Jupiter Ascending (2015)

(Video on Demand, June 2015) I usually try to write my capsule reviews without references to whatever elusive “critical consensus” exists about a film.  With Jupiter Ascending, though, it’s difficult to avoid noticing that the film has earned a surprising number of scathing reviews.  I think I understand why, but even that understanding can’t take away my annoyance at what I’m seeing as an unfair critical drubbing.  To put it simply: Jupiter Ascending is a big quirky space opera and that’s such a specialized sub-genre that I’m not surprised that a lot of people would simply bounce off of it.  Not that I’m overly pleased with an umpteenth “chosen one” rags-to-riches story –even less so from the Wachowskis, who pretty much did that storyline to quasi-perfection in The Matrix.  Also not terribly cool: how wanton destruction is waved away, the caricatured characters, the brain-dead way a supposedly advanced alien society behaves, and other assorted shortcuts from reality.  (The mad-bureaucracy sequence also feels out-of-place with the rest of the film, but seeing Brazil’s Terry Gilliam at the middle of it is almost an acceptable excuse)  Strangely, it’s the weird wackiness of Jupiter Ascending that’s the best thing about it: bees domesticated by the queen of the universe, real-estate deals powering the entire plot; a dog-hybrid warrior with a gun that goes “woof!”; immortals back-stabbing each other for profit.  That’s pure far-future Science Fiction stuff, too rarely seen on the big screen.  If nothing else, I have a soft spot for such flights of fancy.  Here, the Chicago nighttime action sequence works pretty well (although I feel that it’s been over-edited, runs too long and is almost instantly trivialized come morning), and the visuals once the action moves to space are nothing short of spectacular: The Wachowksis may have trouble with plot, but their eye for spectacle remains just as effective.  Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum are unspectacular in the lead roles, but Sean Bean gets a nice turn as a character who (spoilers!) survives until the end of the film, and Eddie Redmayne gets a chance to ham it up as a spoiled aristocrat.  While Jupiter Ascending has significant holes and annoyances, it’s also a film with the advantage of its eccentricities.  I’d like to see more movies like that take chances and fall flat on their face rather that play it safe like most blockbusters today.

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