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OCCASIONAL NOTES ON FILM

JupiterAscendingRedmayneKunisIf you like your space operas to be serious and deep and clever and meaningful then as far as Jupiter Ascending goes you should probably look elsewhere, because this sci-fi is light, frothy and often quite bonkers. It’s also relentlessly busy and as camp as a C-3PO convention, the combination of which makes for a viewing experience that is slightly – slightly – amusing and often exhilarating. It’s also worth watching to see the actors gamely attempting to keep straight faces while delivering the kind of lines even George Lucas wouldn’t dare to write: there’s one scene in which Sean Bean – prior to making a proclamation that the best chance of survival is to ‘Start the jump drive in order to go to the Danphibian world Ulaqra, near the moon of Spandex’ (or words to that effect) – even looks like he is close to gruffly asserting ‘you can type this shit but you sure as hell can’t say it’.

Lana Wachowski and brother Andy, writer-directors of the Matrix Trilogy and Speed Racer, are the indulged forces behind this big budget space oddity. Presumably they must have felt the need to cut loose after the restraint of their previous film Cloud Atlas, an adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel co-directed with Tom Tykwer that saw the splurging of a mere $100 million on its ensemble cast and the depiction of six connected stories covering a period of around 500 years. Cloud Atlas polarised critics, with many using phrases like ‘ambitious folly’ in a negative sense and just as many using it as a positive, but it made plenty of money regardless (partly because some who enjoyed it or were left bamboozled by the plot went to see it more than once). Despite the fact the Matrix Trilogy ended on a bum note and Speed Racer bombed it seems that audiences are still drawn to the Wachowskis’ big, bombastic cinematic spectacles: Jupiter Ascending received more than a few savage notices and was shunted from a planned summer 2014 release to the no-man’s-land of February 2015 but still managed to find an audience upon its release.

It’s overblown and preposterous, with Mila Kunis implausibly starring as Russian-born American toilet cleaner Jupiter, who discovers that she has a similar genetic structure to the recently deceased matriarch of one of the most powerful alien dynasties in the universe and, unbeknownst to her, is the rightful owner of Earth. As an unwitting pawn in an intergalactic chess match she is targeted by three squabbling siblings of the House of Abrasax, the powerful dynasty in question, and is protected from a variety of strange creatures sent her way by Channing Tatum’s rocket boot-wearing Caine Wise (the actor sporting a look of deep concentration throughout that suggests he, like the viewer, is wondering why Wise is a human that has been genetically spliced with a dog).

There’s more: Bean’s character Stinger Apini (yes, really) is half man, half bee and all Yorkshire, though the actor’s professional enough to carry out his work as Caine’s former soldier colleague with a po-faced seriousness that even Tatum cannot match. Eddie Redmayne, an Oscar winner just the other month, is accidentally hilarious as the camp villain of the piece, the actor’s ludicrous perma-whisper suggesting that he decided to play the malicious Balem as a cross between a stereotypical theatre luvvie on his deathbed and Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor from Star Wars. The rest of the cast is populated by a variety of actors playing a variety of alien figures, some with unfortunate haircuts, some with pointy ears and some with a look of blind panic that suggests they believe that working with the Wachowskis is not the career fillip they first thought it might be.

The film quickly falls into a pattern of repetition: Caine saves Jupiter from an abundance of enemies as the pair move from one planet or spaceship to the next but there’s enough absurdity in the detail to hold your interest, and the Wachowskis fill their film with intriguing technology, lavish sets and extravagant costumes (with set designer Peter Walpole and costume designer Kym Barrett making the most of their share of the huge budget). It’s the production design and special effects that catch your eye, more so than most of the actors, and you can see all of the money that has been spent up there on the screen (the reason given for the delay in release was that more than 2,000 effect shots were unfinished). Additionally the self-indulgent touches, such as the obvious, bureaucracy-filled Brazil homage that ends with a guest appearance by Terry Gilliam himself, tend to add to the overall sense of fun. It’s a silly film that actually takes itself quite seriously at times, but there’s a certain charm in Jupiter Ascending‘s loopiness, and it’s a pleasant change to see a studio take a punt on a female lead in an expensive sci-fi blockbuster to boot.

