My thoughts on Jupiter Ascending can be summed up in the three words: What the fuck?
Channing Tatum with elf ears and rocket boots, then wings to replace his boots. Spaceships that physically reconfigure as they fly, acting like Transformers that can’t quite transform. A cast of aliens that look like they were kicked out of the Mos Eisley cantina because they couldn’t hold their own with true ruffians. Eddie Redmayne acting like a constipated Darth Vader who is seeking revenge against the universe for that one time that one kid broke the kung-fu grip on one of his G.I. Joes. A movie that has no suspense, uninteresting action sequences and a wicked sense of humor that far too rarely shows its face. A film that acts like it wants to confront corporate greed and the moral failings of the universe’s 1%, but only skates the surface, refusing to make the leap and sink into the perversity. And so on.
I remember watching Bound, the first film from Lana (then Larry) and Andy Wachowski. The noir crime flick is taut and suspenseful, a swirl of uncertain loyalties and sexual intensity. It’s the only low-budget flick the duo have ever created, and it might be their finest. They made the most of the limitations of their budget, leaning heavily on story, a moody atmosphere and fine performances by Gina Gershon, Jennifer Tilly and Joe Pantoliano.
Then, of course, came The Matrix, the movie that took sci-fi and action cinema and ripped it to shreds. I think now, in part because of the problematic Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions, the original gets taken for granted. And when The Matrix does get props, it’s too often for the technological aspects. The Wachowskis managed to mix futuristic technology, kung fu flicks, LGBT+ subculture, noir cinema and some deep philosophical thought into a movie that could be enjoyed as a straight shoot-em-up flick as well as high art.
But since then … Matrix Reloaded was just awful. After the initial time I saw it in the theater, I’ve never been able to get through it again. Revolutions really did a nice job of getting the whole Matrix mess back on track, but it was still unsatisfying. Speed Racer is dour and dull, a movie that wants to be serious and important thematically while visually being little more than a somewhat intense and significantly less-fun version of Mario Kart. V for Vendetta wasn’t bad, but the Wachowskis didn’t direct that one, and if you’ve read the graphic novel the movie was based on like I have, you’re probably less impressed with the film than the average viewer. I haven’t seen Cloud Atlas, mostly because I loved the book and find it hard to believe that author David Mitchell’s sprawling tome could be done justice in a few hours of screen time, although I might get around to it at some point.
Which brings us back to Jupiter Ascending. When it was announced, I thought this might be it, the Wachowskis getting back on track, making movies that are must-see. The first trailer popped that balloon, and what we got was a final product that was a bloated, boring, tonally uneven mess that wasted the talents of actors like Tatum, Mila Kunis and Sean Bean.
Am I done with the Wachowskis? That might be overstating it. But the writer-directing duo’s next project, whatever that may be, won’t be must-see as far as I’m concerned. And it makes me a little sad to write that.