Monday, February 9, 2015

Rohan Descends Upon Jupiter, Lays It Waste

(Our friend Rohan Morbey took in much of the body of work of the Wachowski siblings in the run-up to writing his review of their latest, the flashy space opera Jupiter Ascending. His review, which he's generously let us cross-post here, appeared in its original form as always over at Rohan's site Closing Credits - do follow him on Twitter!)

If I subscribed to the adage of ‘so bad it’s good’ then Jupiter Ascending might have be one heck of a fun time at the cinema. However, I will never succumb to that way of thinking, so this latest film from the Wachowskis was an unmitigated disaster of galactic proportions. A film so bad, and in every aspect so poorly handled, that no one walks away unscathed – the most afflicted being the paying audience.

The film had a troubled production, with Warner Brothers pulling it from its original summer 2014 release schedule and dumping it in February, claiming post production was not yet finished. Yet I suspect the powers that be knew this was a $150 million bomb as soon as the dailies were in. The blame is fully on filmmakers Andy and Lana Wachowski, with all the hallmarks of a team totally void of any creativity yet given carte blanche because the memories of The Matrix are still engrained on everyone’s minds – or at least the cumulative $1.5 billion that series made worldwide still keeps the naysayers at arm’s length at Warner. But after this failure I wonder how much faith that Matrix success can still hold.

The plot is hopelessly confusing for two reasons: first, everything is either explained with mass exposition or not explained at all; and second, you soon realize the whole film is ludicrously inept and stop paying attention because the nonsense unfolding on screen never earns the respect it needs to keep you invested. In my movie reviews I rarely discuss the plot because I never want to spoil a first watch for anyone; but I couldn’t have told you what was happening or why in this movie even if you sat next to me, let alone in writing this review 24 hours later. I know that planet Earth is the inherited property of someone in another galaxy and that Jupiter Jones (seriously, that’s her name) is a queen in this galaxy but cleans toilets for a living back home in Chicago... and that’s about it.

I’m all for nonsense stories if the tone of the film is served up to match it but this one just hurtles along at 100 miles an hour without ever stopping to wink at the audience. It’s like an exceptionally awful version of The Fifth Element minus the much needed self-awareness of Luc Besson’s movie.

Just thinking about two other Wachowski movies in comparison to Jupiter Ascending makes you appreciate just how engaging and thoughtful a complex, unconventional story can be. Both The Matrix and Cloud Atlas are mind-bending on first (and subsequent) viewing but no one can deny the filmmakers’ intentions to give  you an experience like you’ve never had before. They changed the landscape of action cinema in 1999 and to their credit their post-Matrix work has been anything but ‘safe’, but there is nothing to suggest this latest film is from the same creative minds. Regardless of what you like about their previous four movies (yes, those sequels to The Matrix were a huge disappointment), no one can say any of those movies failed to serve up several stand-out, even 'eye-popping' sequences. Too often directors are labelled ‘visionary’ because they get to spend huge sums of money on their movies (Zack Snyder, Peter Jackson, Alex Proyas) without producing the goods at the other end. The Wachowskis truly deserve to be called 'visionary', but their work here certainly damages that reputation.

Unintentionally hilarious dialogue and nonsensical plot aside, the biggest disappointment here is that the film is bereft of any visual originality. The intergalactic world is far too reliant on CGI to hold any weight, looking like a Star Wars prequel idea that even George Lucas would have discarded. The action sequences fail because there is nothing at stake and there are no consequences to any actions; half of Chicago is destroyed in one scene, only for us to be told that humans will have their minds wiped and it’ll all be forgotten. How convenient for the film makers to add this minor detail, and how sad for us that we’re being asked to accept it. Furthermore, if you could choose any film maker to shoot in 3D for the first time, chances are the Wachowskis would be one of the first names on that list, but their use of the technology is squandered save for a few objects being thrown at the screen. 

The performances do not help either. Mila Kunis might look great in various costumes but she hasn’t anything near the screen presence to take a lead role in a film of this size and scope, whereas Channing Tatum is visibly bored in every scene, and could’ve been replaced by Vin Diesel for the lack of range he shows. The star prize, however, must go to Eddie Redmayne for his turn in the villain role; his acting choices are so unfathomable I can only call them Sharlto Copley-bad. Let that sink in.

It’s quite rare for a major release to be quite the proverbial ‘train wreck’ as Jupiter Ascending ended up being. With awesome original sci-fi blockbusters like Edge Of Tomorrow struggling to find the audience they deserve, the future for such releases is dealt another blow by this latest complete waste of money, time, and effort.

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