Directed by: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski.
Written by: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski.
Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Booth, Gugu MBatha-Raw.
Cinematography: John Toll.
Editing: Alexander Berner.
Music: Michael Giacchino.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 127 minutes.
Year: 2015.

10 Responses to “0318 | Jupiter Ascending”

  1. Tom

    I can always appreciate your thoughtful takes Stu, I can tell you took a bit more away from this than I (or a lot of others for that matter) ended up taking away. For example I have trouble even enjoying this from the standpoint of it being knowingly outrageous. But you’re completely right. At the very least, this would best explain Eddie Redmayne’s Razzie-worthy performance here. Hahah. That guy was absolutely ridiculous and perhaps it is just best to laugh that performance off.

    I wish I could have enjoyed it as a silly overly pretentious blockbuster but I went in expecting it to be a return to form for the Wachowski’s and that is clearly not what we were given. I think there was masses of potential here (the visuals ended up stunning, so those delays at least seemed warranted on that basis), but most of it was missed. My take-away? Mila Kunis just can’t carry a film this big on her own.

    Reply
    • Stu

      Cheers Tom. I’m glad I didn’t have much in the way of expectation for this; I missed it at the cinema so had managed to read a few reviews in the meantime, and kind of knew what to expect!
      There’s a lot of potential here like you say, though, and on a different day I could have been really angered by the film, as the money spent on it is nothing short of disgraceful. I agree it looks great at times but when you consider the $180 million budget that’s a bare minimum. Maybe I should have been harsher, but it amused me and I liked the sets and costumes and all the attendant nonsense. Redmayne though. Oh man.

      Reply
      • Tom

        Redmayne went from Oscars winner to serious Razzie contender in the span of two films. Lol.

        Reply
  2. Three Rows Back

    I think all the goodwill the Wachowski’s accrued from The Matrix has pretty much evaporated by now, which is a shame because this has glimpses of a much better film. Redmayne’s performance is, however, quite unbelievably bad!

    Reply
    • Stu

      Yeah, particularly from those who didn’t like Cloud Atlas (I thought it was really entertaining though, albeit completely overblown!)
      I think this has just about made its money back but it’s hard to see them getting this kind of a budget again in the future.

      Reply
  3. Jordan Dodd

    Another thoughtful review Stu. Good stuff. I may watch this just for the visuals, as I love even Terry Gilliam’s lesser films because they all look so damned good

    Reply
    • Stu

      Cheers Jordan, that’s very kind of you. It’s worth seeing but keep expectations low – it certainly looks good (well, most of it looks good) but the unintentional hilarity was the high point for me.

      Reply
  4. Todd Benefiel

    Hi Stu…playing catch-up again! And while I’ve been away, I see some changes have been made: a new theme, and no more ‘Likes’! I really need to start keeping up somehow.

    Anyway, as always I enjoyed the review, even though I haven’t seen the film. In fact, I just checked: of your upcoming 19 reviews I still have to read, there’s only one that I’ve actually seen (MI:GP). I really, really need to start keeping up somehow.

    And Stinger Apini? A half man, half BEE? Good lord.

    Reply
    • Stu

      Hi Todd. I like to change things up from time to time – it’s the same theme, though, but with a few modifications! Thanks for noticing anyway.
      Of the 19 reviews I’d say 14 are spectacularly poor, 3 are poor, 1 is average and the last one is quite possibly the best thing you’ll ever read, or certainly the best thing you’ll read while you’re actually reading it. However I’m not telling you which one that is, so you’ll have to go through all 19.
      Stinger Apini: half man, half bee, all Yorkshire.

      Reply

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