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Jupiter Ascending is a hot mess.

Siblings Declining

Jupiter out for a wild walk with the dog-man.
Jupiter out for a wild walk with the dog-man.

Maybe the Wachowskis are going through a creative identity crisis.

Watching Jupiter Ascending is a partly exhilarating, partly mind numbing experience. It’s as if the Wachowskis were of two minds while concocting this beautiful piece of tooth rot. On the one hand, it’s as though they’re trying to emulate Christopher Nolan with a multi-layered epic. On the other hand, they seem to want to emulate everything that’s wrong with later-year George Lucas productions: misplaced goofball humor, egregiously lame character traits and a tremendous sense of opportunity lost.

Taken as the cinematic equivalent of a pinball machine, Jupiter Ascending offers a fair amount of entertainment value. It even tries to throw in subtext, a weightless gravitas (an oxymoron; you’re welcome). There are shades of political and social commentary by way of the entitlement state and biological harvesting. There’s also a vein-clogging dose of camp that includes explanations for the demise of dinosaurs and the cause of crop circles.

And it all centers around a Russian-American girl named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis, Black Swan). She cleans the toilets of the rich and powerful for a living, but this Cinderella-like chick is actually the queen of planet Earth, she just doesn’t know it until space aliens from Jupiter try to kill her when she goes to donate eggs for a quick $15,000 ($10,000 goes to her idiot cousin as a finder’s fee so he can buy a bunch of high tech toys; $5,000 goes to her so she can buy a gold-plated telescope). A dog-man named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum, 22 Jump Street) saves her, explains the situation and a whole heapin’ helpin’ of the unfathomable ensues.

Yeah. It’s one of those movies. It’s a pylon. It keeps piling on and piling on without going anywhere particularly interesting or new.

Spaceballs Busting

Nolan. Lucas. Might as well throw in Luc Besson, Terry Gilliam, Mel Brooks and Frank Herbert. It’s a smorgasbord of the derivative, with so much of the visual pizzazz calling to mind Besson’s The Fifth Element and the Lucas CGI orgasm that is the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Even Michael Giacchino’s score is best described as The Phantom Menace: Previously Unrecorded Tracks.

One of the movie’s most inspired bits is also one of its most oddly out of place, which is in itself an odd thing to say about this Frankenstein-like hodgepodge in which very little seems to even have a rightful place.

Anyway, at one point the story takes a detour through a satirical scenario involving bureaucratic back-and-forth as the lead characters are bounced around from one single-focus department to another. It’s alarmingly like Gilliam’s masterful (and increasingly better with age) Brazil.

But the best part of this bit is Gilliam himself plays a role as one of the human cogs.

Call it inspired regurgitation, a moment in which the movie both shamelessly pinches from and rightfully salutes its inspiration.

Aside from that, Jupiter Ascending damages its credit with a huge sum of unpaid debts as it borrows from a vast library of movies, books and video games, all without doing anything to make the material its own.

Credit Dropping

That sense of uncomely pilfering makes Jupiter Ascending a major disappointment, even more so considering this is the Wachowskis’ follow-up to Cloud Atlas. That one matched its visual splendor with a ridiculous amount of storytelling ambition that yielded a somewhat unwieldy, but also admirable, piece of work.

Considering Jupiter Ascending manages to conjure — or more accurately, stumbles upon — the hook of time being the most valuable commodity in the whole universe, it’s almost funny (in a tragic sort of way) the movie doesn’t make a better use of its runtime.

Perhaps the most frustrating part about this $150 million production — delayed from a summer 2014 release — is it feels like the Wachowskis are still wildly ambitious, but desperately seeking material worthy of their time. In this case, they both wrote and directed Jupiter Ascending, so it’s on them to use their time more wisely.