Monday, February 09, 2015

JUPITER ASCENDING

Would that much of all that has been thrown at the Wachowski siblings since Speed Racer crashed and burned was thrown instead at so many earnest but underachieving prestige Oscar contenders, or at endlessly cookie-cutter super-hero blockbusters. It seems as big dumb fun is acceptable if it's Guardians of the Galaxy, but not if it's Jupiter Ascending, coming from the same folk who did the perfect mix of kick-ass action and pop philosophy that was The Matrix but then over-reached wildly with its two sequels and the comatose sugar-rush of Speed Racer while one of them became transgendered.

     True: Jupiter Ascending is an earnestly tongue-in-cheek and gleefully derivative space opera, mashing up (yes, it's true) The Matrix, Guardians of the Galaxy and pretty much a big part of the Marvel universe, Star Wars (yes, you read that right), good old pulp fiction, American pop-cultural heroics and the siblings' own how-did-they-do-that? visual bravado. Which is to say: perfect mindless Summer popcorn fare, whose delay into frigid February suggests a lack of confidence in the Wachowskis' outlier pulp sensibility to go head-to-head against the Marvel onslaught - and yet another example of how focus-group, four-quadrant something-for-everyone marketing is killing FUN AT THE MOVIES (the capitals are deliberate).

     Because, for all the issues Jupiter Ascending may have (and trust me, it has them), the Wachowskis are still trying to buck the trend and reclaim the gleeful rush of an old-fashioned adventure caper. Its serial-like narrative arc, full of cliffhangers that leap between universes and planets, feeds on tried and true tropes of Hollywood screenwriting, recycling them with a bigger-is-better insouciance whose all-or-nothing gamble seduces.

     Mila Kunis's Jupiter, born in transit as her widowed mother moved from Russia to America, turns out to be an interstellar Cinderella who, in between cleaning houses for a living, finds herself entangled in the sort of galactic intrigue that is the stuff of Saturday-morning cartoons. Wanted by the competing interests of the three powerful Abrasax siblings, who see in her the reincarnation of their late mother, she lands in the middle of a power struggle with genetically-engineered rogue ex-mil Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) as her only true ally (and, eventually, love interest).

     The Wachowskis don't fret as much about originality since they know it's the surroundings that sell their story, and the performances are appropriately geared toward that narrative simplicity that is the hallmark of the really successful blockbuster: a blank slate where you can read everything - even a sly anti-consumerist message that chimes in with both The Matrix and V for Vendetta (masterminded by the brothers but credited to their assistant James McTeigue). Ms. Kunis and Mr. Tatum know that looking good while everything happens around them is part and parcel of what they're supposed to do in a film like this, and the Wachowskis pile on the impeccably tuned visuals and crackerjack effects without ever losing sight that, if you can't root for your heroes, everything else is just decoration.

     Jupiter Ascending does not reinvent the wheel so much as it pimps it out with as much whiz-bang as it can, and in so doing becomes the most unashamedly fun - and, yes, pop - blockbuster-wannabe since Guardians of the Galaxy. 

JUPITER ASCENDING
USA 2015
128 minutes
Cast Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth
Directors and screenwriters Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski; cinematographer John Toll (colour, widescreen); composer Michael Giacchino; designer Hugh Bateup; costumes Kym Barrett; editor Alexander Berner; effects supervisor Dan Glass; producers Grant Hill, Ms. Wachowski and Mr. Wachowski; production companies Warner Bros. Pictures in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment and Anarchos Production
Screened January 29th 2015, NOS Colombo IMAX, Lisbon (distributor press screening)


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