You know how when you love something, it’s rarely because it’s perfect? If you really love something, you can still recognize its flaws and accept them as part of the whole. That’s generally how I feel about the Wachowski siblings’ films. Everyone loves The Matrix, of course, but I even like the sequels–part 3 moreso than part 2. And I totally dug Speed Racer, and thought Cloud Atlas was one of the top 5 movies of 2012. So you have a good sense of where I’m coming from.
Their latest sci-fi epic is called Jupiter Ascending, and like a lot of the Wachowskis’ efforts, it’s bold, original, thought-provoking, and noticeably flawed. I’m willing to overlook the bad parts in favor of what they got right, but I know many audience members won’t feel that way.
The plot is sprawling and hints at a vast back story that we only get a little bit of. This story is crying out to be a novel that has time to develop all the corners of the world. Being crammed into a 2.5 hour movie makes it hard to fit in all the interesting details that have been created. The result is a plot that feels a bit crowded and possibly rushed, but I didn’t mind. I craved more. I want a 3.5-hour directors’ cut, so I can get more information on everything going on. There were a couple points where the story moved so quickly I got lost a little bit, but that’s ok. I found my footing soon enough; I don’t need my hand held at every step.
The acting is one of the weak points, admittedly. Mila Kunis has never been a big draw for me. She’s adequate here, but not great. Channing Tatum is someone I’ve become a big fan of lately. He’s really charming in light-hearted movies like the Jump Streets, but this movie is more serious, so he doesn’t get to use his persona to full effect. He plays a relatively stoic, driven mercenary who’s got a tumultuous past. Oh, and he’s a Splice, a human genetically modified with animal DNA–in this case, a wolf, to make him a better hunter. I wouldn’t say he’s miscast, but he does struggle a bit when he can’t rely on levity. There are a few funny parts, but it’s really not a funny movie by design.
In fact, the Wachowskis have often had trouble with tone. There are a couple times in this movie where there’s a scene that could be good on its own, but comes at such an odd place, or has such a different feel, that it just seems off. There’s one in particular that I’m thinking of that could have come directly from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or a Terry Gilliam movie. This is intentional, as Terry Gilliam himself has a cameo in this scene, so it’s obviously an homage. But it doesn’t really gel with the surrounding movie. Would have been a perfect scene for the directors’ cut though.
The visual effects, aka the biggest reason to see the movie, are top-notch. And I don’t just mean the quality of the effects, which is stellar, but the originality and visual ideas that are put on the screen. There is some really unique stuff here, some immediately iconic shots, and several times I just wanted to watch in slow motion to appreciate what was going on. The 3D is used very well here, if that matters to you. It’s simply a gorgeous movie.
Overall, I really liked it and wanted more. The story had nuance and depth beyond just good guys vs. bad guys. It touched on business, politics, bureaucracy, science, ethics, and other real-world things in the most non real-world setting possible. The stars are likable enough, and the supporting cast is very good. The effects are just amazing. I suspect the sometimes clunky dialogue and occasionally stiff acting will cause most people to write this one off. I hope you don’t. In a world that loves to criticize Hollywood for lack of originality, here’s something original. It should be rewarded so we get more of these and fewer Transformers 4’s. I will be seeing this one again in the theater, which is rare for me.