Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Jupiter Ascending


Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Nikki Amuka-Bird

Rated PG-13 for Some Violence, Sequences of Sci-Fi Action, Some Suggestive Content and Partial Nudity

In 1999, The Wachowskis released a sci-fi action extravaganza called “The Matrix.”  Not only did it include kinetic and ground-breaking fight scenes, it dealt with thought provoking material revolving around technology and our reality.  It was a complete sleeper hit, surprising just about everyone with its reception.  Two sequels followed, but neither one matched the quality of the first.  Their next film, a mega-budget version of the Japanese anime series “Speed Racer” bombed at the box office (although I loved it).  After that, they teamed up with German action wonderboy Tom Tykwer (he directed the cult classic “Run Lola Run,” which was a lot of fun, but he also directed “The International,” which was anything but) to make “Cloud Atlas,” a hugely ambitious sci-fi epic that worked surprisingly well considering the needs of its plot and characters.  That didn’t have the reception that the indie studios wanted either.  So have The Wachowskis found their way again, or are they destined to be one-hit wonders?  The jury is still out, but I hope this film turns their fortunes around.

Jupiter Jones (Kunis) is a Russian immigrant working as a maid.  Actually, she was born in the middle of the Atlantic because her father was murdered shortly before she was born and her mother and aunt illegally immigrated to the US in their grief.  They are not wealthy people, but Jupiter is seeing some strange things going on around her other than what’s in a toilet bowl.  Specifically, aliens are trying to kill her.  One, a man named Caine (Tatum), is there to protect her.  Apparently, there is a family squabble between a trio of siblings for the control of the Earth.  One, Balem (Redmayne) wants her dead, but the other two Titus (Booth) and Kalique (Middleton) may not.  And Jupiter has found herself in the middle of it.

As anyone who has seen the trailers (or any promotional media related to the film) can attest, the film looks incredible.  There hasn’t been a sci-fi movie that looks this incredible since “Star Wars: Episode III.”  Compare that to the bland, clunky special effects of something like “Thor: Dark World,” and you’ll see what Hollywood needs to do if they’re banking on special effects alone.
Unfortunately, the plot isn’t up to snuff.  The first half is great fun, but once the Wachowski’s world is explained at the halfway mark, it turns into a bit of a soap opera.  The siblings don’t really know where to take the story, and it gets a little repetitive.  That said, it is never boring.

The acting is on solid ground.  The role of Jupiter is within Mila Kunis’s limited range.  She does her best work in films set in contemporary times and in comedy.  Drama isn’t her forte, so it’s fortunate that she’s not required to do a lot of it.  Channing Tatum is suitably heroic, even with bizarre make-up (it’s explained in the film…at least I think so).  Sadly, Sean Bean does not impress.  Not only does he mumble his lines to the point where almost nothing he says is intelligible (and he explains a lot of the set-up), his performance seems to be on mute.  I got the sense that, for some reason, he was banned from ever having his morning coffee.  Eddie Redmayne plays his part with relish, vamping it up to new heights; he’s fun to watch in a kind of campy way, although he’s still a capable antagonist.

What sets the film apart is adrenaline.  These days, hack filmmakers throw action and superheroes at the screen with lots of noise and violence without any understanding of how they work.  The Wachowskis, like George Lucas, known how to please the eye and raise the adrenaline.  The action scenes are a blast; one sequence that has spaceships zipping around Chicago worth the price of admission alone.  This is a movie that needs to be seen on as big of a screen as possible.

This isn’t the next “Star Wars.”  The story isn’t as engaging, and the script could have used another rewrite.  But it is fun.

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