A young woman discovers her destiny as an heiress of intergalactic nobility and must fight to protect the inhabitants of Earth from an ancient and destructive industry. (from IMDB.com)
Sometimes things just line up beautifully to create an excellent cinematic experience. While everyone's definition of quality entertainment differs, there seems to be a general understanding among moviegoing masses of what makes great cinema. Last year, the popcorn-munching sci-fi lovers really found a lot to love about Guardians of the Galaxy--and for good reason. Like the classic 1977 Star Wars film almost forty years before it, Guardians welcomed audiences into a new world of creatures, aliens, space ships and technology, all while giving the story a fun and visually compelling presentation. The Wachowski brothers made a name for themselves with the popular Matrix trilogy and have taken a stab at PG-13 sci-fi fare with the much-delayed Jupiter Ascending, creating an offbeat and well-meaning but ultimately sloppy action/adventure movie.
Like with music, bad movies can help you appreciate the really good ones. It may seem like a difficult task or tall order for all of the pieces to fall in place to construct a great movie, but it almost seems just as difficult to offer a movie where everything seems to be falling apart. A movie like Jupiter Ascending actually feels akin to a child who broke his mother's prized vase but instead of coming clean and confessing the mishap, the child tries to repair it himself and glues it back together completely haphazardly. In all fairness, a film like Jupiter Ascending probably looked far better on paper, with unique (and sometimes downright ridiculous) creatures, alternate reality, and hidden worlds. But Jupiter Ascending bases its premise on one that isn't all that unique; you could even liken it to the twist from Men In Black II about the seemingly ordinary character played by Rosario Dawson turning out to be some sort of galactic royalty. In Ascending, Jupiter appears to be an ordinary Earth girl who is, unbeknownst to her, an heir to her planet--and some kind of reincarnated goddess. But, right from the start, the Wachowski sibs struggle to find the right tone for their film. There's some awkward, quirky comedy that never feels natural or even all that funny (especially when a Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy-style form-signing sequence is painfully out of place and features a sort of robot cross-dresser as their guide), while there's also a great deal of sci-fi violence as well. Then you have Channing Tatum's character Caine Wise (I can't help but want to add "Gamgee" after that name) who is some kind of rogue guardian of dog or wolf descent whose lost his wings (??), and who also has anti-gravity boots that allow him to skate around the sky like he's surfing (but it never looks like it makes a lick of sense and is visually cheesy). There's so much being thrown at the viewer all at once that it's very hard to follow, and the editing and direction make it very difficult to keep up with all of the new character and story introductions. (I watched this with a friend and we both found ourselves exclaiming "What is going on?!" in irritation more than once.)
It's also frustrating because the production values are topnotch. The special effects are quite excellent, but just like with the substance-free fluff of any given Michael Bay-directed blockbuster film (especially if robots are involved), we know that a movie cannot survive on special effects alone. It's kind of like building a beautiful restaurant with a gorgeous exterior and an impressive interior... but the food is absolutely terrible. It just seems to miss the whole point. Some scenes feel downright incomplete, and the overall film feels like it may have been at least an hour longer but was cut down to fit a two-hour limit. In fact, it feels a lot like a two-hour-long trailer for a mini-series or series of films. The Wachowski's are trying to present a new world to their viewers, but the explanation of this world never seems all that clear. It isn't until watching the bonus features on the disc and finding out more details about this intended world that things start to almost make sense. I didn't even pick up on the fact that all of the weird hybrid-human characters are actually genetically altered animals and robots crossed with humans.
