I really like cheesecake. Scratch that. I FUCKING love cheesecake, but I ultimately know it is terrible for me. It has no real nutritional value and only serves to make me a fatter piece of shit than I already am. And yet it not only tastes good, but it looks good. Every once and a while, I need to eat cheesecake, because I mean…
…it’s just so…
…like I have to…
…what were we talking about? Oh yeah, cheesecake. The Wachowskis’ latest film, Jupiter Ascending, is the cinematic equivalent of cheesecake. It can be mind0-numbingly stupid at times, but the world it creates is so vast and intricate you almost want to pause every frame to savor all of the beauty laid out before you. The characters are pretty one-dimensional across the board, but everything is bizarre and, at times, flat-out crazy I caught myself with the biggest fucking grin across my face that something this weird got the level of funding that it did. It’s as if our most ridiculous childhood stories and make-believe sessions were pitched to a teenager that happened to have $200 million to throw around and let you make it, regardless of sense.
They have their critics, but one thing that should never be stated about the Wachowskis as filmmakers is that they lack the balls to go big. When they make a movie, they go all out. Sometimes that fails spectacularly (the Matrix sequels) and other times the gamble pays off, resulting in a movie that is utterly spectacular on both a narrative and visual level. (Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas) Lana and Andy also happen to be master chefs when it comes to making cinematic cheesecake. So let’s see what ingredients they chose when cooking their latest offering.
“Jupiter Jones was born under a night sky, with signs predicting that she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning toilets and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine, a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along – her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.” – IMDb.com
First and foremost, the best thing about this movie is the visuals. The Wachowskis are renowned world-builders (at least in my opinion), and the evidence is on full display here. Sure, we have boring space politics from time to time, but when this movie steps into gear, watch out. I wish I had a pause button so I could look at every frame during the space sections. If only we could get something like Dune with such vision as this. It is an utterly massive creation that we only get a sliver of in this two hour film. It stars two of Hollywood’s most attractive people, and they play second banana to some of the backgrounds we see here.
The other strongest positive is just how creatively bonkers it is. This movie is science fiction far off the fringes of plausibility, and instead opts for the science fiction of Douglas Adams and Terry Gilliam (who makes a phenomenal geeky cameo in a sequence that had to be inspired by Brazil). It’s weird, and it knows it. Modern science fiction films, for the most part, are dominated by often cynical views of humanity. They are dark, gloomy, and brooding. Jupiter Ascending is none of the above. Much like another fantastic science fiction bomb, John Carter, this is science fiction at it’s most gleeful and we don’t get to see shit like this for the most part anymore. Gone are risky movies like this and Flash Gordon. Let alone shit like this on a budget this massive. One of the main characters is part dog. Sean Bean is a half-bee man for Christ’s sake!
You could argue that a lot of the performances are phoned in with massive exception of Eddie Redmayne.
A lot has been said about his performance as Balem Abrasax, one of the three Abrasax siblings that make up the film’s core antagonists. He is over the top and whispers just about all of his lines. Some have said this is a performance of someone trying to collect a paycheck. I argue the exact opposite of the case. This is someone with a firm grasp on what the material is, and is a making a choice. The right choice. It reminded me of Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons.
Now that movie is an unimaginative piece of shit, but you can tell Irons is having a blast playing the part. The same could be said of Redmayne here. The material is absolutely insane so it requires a performance that is as equally insane. I just wish more of the cast was on his level of commitment.
Now lets talk about the negatives, and there are quite a few.
Beyond the out-of-this world visuals, the core story is disappointingly conventional. It basically amounts to a tweaked version of the Neo arc in the Matrix trilogy with a young hero plucked from an boring life into world they never knew existed. Not only that, but the hero is also the savior of this world. Somehow they’ve created a lead that is even more boring than Neo. Mila Kunis, an actress known for bringing life to even the most thankless of roles, plays Jupiter as a feisty albeit vulnerable woman. Beyond that though, she doesn’t have much in the personality department. She barely even registers as a cliche. Not only that but she is also constantly being saved time after time, and never feels like an active participant in the action going on. The film essentially has two climaxes. Both of which has Jupiter being saved from one of the Abrasax brothers while she is on the verge of making a choice that would ultimately lead to her death. It’s as if to say the Wachowskis knew this wouldn’t get a sequel, and threw the last half of the second movie in this one.
When you boil it down, this movie is stupid. Utterly and unequivocally stupid, but where does it say that we can’t have fun with stupid science fiction that at least aims for the stars. As the great Weird Al once said, “Dare to be stupid!” This isn’t a 2-and-half hour chore like the Transformers movies have become. This is a ride on the crazy train that is actually just as much fun as it is confounding. We have almost a full year before Star Wars pulls out its massive, multi-million dollar wang and decimates every film record that lays in its wake. Consider this the desert you steal before the massive main course. Science fiction outside of Star Wars can be fun, people. Writers (i.e. people that actually get paid to do this) have shit all over this film and others have praised it. Neither is wrong. I fall somewhere firmly in the middle. I LOVED aspects of it, and was lukewarm to a majority of it. I don’t particularly care about the “themes” or the bigger meaning that may or may not be at play because ultimately I don’t think the filmmakers did either. (I think it had something to do with space inheritance law?) I think this movie was in the same ballpark as something like Battlefield Earth, but actually does things right and provides moments of sheer excitement, all while having laughably stupid moments to keep you invested. It’s schlock, but it’s passionate schlock. I’d rather have a shitty movie that went for it, than a shitty movie that played it safe. The script and most of the cast is lazy, but everything else is a goddamn treat. Call it a guilty pleasure. I won’t disagree, but every once in a while I NEED cheesecake.