Jupiter Ascending: The Wachowskis in space

The Wachowskis first original story since The Matrix Trilogy is a boundlessly inventive, sprawling space opera, full of none-more-Wachowksi elements (blue-haired cyberpunks on space-bikes, gravity defying martial arts, a chosen one), as well as many surprises (Sean Bean as some kind of bee-master, Channing Tatum as a wolf-man with jet-boots), and a vampiric Eddie Redmayne. It’s completely over the top; shamelessly, beautifully so, and, as such, is hugely entertaining.

Doona Bae as a cyberpunk biker

Doona Bae as a cyberpunk biker

Mila Kunis is the titular Jupiter, the chosen one here, a humble cleaner of toilets who turns out to be something far more important. Multiple factions are hunting her for various reasons; only Channing Tatum’s wolfy Caine Wise can truly protect her from the warring, intergalactic Abrasax family and their treacherous, genocidal ways.

It plays as a frenetic, gorgeous melange of Star Wars (partly the original trilogy, partly the prequels), Guardians of the Galaxy, Speed Racer, Flash Gordon and The Matrix, with a massive injection of  Wachowski imagination and verve. Brilliant ideas collide and explode in a nonstop orgy of concepts and action; there’s a really f**king great movie in here, but there’s also a less impressive one too. It feels like the script could have done with a couple more drafts to really bring out the ideas and the awesomeness to their fullest potential.

They set out to write a story featuring an empowered, kick-ass heroine, hence the title. What they inadvertently ended up with is something that probably should have been called Caine Ascending, since Tatum’s character has the most complete and satisfying arc of anyone in the film, frequently relegating Kunis to the role of scared bystander in need of constant saving. It’s a shame, because a movie about Jupiter actually ascending would have been very cool. If the Wachowskis had switched those character genders, making the movie about a female Caine protecting a male human chosen one, and staging it from her perspective, the Wachowskis would have had their female-led powerhouse movie.

Still, there is much to love here. The Wachowskis do pulpy, visceral sci-fi thrills better than almost anyone, and it’s frequently glorious to behold. The aerial chase scene across the Chicago skyline at sunrise (filmed in six minute batches over many weeks to get the light perfect) is beautiful.

Chicago chase scene

Chicago chase scene

The various species and spaceships are visually stunning — the angry flying dinosaurs are bad-ass! (Yes, there are flying dinosaurs). Michael Giacchino’s score is often lovely. There’s a brilliantly manic Terry Gilliam cameo. And by god, no one, I mean NO ONE, can ground a scene and make it gritty and real like Sean motherf**king Bean. MVP. He has some crazy exposition to say, including the immortal line “bees don’t lie” (much like hips, I presume), and he makes it INTENSE. He could have played the scene in squeaks and grunts and we’d still buy it. He is the man. Him and Tatum come out of this movie with full honors, as both of them are all in, in terms of performance and committing to their roles.

Tatum and Bean. Truthful bees not pictured

Tatum and Bean. Truthful bees not pictured

Overall, this is a freewheeling, entertaining couple of hours from two of the most original and exciting filmmakers around. Could it have been tighter? Yes. Did it need more work to bring out a more propulsive, emotionally connected story? Kinda. Is Sean Bean a bad motherf**ker? You know it. And you should go and see this movie. Original stories need our support, and this is fully worthy of a trip to the cinema. The Wachowskis are legends at this point, having brought us two of the greatest movies ever made (The Matrix and Cloud Atlas). They have incredible imaginations, visceral creativity, and a wholly unique position in Hollywood; let’s help them keep it. Because I want more Wachowski movies.

Lots more.

 

Rating: Four out of five flying dinosaurs 

 

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