Sunday, February 8, 2015

'Jupiter Ascending' (2015) directed by Andy & Lana Wachowski

Jupiter Ascending is about a Russian-American toilet cleaner called Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) who's rescued from murderous aliens by half-dog spaceman Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) and subsequently discovers she's the genetic reincarnation of a murdered space-vampire Queen. Also thrown into the mix are royalty detecting bees, an army of flying dinosaur-men, a crapload of gigantic explosions, some killer frocks and some outrageously hammy performances that leave no scenery unchewed.

God only knows who gave the Wachowskis the £175m budget, but they deserve kudos for funding one of the barmiest mainstream science fiction experiences in years. This is the kind of film that casually cuts from kitchen-sink comedy/drama to a destroyed alien world where three weirdoes chat gobbledegook about the end of the world, then cuts back to the real world without so much as blinking. This is the kind of film that you just have to 'go with', trusting that the ludicrous dialogue and nonsensical plot developments are building up to something.

Also you get to see Tuppence Middleton's butt.
Well, not to spoil the film, but everything pretty much comes together in the final act. Though the Wachowski's revel in chucking bonkers new ideas onto the screen every five minutes or so, the actual plot isn't so dissimilar from The Matrix. Both here, as there, the accepted layers of reality are peeled away to reveal a horrible truth; that humanity is being exploited for our raw materials.

On its narrative merits, Jupiter Ascending often comes up short. Perhaps a victim of an overzealous studio mandated edit, the plot jumps forward in fits and starts. Characters are introduced with great fanfare then disappear from the plot, the heroine suddenly knows things she shouldn't and the film has at least two unrelated climaxes one after the other. Similarly, Mila Kunis' Jupiter is mostly a bit of a limp rag, forever falling off things and being caught in midair by Channing's hunky dogman, not to mention that she gets riches and fame purely by dint of who she is rather than actually doing anything to earn them.

Aw yeah.
This adds up to a undeniably flawed movie, but also a deeply enjoyable, super fun one. By way of an example; there's a scene relatively early in the movie where Jupiter and Caine have temporarily escaped the clutches of the villains and headed to the countryside to seek help from grizzled space veteran Stinger Apini (Sean Bean). For some reason Stinger has filled his house with bees, hives growing from every wall and honey trickling down over the wallpaper. Jupiter reacts to this with understandable fear, brushing them away from her before they sting.  But they don't sting.

It's then explained that she's not being stung because bees can instinctively detect royalty and as bees are incapable of lying (news to me!), this means Jupiter must be space royalty. The characters instantly kneel before her, referring to her as "Your Majesty" for the rest of the movie. There's two reasonable audience reactions to a scene like this. The first is "What the fuck is going on? This doesn't make any sense. I don't like it." The second (correct) reaction is "This doesn't make any sense! What the fuck is going on? This is amazing!". 

These bees know the score.
This freaky dream-logic bubbles under for most of the film, enjoyment largely predicated on audiences just accepting that right now Channing Tatum is breakdance fighting an angry winged Tyrannosaurus man on an exploding refinery in the middle of the planet Jupiter's eye and there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

This rebellious, headstrong quality to the script that perfectly tickles away at my sensibilities. So when in the middle of the film, Jupiter Ascending decides it's going to be Terry Gilliam's Brazil for about 10 minutes you just roll with it, giggling along with it as it then produces Terry Gilliam himself to play an sinisterly eccentric intergalactic bureaucrat who proceeds to tattoo the heroine with a cool glowy symbol.

yes yes yes
This stuffed-to-the-brim sci-fi maximilism is also realised in the baroque visuals. The spaceships in the film are ornate, gilded and elegant, decorated with gigantic golden statues and glass atriums. Parts of the ships shift and move around the core, the outlines never quite coalescing into something concrete and recognisable. A similar trick is played with the costumes, the most elaborate looking like the kind of thing Lady Gaga would turn down as too impractical. The best way I can summarise this aesthetic is if The Fifth Element and David Lynch's Dune had a lovechild, and that lovechild grew up to become seriously weird teenager.

All of this is extremely my shit, but I've as yet only alluded to the cherry on top of this teetering, sugary, whipped cream bedecked ice cream sundae of a film. This is Eddie Redmayne's Balem Abrasax, main baddie and the silliest thing for lightyears around. Redmayne appears to be channelling David Bowie's evil twin - all pouty lips, high collars and bizarre pronouncements. He does all this in a strangled theatrical mumble, punctuated by angry yelps of passion. He's perfectly attuned to the material, his every appearance sending the audience into giggling fits.

I love this guy!
Cards on the table - whatever the Wachowski's are serving up I'll gobble up. Speed Racer, generally regarded as an embarrassing megaflop, is in my book a secret psychedelic masterpiece. Cloud Atlas, a film that confused and alienated it's meagre audience, was for me an imaginatively sincere spiritual quest. And so it is with Jupiter Ascending, a deeply creative, ultra-imaginative and playfully original sci-fi treasure that, let's face it, is probably destined to vanish into ill-regarded obscurity. Ask yourself: do you want cookie-cutter, grey-ass predictable bullshit?  No? Then go and see this already!

OOH! OOH! I forgot to mention that when Channing Tatum's dogman fires his space gun it barks at the baddies! :D


Jupiter Ascending is out now.

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