Mladen and Del review: ‘Jupiter Ascending’

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

“Jupiter Ascending” Starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, and Tuppence Middleton. Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski. 127 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mladen’s take

Ignore the critics – except me and Del, if he agrees with me – on this one. “Jupiter Ascending” is a good movie. You just have to be patient.

Like another solid film, “Cloverfield,” with a crappy beginning, “JA” starts poorly, but makes up for its first 15 minutes with good acting and spectacular, if sometimes overwhelming, visual effects for the duration.

The plot: Housekeeper Jupiter Jones, portrayed by Mila Kunis, becomes a pawn in a power struggle between three well-heeled siblings. Rather than agreeing to share, each sibling maneuvers to gain legal ownership of Earth. Why is Earth important? Us. Mankind is valuable to the feuding House of Abrasax because we’re the essential ingredient of Fountain of Youth baths that the siblings, and others who can afford the gene-repairing topical, use to live forever. Each sibling wants Earth to himself, or herself, to harvest Homo sapiens for a profit. The problem? Jupiter, a “recurrence,” is technically Earth’s owner. She has to sign over the rights before anyone can start distilling people for their life forces. Add Caine Wise, played by Channing Tatum, as Jupiter’s guardian and, eventually, main squeeze, and you’ve the ingredients for a raucous, FTL-traveling, city-busting movie that hits the Bull’s Eye more often than it misses.

“JA” owns its watchability to Kunis. She’s wonderful. Along with a pretty face and lovely voice, her acting renders the movie’s silliness and science implausibilities perfectly acceptable.

When Wise explains to Jupiter how his airskates work, she retorts with a straight face that all she heard was “gravity” and “surf,” or something to that effect. With a throaty giggle, Jupiter wonders at the beauty of a swarm of bees becoming an extension of her arms so that they look like wings. Her ability to playful neutralize an event’s absurdness comes into play throughout the film and it works every time.

The film’s principal weakness, one shared today by all movies of the sci-fi kind, is its CGI battles. So much happens so fast and each component of the battle rendered in such fine detail that the contrast between elements of the fight disappears. Sound effects, however, are superb. Also helpful would have been a battle between capital ships, but that ain’t a big flaw.

I found it goofy that the Wachowskis decided to keep Wise’s shirt off as he fought mercenaries on Earth, traveled through space in a dimension-busting vessel’s cargo hold or something like that, and then fought a squad of palace guardians on another planet. He’s buff, but come on. In the name of gender equality, the script writers could have devised a reason to put Jupiter in a bikini for 20 or 30 minutes.

Finally, I wasn’t entirely enamored with the film’s fusion of sci-fi with mythology-like creatures. It was sort of Thor-ish and Lord of the Ring-esque. The movie also had bits of “Brazil,” lots of machines shape-shifting Transformer-like and a couple of other movies that slip my mind.

“Jupiter Ascending” is frenetic and worth seeing. It’s been unfairly, and spitefully, panned like one of the Wachowski’s other good films, “Speed Racer.” “JA” is an epic for the big screen, but I plan to add it to my Blu-Ray library. I imagine I’ll find something fresh every time I watch it, which is typical of Wachowski productions. The grade? B for Better than Bargained for.

Del’s take

They hate Channing Tatum’s eyeliner.

The plot, they say, is too complex.

One of them called the movie a “hot mess.”

Another suggested the Wachowskis should be banned from moviemaking.

Bottom line? As usual, they don’t know what they’re talking about.

The folks who write reviews on Airbooks as they sip Merlot from soap bubble-thin crystal fairy goblets are having a hard time embracing “Jupiter Ascending,” the raucous actionfest engineered by the Wachowskis. That suits me fine. Sometimes you just want to be entertained, not edified. That’s the kind of movie the Wachowskis have given us.

Mladen summed up the plot nicely. You do have to wade through some explanation before things kick into gear, but so what? Are we no longer capable of embracing complexity? I do every time I sign into my phone.

“Jupiter Ascending” is gorgeous to look at. Virtually every frame is a visual extravaganza that will leave you swooning amid its depth and color. In terms of its visual composition I’d compare it to “Casshern,” another beautiful movie.

And it continues the Wachowskis’ assault on the oppressive, soul-smothering system they believe enslaves us all, a theme they explored in the “Matrix” movies, “V for Vendetta” and “Cloud Atlas” (which, by the way, was another criminally underrated Wachowski project). Jupiter is an individual trapped between forces much larger and stronger than her own puny self. She fights back with pluck and virtue, and in the Wachowskis’ universe there can be only one outcome.

Mark your calendars, folks, because on this date Mladen and I agree: “Jupiter Ascending” is well worth seeing in the theater, then owning once the DVD is released. Everyone in our group enthusiastically embraced the movie, the fairy cup sippers notwithstanding.

I too give it a solid B, maybe a B+, for sheer entertainment value.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.


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