Thursday, February 12, 2015

Culture Shock 02.12.15: 'Jupiter Ascending' is pure pop art

The Wachowski siblings' latest sci-fi epic, "Jupiter Ascending," did anything but ascend at the box office last weekend. More than anything else, that seems like a testament to the ill will audiences still harbor toward "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions."

When it comes to building up a fanatical following only to alienate it, Lana and Andy Wachowski have outdone even George Lucas. They're closing in on M. Night Shyamalan territory.

Unlike Shyamalan, however, the Wachowskis are still capable of making an entertaining movie.

"Jupiter Ascending" is exactly that, disastrous returns aside. Like the Wachowskis' underrated 2008 adaptation of the kitschy 1960s import "Speed Racer," "Jupiter Ascending" is a dazzling if somewhat uneven display of pure, unadulterated pop art. Unlike most of their peers, the Wachowskis still on occasion show us things we haven't seen before — at least not in a live-action movie.

You don't just watch "Jupiter Ascending." You become immersed in it. Seeing the movie unfold is like watching 60 years of science fiction paperback art come alive and envelop you with all the speed and urgency one experiences in Japanese animation. "Speed Racer's" box office failure didn't exhaust the Wachowskis' appreciation for anime, and with "Jupiter Ascending" the Wachowskis draw upon sci-fi traditions from both East and West, creating a fusion that bears an unmistakable Wachowski stamp.

There is more than a little bit borrowed from "Dune," too, both the book and David Lynch's 1984 adaptation. The score by Michael Giacchino often recalls Toto's for "Dune." And like Lynch's "Dune," the Wachowskis' "Jupiter Ascending" may have to wait to find its audience.

Mila Kunis plays our heroine with the pulp-magazine-hero name, Jupiter Jones. Jupiter's amateur-astronomer dad died before she was born, and she grew up in Chicago, raised by her mom (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and aunt, and living with an extended family of Russian immigrant stereotypes.

Despite her smarts and the fact she looks like Mila Kunis, Jupiter is forced to help her family scrape by, tagging along with her mom to dust the picture frames and clean the toilets of the well-to-do.

What Jupiter doesn't yet know is she's the genetic reincarnation of interstellar royalty, specifically the late matriarch of the Abrasax family, which owns most of the known universe, including Earth. That makes Jupiter the rightful heir to a lot of real estate. So, now the matriarch's three bickering children — Balem (Oscar nominee Eddie Redmayne, barely speaking above a whisper), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) — are scheming against one another, each trying to get to Jupiter, and her share of the universe, first.

Fortunately, before you can say "Cinderella" — and someone does, just in case you miss the obvious similarities — a dashing hero, although not a prince, swoops in to save the day.

Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) is a genetically engineered bounty hunter — a human gene-spliced with a wolf, making him an expert tracker — sent by one of the Abrasax siblings to bring in Jupiter. But he's not the only bounty hunter on Jupiter's trail, and after a few firefights and chases, Caine and his old friend Stinger (Sean Bean), end up taking Jupiter to claim her inheritance. And that sets up more chases and more firefights. The repetition would be too much if it weren't all so gorgeous. Space battles have never looked so good, and the scenes of Caine "skating" across the sky propelled by his anti-gravity boots put the flying scenes in most superhero movies to shame.

Sadly, it isn't all pretty explosions. This being a Wachowski joint, "Jupiter Ascending" is probably 20 minutes too long, with brief lapses into pop-Marxist flame throwing aimed at a "capitalist" straw man. The Wachowskis also try their hands, unsuccessfully, at comic relief, with a detour lifted from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

"Jupiter Ascending" isn't deep. Its story isn't original. It won't make people rethink their lives, and it won't revolutionize filmmaking, sci-fi or otherwise. But for a couple of hours, it'll take you on a ride that raises the standard for "eye candy." That's not to be underestimated.

No comments:

Post a Comment