Jupiter Ascending

jupiter

DIR: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski • WRI: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski • PRO: Bruce Berman, Grant Hill, Roberto Malerba, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski • DOP: John Toll • ED: Alexander Berner • MUS: Michael Giacchino • DES: Hugh Bateup • CAST: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean

 

The Wachowski siblings have arguably struggled to reignite the commercial success of The Matrix, which altered the parameters of the science-fiction blockbuster in the late 1990s. Whilst their ambitious visual style marks them as visionary masters of their craft, critical opprobrium generated by films such as Speed Racer (2008) and Cloud Atlas (2012) points to an inability to reconcile an intense and elaborate visual technique with that of nonsensical and awkward plots. Such criticism has become the norm in the Wachowskis’ oeuvre and Jupiter Ascending does not appear to deviate from this career trajectory. Originally scheduled for release in July 2014, the film was delayed by seven months owing to an intricate editing process, casting a grim foreboding air over its future.

Written and directed by the Wachowskis (with more than a nod to Dune), Jupiter Ascending is a science fiction space opera starring Mila Kunis as Jupiter, a dissatisfied cleaner who discovers via genetically engineered ex-military hunter Caine (Channing Tatum) that she is the genetic reincarnation of the murdered matriarch of the intergalactic royal Abrasax family and rightful owner of Earth, the most profitable planet. The three Abrasax heirs are one of the ruling dynasties of the universe who harvest the planets once overpopulated to create a youth elixir that will see them live for millennia. When the Abrasax siblings discover Earth and their vast galactic inheritance rightfully belong to Jupiter, the duo embark on a frenetic galactic odyssey, intercepting the Abrasaxes attempts to kill her and reclaim ownership of Earth.

Adapting the classic big guy versus smaller guy narrative and attempting to elevate it to another level fails miserably in Jupiter Ascending and this is largely owing to the film’s egregious script. Whilst the reported $175 million budget for the film is clearly evident through its ambitious production design, resplendent costumes and intricately choreographed combat sequences, once the enterprising if not rather turgid spectacle has been stripped away, the audience is left with not much else. In an attempt to compensate for an over-investment into the film’s elaborate special effects, the Wachowskis infuse the narrative with a romance between the protagonists but this proves to be regressive, misplaced and underwhelming in a film containing convoluted sub-plots and involving too many archetypal characters delivering hackneyed and disjointed dialogue. All that is achieved is a chaotic core narrative with the film’s players evidently overwhelmed by the deluge of the CGI stunts involved and having very little else to do.

Kunis is undoubtedly miscast as the hapless toilet cleaner turned kick-ass action heroine and Tatum, as the hypermasculinised, saturnine, elf-eared hero, is just redundant throughout. Kunis struggles to connect with the oppressive characteristics of Jupiter and can only muster enthusiasm for the role once involved in combat. Only Eddie Redmayne as the dastardly, camp Balem Abrasax and Sean Bean as poker-faced Stinger appear to inject any sort of emotional depth into their characters, although Redmayne does border on the comical at times.

Unlike The Matrix or Cloud Atlas, which provided texts rich in philosophical musings and religious symbolism, Jupiter Ascending fails to offer its audiences anything other than a one-dimensional and disappointingly regressive visual saga of sci-fi fantasy and 1950s pulp. As craftspeople, the Wachowskis cannot be faulted for the dazzling spectacle they have created in Jupiter Ascending. Alas, this has come at a cost to both the film’s actors and audiences, who have just been deposited into a glaring void of ennui and confusion.

 

               Dee O’Donoghue

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

127 minutes
Jupiter Ascending is released 6th February 2015

Jupiter Ascending –  Official Website

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Cinema Review: Cloud Atlas

 

DIR/WRI: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski    PRO: Stefan Arndt, Grant Hill, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski  • DOP: Frank Griebe, John Toll • ED: Alexander Berner • DES: Hugh Bateup, Uli Hanisch • CAST: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving

Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis make a bold attempt to film David Mitchell’s ‘unfilmable’ Cloud Atlas, straddling, as it does, several periods and locations, past, present and future. They have created an epic that excites and entertains but ultimately remains shallow.

