Sunday, February 8, 2015

Jupiter Ascending Review

Jupiter Girls, You Make The Rockin' World Go Round
One element that really makes certain pieces of great sci-fi, well, great, is it's ability to translate everyday emotions and worries into a heightened and entertaining environment. The grandaddy of sci-fi cinema, Star Wars, is centered on the universal hope that we all have of wanting to defy expectations and become something great. Sure, there's Wookies, TIE Fighters and a rapscallion Harrison Ford running around, but the plot's centered on a very relatable theme.

Jupiter Ascending would love nothing more than to be the next piece of great sci-fi filmmaking, with a thoughtful theme and an enjoyable world, but The Wachowskis (who are the sole writers and directors of this feature) don't come anywhere come close to achieving that, at least on the front of the former. Thankfully, they have made what's probably the most insane major studio feature in ages, and while that doesn't translate to a wholly quality experience, even the films most irritating flaws do have a sort of charm to them.

Much of that charm comes from the films massive ambition, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in the sense that anything and everything that The Wachowskis could possibly conjure up is tossed in here. Lizard people? Why not! Sean Bean and hordes of bees? Sure! Channing Tatum is a part-wolf fellow with zero-gravity boots? Toss it on into the script! There's no shortage of ideas here, many of which are really fun to watch, but this barrage of concepts can be a problem when the film tries to lay out it's sprawling mythology. Prepare for scenes consisting of overlong discussions centering on dynasties, transactions and all the stuff that made those senate scenes in The Phantom Menace so "riveting".

Not helping matters is how extraneous that kind of exposition is; the story is essentially simple, with Jupiter (Mila Kunis), a seemingly ordinary Earth woman, being a "chosen one" of sorts who has the rightful claim to control the Earth. Bad guys, namely Balem (Eddie Redmayne) want Earth for diabolical reasons, Jupiter soon has to face them. A straightforward enough premise, but one the film almost seems ashamed of, so it tries to toss in all that aforementioned mythology in order to make the proceedings more "complex". That's a pretty unnecessary move though, especially since the movies characters and environments are so stylized that all that explaining that the film bends over backwards to provide just feels pointless; I don't need endless monologues about Balem's motives and politics in order to prove his antagonistic nature when the dude is followed around by a horde of giant menacing lizard people. That simple visual cue is all I need to know that he's a bad guy, so I wish the film would just spend time fleshing out it's supporting characters instead of endlessly explaining it's universe.

That pivotal flaw is made all the more aggravating considering how much fun many other elements of the film are. I particularly liked Jupiter, who has a likable personality and remains an enjoyable character even when she starts to accept her cosmic possibilities. I felt like Channing Tatum's role could have been played by anyone else (Tatum's not bad, his character just doesn't have anywhere near as much personality as Tatum's best roles), but he still does a solid job in the action sequences. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sean Bean doesn't get much to do except give encouraging speeches to Tatum and Kunis, while Eddie Redmayne gives one of the more off-kilter performances I've seen in ages as the main villain. His vocals are more reminiscent of wheezing than anything else, while his wardrobe is outrageous enough that it must be seen to be believed.

Actually, aside from that poor costume design on Redmayne's antagonist, the visuals of this film are quite fun to watch. Spaceships the various character fly around on have a pleasing scheme to them, with their various moving parts having this sort of elegant presence to them that's quite compelling. Those aforementioned lizard people are rendered wonderfully, while the sound design for the various machines and aliens are also a hoot to listen to. There's a lot in Jupiter Ascending that left me in wonder from a technical standpoint, I just wish the film had allowed me to absorb that more in a more cohesive story. However, I did overall find Jupiter Ascending to be an entertaining enough film that doesn't leave the viewer with anything "phenomenal" but is passable enough in it's own right.

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