175-million CGI riot that scales new heights of multiplex mindlessness.

The movie is exhaustingly awful. Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter ("Call me Jupe") Jones, a toilet-scrubbing Chicago cleaning lady who suddenly learns that she is actually the heir to an intergalactic empire ruled by the House of Abrasax. The Abrasax queen has died, and in the family's faraway palace headquarters, her unpleasant offspring—Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas Booth)—have taken control. Somehow, though, they've learned of Jupiter's existence on Earth, one of the many orbs in their planetary portfolio, and they're not happy about it. Because Jupiter is an exact genetic duplicate of their mother, and therefore the rightful new ruler of Abrasax. (The themes of reincarnation and Chosen Ones will be familiar to Wachowski adepts.)

A tracker named Caine (Channing Tatum) is dispatched to seize this troublesome woman and bring her back to the evil Lord Balem. However, after saving her from a gang of bounty hunters with the same idea, Caine has second thoughts. Jupiter is attracted to the often-shirtless Caine, but he is reluctant to reciprocate. (He might be put off by their complete lack of romantic chemistry.) He explains that he is a "splice"—a genetically engineered human whose DNA has been melded with that of a wolf. ("I have more in common with a dog than with you," he tells Jupiter. "I love dogs," she says.) This canine character quirk is puzzling, since at no time does Caine exhibit wolfish behavior. Stranger still, he also has wings—or he did, until they were sawed off following some vague tracker infraction. And then there are his levitation boots, a pair of super-sneakers that enable him to shoot off into the sky and skate around as if he were auditioning for a Starlight Express revival. ("Are those flying boots?" Jupiter asks, as he rises up off the ground.)

Wondering what's so special about Jupiter, Caine takes her to visit an old tracker buddy named Stinger (Sean Bean), who's been exiled on Earth and lives in a dilapidated farmhouse in which the air is thick with bees. "Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty," Stinger explains with a straight face, and sure enough, they're all abuzz about Jupiter.

The story lumbers on. As Caine dutifully shepherds Jupiter back to the Abrasax home world, we encounter vast exotic planets and endless space battles, along with the usual herds of eccentric creatures (lizard warriors, elephant-faced spaceship pilots). A lot of this digital welter is reliably eye-popping, but it's executed in the familiar manner of blockbuster spectacle, which by now is only a bit more exciting than watching cash being counted. There's one funny sequence, set in the bureaucratic morass of a galactic ministry, which is an obvious salute to Terry Gilliam's Brazil (with a cameo appearance by Gilliam himself). Apart from that, though, the humor is largely unintentional. The dialogue, especially, is a hoot throughout, with characters saying things like "Make the deal!" and "Just get me out of here!" At one point, Jupiter tells Caine, "You are a man of rare courage, and I pray that your aim is true."

Jupiter finally comes face to face with the black-hearted Balem and learns of his plans for her home planet, which are predictably alarming—although not as alarming as Redmayne's performance, which is flamboyantly silly. He delivers most of his lines in a weirdly effete murmur, his hands fluttering through the air like bony butterflies. It's the most bizarre posturing by an Oscar-level actor in recent memory, and at the screening I attended it was greeted throughout by gusts of audience laughter. Also problematic are Kunis, who lacks the sort of star power that might help goose this movie along, and Tatum, who is cruelly misused as nothing more than a mopey hunk.  

What went wrong with this movie? Its troubled backstory offers a clue. The Wachowskis were given their biggest budget to date to make it, but at two hours and five minutes, it's also their shortest film. (Cloud Atlas ran nearly three hours.) The picture was due to be released last July, presumably in hopes of erecting a summer tentpole. But early feedback was unenthusiastic, and so just six weeks before the scheduled release, Warner Bros. suddenly pushed the movie back into the icy wastes of winter in order for more work to be done on it. The result feels radically hacked-down, with characters and plot elements withering away at every turn. For the Wachowskis—gifted visual artists, if not writers—the picture is another sad failure, and it's hard to imagine anyone giving them this much money to burn through again. On the upside, though, that could turn out to be a good thing.            

