Thursday, February 12, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

JUPITER ASCENDING (Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, 2015)

JUPITER ASCENDING looks and feels like it might have been one of the biggest box office hits of 1984 or one of the most expensive flops. The special effects are primarily digital than practical, but otherwise the film’s sensibility stems from the aspiring blockbusters that came in the wake of STAR WARS rather than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Writer-directors Andy and Lana Wachowski populate grand settings and spaceships with characters whose often goofy designs signal child-like imagination at play. JUPITER ASCENDING’s sincerity opens it to mockery, yet its resistance to circumscribed notions of cool makes it more endearing.

Like most heroes in this kind of mythic story, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) comes from a humble background and harbors no idea of the pivotal role she will play in saving humanity. She was born on a shipping container while her mother was illegally immigrating from Russia to the United States. Although family members tell her she’s destined for great things, it’s hard to put much stock in those words when she and her relatives are scrubbing toilets and cleaning houses to make a meager living.

What Jupiter doesn’t know is that she is the key to settling a family squabble out in space. The three Abrasax siblings own planets that they seed and harvest like corporate farms. Earth ranks among the most valuable of such commodities. Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne) owns Earth, but his brother Titus (Douglas Booth) and sister Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) have designs on taking possession of it from him with Jupiter’s assistance. Titus hires disgraced legionnaire Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) to find Jupiter before Balem has her killed. Saving Jupiter from bounty hunters does not remove her from danger, though. She is whisked into deep space where she must claim her rightful royal position and survive the scheming Abrasax clan.

Strip away the science fiction and fantasy trappings, and what remains is a fairy tale with some Shakespearean drama and economic criticism thrown in for good measure. Kunis makes for a plucky princess who, while occasionally needing to be rescued by a wolf/human hybrid in gravity-surfing boots, is capable of navigating interstellar bureaucracy and negotiations. The Wachowskis have great fun steering Jupiter through the gears of government as they pay comedic tribute to BRAZIL and bring in Terry Gilliam for a cameo to certify the reference. The Bard-like flourish is found in the privileged Abrasaxes, whose cosmic property battle sets events in motion.

With its view that humans are unaware of the forces controlling their lives and suggestions of pansexuality, JUPITER ASCENDING is readily identifiable as a film by the makers of THE MATRIX trilogy. Whereas that series became bogged down in philosophical queries, this film considers matters of consumption and purpose as seasoning than the meat. The dawn chase across Chicago’s skyline and on its streets is a dazzling setpiece that demonstrates the Wachowskis still know how to stage an action sequence not bound to the laws of physics. Their personal touch is responsible for the hokeyness that might make JUPITER ASCENDING appear quaint and perhaps laughable at times, but that lack of cynicism also allows them to pull off the sillier elements in this fable.

Grade: B-

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