A young woman is cleaning toilets until a half-wolf thing shows up and suddenly its boom and bang and she’s the queen of the world!
Well now, after a nine month delay, Jupiter Ascending is finally in cinemas around the world. And it’s beautiful and bonkers, strange and silly but still manages to be a compelling sci-fi extravaganza.
I’ve been reading the early reviews of the film with a mixture of fear and familiarity – did anyone really expect a Wachowski blockbuster which was delayed to a February release to be anything less than something of a glorious mess? But my own experience as a viewer took great joy in the glory and mostly skipped over the messy stuff.
Few people do world building like the Wachowskis and that skill is in evidence here more than at any other time in their varied filmography. The film is awash with incredible locations, ridiculous costumes and fanciful spaceships but it’s the stunning starscapes which really drew me in. Sure they often look like intricately over-designed concept art writ large but there’s no doubting the ambition of the siblings.
These locations play host to a series of action set-pieces which aren’t lacking in pyrokinetics or energy, particularly the lengthy Earth-bound chase near the beginning. The filmmakers may have tried to include as much live action photography as possible but its mostly a CG melee – a bright and colourful one with more relaxed editing than many we’ve seen in recent years. Which is always a good thing.
For me though none of the action was all that interesting – and I say this as a fan of the Wachowskis from the stylised shootouts of Bound to the excess of Speed Racer, with special mention for the Asian-influenced kinetics of The Matrix. There’s just nothing very cool about what’s happening, despite how many lasers light up the sky.
The CG has been getting some negative press but I can’t say it bothered me overly. There is a cartoonish, plastic sense to some of the CG stuntmen which lacks weight, and those flying lizard things are just ridiculous, but the visual artistry on display feels worthy of the massive $175 million budget. And then some.
Which brings me to the main real issue with the film – who exactly is it for? I certainly enjoyed myself but the film is aimed at sci-fi fans, and a specific niche of that subset which isn’t afraid to embrace a scenario which manages to be both batty and familiar. It’s the kind of film which I suspect will generate decent word of mouth and garner something of a cult following, but spending the cuts of $200 million before marketing wasn’t the smartest move.
With a budget closer to half that (considering the flick doesn’t exactly feature any superstars), Jupiter could have been the set up for a fun new franchise, giving fans the chance to dive back into this world at some future time. But that seems pretty unlikely now, even if the film ends up making a decent profit overseas.
Ultimately, Jupiter Ascending still isn’t The Matrix follow-up we’ve all been waiting for these last 16 years. And maybe that isn’t a movie the Wachowskis have in them but I have to admit I’m glad that such an original filmmaking voice is still getting the chance to express itself at this scale. Sci-fi fans should definitely check it out, just be prepared for some silliness and just as many jaw-droppingly stunning moments.