Sean K. Cureton

Wachowskis Pervading

In Movie Reviews: 2015 on February 21, 2015 at 10:38 am
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

Jupiter Ascending
Directed by The Wachowskis
2 out of 4 stars

The new film from the duo that made a name for themselves in 1999, with the seminal, sci-fi dystopia The Matrix, is comparatively self-involved, enamored of its cognizant world-building and replete with a mythology well neigh incomprehensible in its intricate assimilation of disparate legends, while struggling to populate its universe with believable characters. Jupiter Ascending is the first film written and directed solely by the Wachowskis since 2008’s phenomenal flop Speed Racer, a film that shares in Jupiter Ascending‘s affinity for genre filmmaking that fails to reach beyond a love of the form, the Wachowskis locked into the attempt at building ever higher structures from which to view their own imaginatively generated fictions, regardless of whether anyone else wishes to idulge them. Originally slated for theatrical release during the summer of 2014, the Wachowskis’ latest was pushed back due to unspecified technical issues and the devlopment of a more targeted marketing campaign, leaving it in the lurch that is the time of year when all of the major movie studio’s dump their least hyped and potentially problematic projects, Jupiter Ascending sharing theatre space with the equally unimpressive fantasy epic Seventh Son, which had its own share of post-production issues, changing hands several times before finally seeing release at the beginning of this past month. With its potential returns from the box office uncertain, the Wachowskis have seemingly set themselves up for failure, Jupiter Ascending an overwrought cinematic spectacle with production values through the roof, but with no one to inhabit its lush set designs and computer generated tapestries, a resplendent sci-fi playground deemed unfit for children. In their stubborn determination to construct cinematic experiences according to an imagination taking inspiration from the disparate and discordant elements of various schools of philosophy and psychology, and married to visually impaired conceptual designs lifted from the format of the graphic novel, it’s easy to mistake the Wachowskis’ visceral propulsion for genius, Jupiter Ascending about as much fun as your typical Michael Bay movie, a little more self-aware and intellectually possessed perhaps, but making just as little sense thematically.

And yet, in the construction of their very own space opera, the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending possesses a certain vitality, its individual acts and sequential movements collectively immersive, rendering the film’s incoherence temporarily, or at the very least tangentially, coherent. While the individual plot points never truly make sense, and the inner workings of intergalactic diplomacy, law, and ethics are beauracratically inscrutable, the tonal construction of familiar themes and narrative tropes from past sci-fi and fantasy epics is suggestive of theoretical articulation, however manipulative such narrative redundancies may be. While Mila Kunis’ Jupiter Jones, a character centrifugally concerned with the basic tenets of astrological determinacy, never mind what that entails, never truly ascends, her journey is one that is lyrically propulsive, her movements between worlds, space stations, and galaxies grandly melodious. While the film’s rhetorical arguments against personal indulgence and commercial consumption are ironically self-defeating, the Wachowskis’ own inability to not become aesthetically consumed by their own cinematic indulgences negating whatever philosophical arguments they might wish to deliver, the film’s more entertaining elements serve to tame the script’s bloated ego, Jupiter Ascending’s pompous theatricality providing a direct counterbalance to the self-importance of the script’s intellectual orchestrations, the images on screen pretty enough to offset the individual characters’ insipidites. Like most of The MatrixJupiter Ascending is a whole lot of fun despite itself, a decidedly original creation from the minds that helped turn David Mitchell’s post-modern novel Cloud Atlas into cinematic dramaturgy, impressive if only for the Wachowskis’ conceptual ambition.

Jupiter Ascending, like the films that precede it, is a genre film unashamed of its indebtedness to what’s come before, equal parts self-deprecation and self-elevation, its own ability to be content with itself reprimanding our own unwillingness to accept the film for what it is. As filmmakers, the Wachowskis are refreshingly independent whatever their own inabilities as storytellers may be, their ability to conceive and follow through with their own creative visions and impulses commendable, effectively ensuring that no two films of theirs will ever be entirely alike, each one individually crafted and personally distinct in an authorial willingness to indulge in communally creative fantasies. In Jupiter Ascending’s capitulations to its more fantastic elements, via the Wachowskis’ characteristically theoretical posturing, the film doesn’t so much ascend as pervade over a creative space to which it is already acclimated, fans of The Matrix sure to follow the Wachowskis into whatever territory their ineffable imagination may take them. While some may scoff and smirk at the film’s ludicrously made up characters and outlandishly fabricated sequences, others will be swept up in the film’s lush operatics, consumption temporarily permitted via implementation of various narrative conceits. With a carefree willingness to be irreverently unoriginal, Jupiter Ascending is a refreshing respite from the drudgery of the mundane that is Hollywood’s dump month, the Wachowskis’ feature fantastically uninspired, but self-righteously so.

With the release of this their seventh feature film, the Wachowskis find themselves at the pinnacle of their career, their masterwork already behind them, but with enough creative steam and personal volition to propel them forward into ever more creatively imaginative cinematic realms. Discontent to sit on their laurels, the Wachowskis have proven with Jupiter Ascending that the very same freedom of spirit that compelled them to make the conceptually complicated The Matrix at the dawn of the 21st century is still pulsating within them, their own inclinations towards philosophically mind bending feature films becoming a decided staple in their professional catalog, divorcing them from such genre filmmaking giants as George Lucas and James Cameron, two talents of similar creative volition lacking the Wachowskis’ personal ambition, The Phantom Menace and Terminator 2: Judgment Day exhaustively coherent in their futility to evolve. Never entirely original, Jupiter Ascending asks more from its audience than most genre films, lacking in distressingly clichéd tropes that would otherwise mar its more viscerally felt character. In direct contrast, the worlds of Divergent and The Maze Runner appear seemingly identical to one another save for the sex of their individual protagonists, each film in turn big budget clones of the increasingly pervasive Hunger Games franchise, itself easy entertainment that’s become laborious in the retelling. Contrastingly, Jupiter Ascending is like a manic retread of every sci-fi and fanatasy trope you’ve ever been told, seen, or reiterated yourself, but in the Wachowskis’ hands its enthusiasm is contagious, fun for about two hours, stupid, but pretty to look at.

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