Kunis and Tatum are okay in their respective roles. While neither really steal the show, it isn't until Sean Bean's character Stinger (who appears also wrangle bees--Get it? "Stinger?" Sigh.--but according to the Blu-Ray's featurettes, he's actually a human crossbred with a bee), is introduced that the film seems to have found an actor who actually believes the world they're existing in. Bean is a reliable acting talent and when he starts providing some backstory and exposition for the audience, you can actually accept some of the ridiculous words coming out of his mouth. Meanwhile, Tatum and Kunis just feel a bit lost or merely dragged along for the ride. The absolute worst presence, however, is Eddie Redmayne as the film's central villain, Balem. He uses this goofy, hushed way of speaking that is way too melodramatic and comes across as a really bad Marlon Brando Godfather impression. And when he occasionally raises his voice to seem more like a menacing loose cannon, it's laughable and feels more like a skit in an Animaniacs cartoon than anything we should be taking seriously (See "Sir Yaksalot" for exactly what I mean). It's also immediately apparent that he and his costar Tuppence Middleton (who plays Kalique) appear to be wearing unimpressive age-makeup early on in the film, which is too obvious not to notice and then is entirely confusing upon its realization. When Kalique does "de-age" at one point, it just confirms the earlier suspicions, making the "surprise" of the scene more corny than any of its intended results because you're more focused on the fact that your suspicions were accurate.
The content is of the PG-13 variety. There is some profanity, including some blasphemy, with just a handful of uses of the "S" word, among others. Given the otherworldly feel of the film, the profanity seems kind of out of place. There is plenty of sci-fi violence, but it seldom gets very graphic. The characters tend to get a little bloody and beat-up here and there, with Caine sustaining some bloody injuries, but it's mild compared to similar fare. Otherwise, there's a short scene that shows part of a man's bare butt while a somewhat minor female character is shown completely nude from behind. There's also a brief scene where a guy is seen floating in a bubble with women floating all around him in some kind of bizarre sensual encounter.
Due to its haphazard construction, Jupiter Ascending is far more exhausting than entertaining. Sure, it's visually impressive and has a few popular actors to further pretty up the screen, but in the end, it's really just a bloated blockbuster mess that never reaches its full potential and is surely--and unfortunately--destined for bargain bin obscurity.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/30/15)
Jupiter Jones: Destiny is with Us (6:56) - The first featurette focuses on Mila's character Jupiter as the cast and crew discuss who she is and where she fits into the story. Right off the bat, this featurette helps explain the story a little better than the movie itself does.
Caine Wise: Interplanetary Warrior (5:18) - Here they elaborate on Tatum's character Caine Wise being a genetically altered human that is combined with the genes of a wolf and how they tried to find a balance between hinting at it and making it obvious enough. The Wachowski's even liken Jupiter and Caine's relationship to that of Dorothy and Toto from The Wizard of Oz. Tatum talks about the evolution of Caine's look during the design process and how the character acts.
The Wachowskis: Mind Over Matter (7:25) is all about the brothers' (yes, "Lana" Wachowski was at one time Larry Wachowski... it's awkward) directing style, their personalities, substance in their storytelling and their technique.
Worlds Within Worlds Within Worlds (9:36) - There's a lot of stress put on how original this story is and how much was created to bring an original story like this one to the big screen. This featurette covers the designing of new worlds, striving for something new, and how vast the filmmakers' scope and vision was.
Jupiter Ascending: Genetically Spliced (10:25) - This featurette explains more in-depth the idea of gene-splicing that the film focuses on, but never seemed to clearly explain (at least, I didn't fully pick up on it). In this story, humans have been genetically spliced with animals and robots. As such, the filmmakers and actors talk about the design of each different character and how it populated this unique sci-fi world.
Bullet Time Evolved (9:35) - Don't let the title of this one fool you. "Bullet time" in The Matrix was a groundbreaking effects technique, so this featurette tries to pass off the effects in the new film as being as groundbreaking as The Matrix. It's just not so. And while it's truly impressive that we learn here that some of Caine and Jupiter's mid-air chase action was ACTUALLY filmed for real as the actors were dangled from a helicopter, it just never looked all that real or convincing in the actual film, which doesn't do justice to the great lengths the filmmakers went to. This covers some other grand effects but ultimately is a disappointment.
From Earth to Jupiter (and Everywhere in Between) (9:34) - The last featurette goes further into exploring the designing of the individual places and worlds that the film touches on, as well as the sets used in the movie.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/31/15)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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