When The Wachowskis make a new film, we take notice. There is this endless desire we have as film fanatics that we’ll see them pull out something as impressive as their classic sci-fi film The Matrix. Time and time again fans and critics are disappointed, as proven by fairly low Rotten Tomatoes scores, poor word of mouth and the ultimate indicator: average box office receipts. And now we have Andy and Lana’s latest film, Jupiter Ascending, an epic and notably original (or more precisely, a rare non-adaptation) sci-fi film set in present day Earth (Chicago to be precise) – alongside a galaxy not-so-far-away – and starring Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum.
In the film, Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a young girl who, in spite of being promised that she was destined for great things (and with the name of a porn star), is in reality a girl who cleans toilets for a living with her family. One can therefore assume she didn’t do well in school, or dropped out – which does explain some of her poor life choices throughout the film. Many of these choices are made in the company of Channing Tatum (Caine Wise), a “genetically engineered ex-military hunter”, who after saving her from certain death goes onto discover she’s “royalty” and is thrown into the middle of a bitter family dispute that is best compared to something out of Marvel’s Thor dynasty, though in this scenario there really isn’t a “good guy” so much as there is a “not to be trusted but not quite as bad as the others… maybe… woman”.
Though comparisons to The Matrix and other “classics” of the sci-fi genre are inevitable, the plot of the film fits as much into the universes of Soylent Green and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Jupiter Jones in this instance is Arthur Dent) than its other predecessors. And you know what’s a great sci-fi book? That’s right! Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And hell, I even liked the film. Take all these elements and the Wachowskis have created an original sci-fi universe that can sit along the greats. From the shining-yet-rustic cities with the mundane accountants, to the Zion-esque empire in the storms of Jupiter, this film contains more depth, imagination and sci-fi goodness than we’ve seen in years – perhaps District 9 and even Avatar being among the most recent examples. The film looks stunning, and it’s easy to get stuck into the world. You want to discover more of it. Also worth mentioning is a fantastic score by Michael Giacchino, who interestingly scored the movie before it had been filmed.
Unfortunately, as was particularly prevalent in the Matrix sequels and even the original to lesser extent, there’s this old distraction called a script. Lana and Andy spend so much time creating a deep, powerful world full of dimensions, mystery and beauty (both light and dark) that they seem to forget about one important thing: creating anything but one dimensional characters. Though Kunis and Tatum both give valiant efforts, and are totally watchable, they really don’t have much to work with here. The love story that evolves, not dissimilar to that to Neo and Trinity, kind of comes out of no where and is never convincing. Sean Bean gives one of the stronger performances as Stinger, who is given more to work with than most – and then there’s presumed Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) whose over the top portrayal of Balem Abrasax takes everything down a notch or two.
So where does this all leave us? Well, despite distractions, Jupiter Ascending is a daring, extravagant and gorgeous sci-fi film. The action sequences are epic, the special effects are dazzling and the sci fi universe – some bizarre cross between Marvel’s Thor, Gilliam’s Brazil, Lynch’s Dune and the Wachowski’s own Matrix – is enthralling. Fans of the genre should certainly eat this up. Yes, the dialogue is corny and the love story is one dimensional. But you can say the same for The Matrix and even – dare I say – Star Wars (Episode II anyone?). What made these film series important was not their scripts but that a) they were groundbreaking (at least in their original incarnations) and b) their universes were amazing. And with little possible in “a” these days, it makes up for it in droves with “b”. A must see for fans of sci-fi – though for others you might want to just wait until the next run-of-the-mill adaptation comes out. And Wachowskis? Maybe get someone else to work with you on your scripts. It wouldn’t kill you to try and give your actors more to work with (we’ll forgive you Eddie, we’ll forgive you…).
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Jupiter Ascending is released in Australian cinemas and on IMAX on Thursday through Village Roadshow. The film was reviewed in IMAX 3D.