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  1. Even the trailers are bad on this one. At least Speed Racer had some pop to it.

    1. My kids really liked the Speed Racer movie.

    2. When I saw the trailer I immediately thought, “This would be cool if Luc Besson was doing it”.

      1. +5 elements

  2. Note to Lana Wachowski: comb your fucking hair. You look ridiculous.

    -jcr

    1. I looked at what you are talking about and can only add that she should grow up as well. How does anyone take her seriously. She looks like a hideous Raggedy Ann.

    2. I thought they were the Wachowski brothers. I didn’t know until now that one of them had a sex change a few years ago. I would have thought that would have been big news. I guess that shows how irrellevant they are.

      1. Meh. Sex changes are a dime a dozen anymore.

    3. You look ridiculous.

      He wrote to the transsexual, without coming close to acknowledging the sex change.

      1. Sorry. “Gender reassignment”

        1. That sounds so…administrative.

  3. The Wachowskis built their reputation with two great movies in a row, then had a disturbing drop off in quality. What happened?

    You can argue about later movies from the Coen brothers or Spike Lee or other early career phenoms, but at least their movies are still interesting.

    The Wachowskis trademark seems to have become spectacle for its own sake, without the heart of say, Baz Lurhman.

    1. Them and M. Night Shyamalan have had probably the biggest drop offs of any movie makers I’ve ever seen. I guess they blew their loads early.

    2. I’d simply say as the money and acclaim mounted, they were free to let their egos loose (sex-change? WTF?) and what they came up with became more self-indulgent and less crowd-pleasing.

      Similar things have been said about Wes Anderson and M. Night Shaymalan…their quirks and ego got out of control and they no longer made movies for us unwashed masses.

      1. I think Wes Anderson is still making great movies. Grand Budapest is fantastically entertaining!

    3. I don’t even know. What was the Wachowski brothers’ second great movie?

  4. I know, I know, it sounds absurd. In fact, when “The Matrix” first came out, it seemed like the single crummiest, laziest, most awful dim-witted idea in the entire history of science fiction. But it turned out to be true!

    -Turanga Leela

  5. But are there tits in it???

    1. LeantoPG13

      1. damn it, r key!

  6. I think you are over-thinking this…

  7. The matrix was an OK SF potboiler, seriously overhyped by reviewers who didn’t recognize the central idea as one so old (at least in SF circles) that it had knee length whiskers. The two sequels were immoderately awful. Speed Racer was cute for about fifteen minutes, and then rapidly descended into goo. Nothing about the publicity surrounding Cloud Atlas lead me to believe I would be even slightly interested.

    So, to my mind, the question is; who the ^%$@% thought these fools had a career in the first place?

    1. I saw Bound in its theater release. After Bound and Matrix, we thought these guys were the next Coen brothers – able to make reliably entertaining movies built around old tropes like femme fatale mob movies or wire fu. (The scifi in The Matrix is dull, but it’s enough to carry a bunch of wire fu fight scenes set to cool music, plus “Mister AAAAAAAndersooooooon . . .”)

    2. For the Wachowskis?gifted visual artists, if not writers?the picture is another sad failure,

      Huh? They aren’t talented enough visual artists to compete with Tim Burton or Michael Bay.

      And their writing skills consist of turning the V for Vendetta graphic novel (which itself is pretty well-tread ground) into a movie or rather blatantly ripping off movies like Dark City and Johnny Mnemonic, which themselves were hardly original.

      These skills don’t seem to given them the staying power of a choke artist like M. Night Shyamalan. The only hat tip I would give them is for less than two minutes worth of Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon. And even that was a retread 1-2 min. from Showgirls.

  8. The Matrix (Part 1) is a good movie, but I agree it was overrated.

    One sad twist is that, if we went back in time and gave those cats the budget to film the original matrix plot/screenplay in two, 2-hour movies, I bet the result would have been 4 hours of great sci fi entertainment. Instead, they had to cram the extensive (original) matrix plot into one film, the success of which opened up half a billion (or whatever) but forced them to expand on that plot, yielding two badly scripted movies.

