MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5)
Mila Kunis as JUPITER JONES
Channing Tatum as CAINE WISE
Sean Bean as STINGER APINI
Eddie Redmayne as BALEM ABRASAX
Douglas Booth as TITUS ABRASAX
Tuppence Middleton as KALIQUE ABRASAX
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: The Wachowskis
BY KEVIN CARR
One of the saddest things about mainstream Hollywood is that it is a slave to the popular audience. And sometimes that popular audience is its own worst enemy.
For the past several years, we have heard a non-stop litany of how there is no creativity in Hollywood, that there are no original ideas, and the industry only cares about remakes, reboots and sequels. However, when the mainstream audience is presented with a wholly original and different sci-fi film to contrast against the now-often-maligned superhero movies and toy merchandising adaptations, they reject it with glee.
Say what you want to about the Wachowskis, but you cannot say they aren’t trying to give cinemagoers something different. However, they are still shackled by the success of “The Matrix,” and if what they deliver does not click like that movie from 16 years ago, they are crucified and rejected.
I have more faith in these two, and they haven’t let me down yet.
Not only did I enjoy the “Matrix” sequels, I thought their previous big-budget risky passion project “Cloud Atlas” was a fascinating film. No one else seemed to want to see it, but that’s because the story was not spoon fed to them or laid out so easily that it can be summarized in the first third of a two-and-a-half-minute trailer. “Jupiter Ascending” suffered a similar fate.
It’s not that you can’t break down the story of “Jupiter Ascending” into fifty words or less, but rather to get the full impact of the story, you have to let it unfold over the course of an hour or so. What makes the plot actually work in this film is that it evolves over time and changes based on how much knowledge the title character of Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) has at the time. Some critics considered that to be convoluted or incoherent. I considered it to be actually quite daring and a unique way to deliver a film.
“Jupiter Ascending” is, at its heart, the story of a woman who doesn’t realize how important she is. Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a Russian immigrant who makes her living cleaning toilets. However, she soon discovers that she is in fact galactic royalty, the reincarnation of the figurehead in one of the most powerful families in the universe. When she is whisked off the planet to claim her birthright in galactic politics, she faces resistance and danger from her conniving and power-hungry family.
I’m not saying that “Jupiter Ascending” is without its flaws. Like any movie, you’ll find plenty in there. Mila Kunis isn’t the strongest actress for the lead, though she does hold her own in the film surprisingly well. Sure, sometimes the nuances of the plot can be hard to follow, but that’s due to the Wachowskis not wanting to hold your hand throughout the movie. Some of the characters and performances are painfully over the top (I’m looking at you, Eddie Redmayne), but it’s all part of the fun for me. And yeah, there are some corny lines and scenes, but what sci-fi actioner is free of that? Seriously, take a glance at some of the lines in the critically beloved “Interstellar,” and you’ll see just as much worse lines masked by Matthew McConaughey’s cry-face.
“Jupiter Ascending” is one of the few modern films that captures the scope and overwhelming impact of a world far greater than ours, reminding me of classic science fiction from the old pulp magazines. It’s a dystopian story hiding in the shroud of a high concept future. The vision the Wachowskis have shown in this film is neither idyllic nor pessimistic. Instead, it is a reflection of the worst elements of human nature taken to a passively violent nth degree. This is their vision of cultural evolution, and it looks deep into the heart of humanity. It’s not their fault that the reality is not something we really want to face.
It seems ironic that “Jupiter Ascending” is releasing on Blu-ray and DVD a mere week after box office returns showed audiences around the world partly rejecting “Tomorrowland,” another unique and original science fiction film, only to embrace more franchise films they so loudly condemn in social media posts. Both of these movies – while different in tone, look, feel and overall message about the nature of humanity – are two of the biggest cinematic tragedies of 2015. We were given two pretty high-profile opportunities to prove that as a viewing public we actually wanted something different and not cookie-cutter filmmaking. Sadly, the mainstream audience failed that test.
There’s still time to give “Jupiter Ascending” another chance on home video. It’s got a fantastic vision with some brilliant production design and eye-popping special effects. And if you’re looking for something on a more visceral level, remember that it’s the Wachowskis at the helm, and their action sequences are always top-notch.
So go into “Jupiter Ascending” with an open mind and not as a chance to hop on some bandwagon and compete for the most hilarious pithy comment about how these filmmakers who came on strong with “The Matrix” have lost their touch. I assure you they have not, and “Jupiter Ascending” proves it.
As visionary as the Wachowskis are as filmmakers, the special features found on their DVDs and Blu-rays (at least for the original home video drop) are pretty standard and don’t feature a lot of bells and whistle. I suppose this is me longing for the days of the original release of “The Matrix,” which featured a variety of behind-the-scenes information, branching content and commentaries.
Conversely, the “Jupiter Ascending” Blu-ray is more in line with the “Cloud Atlas” Blu-ray, offering a slate of behind-the-scenes featurettes and videos that are insightful and focused but lack the extra touch of a stellar home video disc release (which, considering the competition for streaming and digital downloading of movies, should be a major selling point for a physical disc). Still, the featurettes on “Jupiter Ascending” (ranging from six to ten minutes each) are good enough to give a little bit of insight into the design, production and overall vision of the film.
These include “Jupiter Jones: Destiny Is Within Us” as a spotlight on the title character, “Caine Wise: Interplanetary Warrior” as a look at Channing Tatum’s character, “The Wachowskis: Minds Over Matter” as a profile of the directors, “Worlds Within Worlds Within Worlds” as a look at the building of the greater universe in the film, “Jupiter Ascending: Genetically Spliced” as an examination of the hybrid characters in the film, “Bullet Time Evolved” as a look at the special effects, and “From Earth to Jupiter (And Everywhere in Between)” as a spotlight on the worlds of this story.