Jupiter Ascending – Sci-Fi as it should be or One for the true believers. (Film Review)
I’ve left my review of this film till the hype wore down, considering I have a monumental personal problem with film reviewing this year that is either born of a certain number of years immersing myself in the critical community, or film reviews getting dramatically worse each year – I suspect my problem is a turgid self-righteous mix of both. The problem I have here (as I have had with too many films in the last twelve months) is that Jupiter Ascending is an excellent film marked down by lazy film criticism that chose deliberately to have a problem with a script that isn’t obeying contemporary sci-fi comforts and therefore forces, not just engagement with the material which is a typically Wachowski vision, a stepping away from the imperious control of Marvel inspired sci-fi that is dominating the crap out of everyone’s ability to enjoy a good science fiction film.
The amount of times I read a review comparing Jupiter Ascending to a Batman film, and surprise surprise coming up short (gee, almost as if it wasn’t trying to be a Batman film) was truly appalling given the only reason for the comparison I can think of is that many of the characters, good and bad, have wings; a criteria that warrants comparisons with many films from The Wizard of Oz through to Angels in America. It is nonsensical to compare film makers like the Wachowskis to any other film makers unless it is with a certain history that they may be parodying, and enormously lazy to hop on a bandwagon simply because the film critic you admire who holds the spurious social position you long for says the film is bad.
To be fair, the Wachowskis complex synthesis of myth/existential angst/camp/sci-fi glam has never been properly understood by critics and it is only with the inevitable fandom longevity of films like The Matrix that their ratings rise on the “o-meters.” Wachowski films usually critically tank when they first arrive on the scene. And to go into that understanding a tad deeper, one needs to further acknowledge that really good sci-fi is usually hated by the critics initially. Jupiter Ascending is a great sci-fi film, with its fantastical combinations of ancient homage heroines and heroes, 50’s and 60’s comic book sci-fi genuflection and po-mo deconstructed camp, working wonders on the audience response if, and only if, you are willing to release your imposed preconceived notions and go along for its geeky rollercoaster whirl. It is a film that toys relentlessly and joyously with patterned audience response; just when you start to take it too seriously it plonks talking heads in a bubble floating around planet earth; just when you find yourself hoping the hero will make it in time to save her again, she turns around and saves herself, etc. I found myself emotionally tossed about, but always with respect, as the editing held my hand through a cacophony of splendid intricacies that transformed themselves just as my neural pathways teetered into exhaustion with a particular concept. There are times when one is absolutely in a 1950’s comic strip and times one is transported into an unrecognisable future.
Jupiter Ascending’s messages, like its breathtaking visual spectacle, are multilayered and well thought out, a combination of left-wing propaganda for the dullards to latch onto, and a more complex statement about the fracturable fragility of the structures we’ve put in place – a theme they have always adhered to from the early days of Bound and The Matrix trilogy. A scene where Balem Abrasax’s (Eddie Redmayne) winged dinosaur henchmen land in a living room and use terror to cadge compliance is masterfully written and filmed, perfectly representing a soliciting of the aquiescence necessary for friable systems to remain impenetrable. The longed for commodity that the Bad Industrialists farm, harvest and make their fortune off is youth infused time, the real thing we lust for in our daily lives when we say we want more money. When the delightfully alliterated Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) recognises the fear she evokes in her enemies, she is able to wield strength from her love for Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) and turn it into a battle that has her become politically aggressive when she was always compliant. No one can convince you of the power of the individual like the Wachowskis, and so potently true to that vision are they, that they can turn the cheapest looking pulp fictionist stunt into a metaphor throbbing with integrity and truth.
On top of all that, can I just say how thrilling it is to see a beautifully crafted film using CGI without that weird rapid eye cutting that ignores the relationship between the ocular and the narrative we have become so accustomed to these days? Films like The Kingsman and The latest Fast and Furious yawn fest cobble together CGI’s shortcomings into rapid machine gun fire optics that rely heavily on the leap of audience faith to glue the multifarious holes with our obedient watching. The Watchowskis are far too devoted to perfection to allow such short cuts into their sumptuous visual displays and a scene where Cain roller blades on anti-gravity boots all over Chicago at night leaves one breathless with the adherence to perfect ophthalmic narrative cohesion. The Wachowskis intuitively understand and are deeply committed to the power of visual story telling, and they refuse to bow to these ludicrous effects that are anything but special.
Like all Wachowski films, Jupiter Ascending is not easy, and the ways in which is difficult can be frustrating. While they do hand hold, they also deeply respect their audience by making films that gain power the more you watch them. This makes for complex narrative tropes, strange moments where it seems a character has disappeared only to find you briefly lost a story thread, and it can be argued that this is problematic, that you shouldn’t have to watch a film more than once to get it. I guess the level at which you are willing to forgive highly complicated storylines and characters depends on how much you appreciate the films and comics they are parodying, and how much you like Wachowski films to begin with. Jupiter Ascending is a full meal 1970’s style, complete with dessert, wine and cocktails and one doesn’t always want to eat like that. If you prefer a mapped out road, this film will seem poorly constructed, but if you are willing to take a wander into the universe of a wild side the Wachowskis offer, Jupiter Ascending is a thrilling piece of enormously beautiful cinema that will fill you with the kind of faith in humanity you thought had been lost forever.