    1. What always annoyed me about that film was the idiocy of having all those people used as “batteries.” I was relieved when I found out that originally they were providing distributed brainpower, but that the producers didn’t think the audience would understand that (WTF?) and forced the script change.

      1. Is that really true? I don’t know what to think about that. what the fuck, they thought people would be too confused by distributed computing power, so they decided to rape thermodynamics?

        1. I know, it makes no sense to me. Putting people into pods to use their brains isn’t too odd of an idea for that movie. But that’s what I read.

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  10. I didn’t know anyone gave them any more money after the last 2 matrix films. i thought they’d gone Full-Jar-Jar by the end of their Trilogy, and effectively destroyed their own creation in a kind of perfect, Ouroboros-like, self-regulating system. By the end they should have been penniless weirdos just like they started.

    I mean, M Knight Shamalamadingdong… that guy? Seemed like he deserved 3 or 4 shots before the bartender cut him off. The wachowskis were an obvious case where “magic happened” on their debut…but they should have been immediately forced into the back room to run the ‘creative department’, and never be allowed near scripts or directors chairs without a team of minders.

    Its partly Hollywood’s fault for giving them the rope to hang themselves. I’d have thought Joel Glazer(?).. or whomever produced the first Matrix movie… would have known how to deal with these ‘creative’ types and prevent them from burning their franchise to the ground.

  11. This looked like a giant flaming sack of poop from the first second of the teaser trailer. Sad to hear that it’s that way through and through. So much money wasted. Studios would rather blow $175 million on a blockbuster dog than spend a fraction of that on something that might actually work.

  12. So…does Sean Bean die in this one?

    1. Yes, this information should have been included.

    2. Is Sean Bean in it?

      Then yes, Sean Bean dies in it.

      1. Actually, Bean doesn’t die in it. However, as a result I have theorized that his death was cut from the theatrical release, so they could offer people a reason to buy the DVD release.

  13. It just ticks me off that the world of science fiction is filled with countless thousands of stories that would make great films, and now we have the CGI tech to do any of them, but instead we get Hollywood types writing dreck. Or, at best (sometimes) Philip Dick adaptations.

    I could go to my bookshelf and pull a dozen great script ideas off the shelf in a few minutes.

    1. I would think it’s laboriously difficult to adapt PKD to the screen. Only one film did the original story justice “A Scanner Darkly”, and if you cut out the ending, “Paycheck.” I was surprised how close Paycheck was to the original story. (The only thing missing was the oomph of the ending.) Minority Report was Speilberg’ed up, which is to say, the ending was altered so no one would go home bummed. 🙂

      Total Recall (the first one), had a glint of the “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale” much better than the remake, and of course the consideration that no matter how many times you watch it, you aren’t REALLY sure if it’s real or if he’s at ReKall.

      I heard they are doing “The Man in the High Castle” which is disturbing, considering how difficult it would be to make a screenplay out of it.

      Then there was the “Radio Free Albemuth” which got 36% on Rotten Tomatoes. I didn’t see it, so I can’t really say, but if I recall, this was post tumor days where he was going a little batty.

      Ridley Scott did a serviceable job with Blade Runner (because he didn’t include the duplicate police HQ and the multi Rachel Deckard-didn’t-know-which-ones-he-screwed. And we were mercifully spared Mercerism and Deckard’s android sheep.

      I want to see “Second Variety” into a movie, though. I recommend reading that short story. It’s creepy for something written in the 50’s.

  14. It seems that the trailer for this has been out forever.

  15. I like Wireds review.

    http://www.wired.com/2015/02/g…..ascending/

    The script is uneven, the editing is weird, the performances are weirder, and, for added measure, it all lacks focus.

    Now shut up and go buy a ticket.

  16. The Matrix though fun eye candy was pretty senseless too. Lots of cool scenes but a dumb plot.

  17. “Kunis, who lacks the sort of star power that might help goose this movie along…”

    Putting it very generously.

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