Mitchell left much for his readers to interpret, and to make sense of the connections between the various tales. The film lacks that subtlety, and its zipping from one time and place to another may put off viewers before the links are made all too obvious.

In 1849, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), a lawyer, meets Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) and secures a contract on a Pacific island. He contracts an illness, and Dr. Goose tends to him on the voyage home. Kupaka escapes from the plantation and beseeches Mr. Ewing to ask Captain Molyneux (Jim Broadbent) to allow him work on the ship.

In 1936, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) leaves his lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy), to go to Edinburgh and work with famed composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). He yearns to create his own works.

In 1973, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) meets the older Rufus Sixsmith, whose suspicious death in San Francisco causes her to investigate the nuclear power company he was working for. She finds assistance from Isaac Sachs (Tom Hanks).

In 2012, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), a publisher, finds himself needing financial assistance from his brother Denholme (Hugh Grant), who arranges for his confinement in an English retirement home. He seeks escape.

In 2144, an archivist interviews Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), a genetically engineered fabricant, before her execution. She recounts her experiences before her arrest.

Finally, in Hawaii, 106 years after a catastrophic event called the Fall, Zachry (Tom Hanks) struggles with the devil Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving) as he helps Meronym (Halle Berry), a member of the Prescient society seeking an abandoned communications station. Meanwhile, the Kona tribe threatens Zachry’s village.

Old Zachry’s reminiscence forms the fulcrum of Mitchell’s novel, and it also frames the film. Whereas the novel moved chronologically forwards, then backwards, the adaptation demonstrates film’s ability to cut between the centuries and jump from place to place. The filmmakers provide several tense climatic sequences that successfully shift in such a manner.

A clear theme emerges: the struggle for freedom, whether by a plantation worker in the 19th-century Pacific islands, an elderly man from a 21-century retirement home or a 22nd-century genetically-engineered worker. The drama that surrounds these stories provide the excitement and intrigue that makes Cloud Atlas work well when it’s good. The sentimental claptrap about love and everything being connected is less effective. Why must talented filmmakers use an ambitious film to make such banal statements?

Jim Broadbent excels both as Timothy Cavendish, providing the film with its comic moments, and as the composer Ayrs . Ben Whishaw also impresses, portraying Robert Frobisher as a more sympathetic character than in the novel.

Like Paul Muni back in the 1930s, Tom Hanks relies too much on make-up to convince an audience of his acting skills. He has the most work, playing Zachry, Dr. Goose, Isaac Sachs and an actor playing Cavendish in a film that Sonmi sees. His eccentric turn as Dermot Hoggins, an Irish novelist hoping for success with Cavendish, entertains, even it’s over the top.

Halle Berry plays well as Luisa Rey but makes little impression as Meronym. Hugo Weaving fares poorly, playing parts that are too similar to that of Agent Smith in The Matrix or that come off as old-style pantomime (Old Georgie, the devil testing Zachry) or poor drag (Nurse Noakes, ratcheting up difficulties for Cavendish).

The film displays the visual flair expected from both Tykwer and the Wachowskis at their best. Where it falters is its uneven tone. The humour of the Cavendish story seems out of kilter with the other solemn stories concerning corporate conspiracy, suicide and doomed love affairs. Zachry’s story features the heavily accented speech that, in its written form, made that segment of the novel alienating for some. With Old Georgie looking for Zachry’s shoulder, it proves the least accomplished of the various strands. The closing sequences feel overstretched in an effort to tie it all together.

Often beautiful and frequently thrilling, Cloud Atlas reaches for heavenly heights but misses.

John Moran

15A (see IFCO website for details)
171mins
Cloud Atlas is released on 22nd February 2013

Cloud Atlas – Official Website

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