The Wachowskis return to the big screen this weekend with their first original script since the Matrix trilogy, Jupiter Ascending. The trailer features stars Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum as Jupiter Jones and Caine Wise, fresh-faced action stars occupying a gilded Sci-Fi world in search of Destiny. The basic plot is as follows:
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) was born under signs that predicted future greatness, but her reality as a woman consists of cleaning other people’s houses and endless bad breaks. Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered hunter, arrives on Earth to locate her, making Jupiter finally aware of the great destiny that awaits her: Jupiter’s genetic signature marks her as the next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.
(source: the film’s website)
Sean Bean also takes on the role of Stinger Apini in what seems to be a classic mentor role (Obi-Wan/Morpheus/Gandalf). Described by the Wachowskis as part-Star Wars, part-Matrix, the universe of the trailer is familiar: something between the Total Recall reboot and the Avengers. The film company expressed interest in green lighting a Wachowski original to build off for years to come. It’s gutsy. After consistent giant action movie flops, trying to build a new epic franchise with the new Star Wars series coming at the end of the year might be questionable wisdom.
Most movies like this warrant an eye roll from me and an exasperated questioning of how film companies can drop millions and millions (175 in this case) into half-baked ideas. But something in the Wachowski’s previous film, Cloud Atlas, has me reserving judgment. That film, released in 2012, was by almost all standards an oddball. Based on the novel by British writer David Mitchell, its reviews were generally mixed (55 on Metacritic), its box office take in was marginal (grossing about 27 million), and garnered some strong negative reactions (Time Magazine and the Village Voice named it the worst film of the year). I found its excesses endearing and its high falutin-ness undergirded by sincerity. Ebert called it “one of the most ambitious films ever made,” and I have to concur. Bizarre prosthetics and make-up, multiple seemingly unrelated plot lines, screwball humor next to science-fiction tropes, actors reprising similar roles in different narratives, fate and connectedness as its subject–it’s the kind of effort that could easily become a train wreck. But for me it wasn’t. It was big, bold, quirky, even at times beautiful. It unapologetically, unironically tried doing something huge.
By most counts we’re in the age of the anti-hero and the story that examines its own premise. Draper and Soprano and White and Horbath. To be clear: I love it. But it gets draining, too. There are times big budget, slightly corny, heart over head, genre movies really do it for me.
The other space opera in recent memory I was hoping would scratch this itch for me was, of course, Chris Nolan’s Interstellar. High profile cast, famous director, box-office hopeful. But I’m hopeful that Jupiter Ascending avoids what bothered me in Interstellar: overwrought plot, under developed characters, and the feeling that 5 hours of content was cut into a 2 hours and 30 minute movie. I anticipated Interstellar‘s release for months and did not take issue with its lofty goals and intellectualism. I love 2001 and was hoping to see a big-budget Nolan take on it. But it was flat and overly conceptual. For all its science, love is what pulled Matthew McConaghy through the book case–and yet I didn’t care for the character on either side of it. The post-mortem discussion I had, and read about, was almost exclusively what happened instead of what it meant or how it influenced the viewer. The easter egg hunt fell flat for me because the movie didn’t leave me with much, including a sense of wonder or fun.
Some would say the same of the Wachowski’s latter installments of the Matrix trilogy. I would disagree. Philosophical and mythological references abound and, I would agree, overcomplicate the series. But I also don’t think they steal the thunder of the adventure. The magic and the journey are still there, even if the plot points have some Swiss-cheese sized holes.
That’s what I think a good ole genre movie can do. Believability and tropes be damned—sometimes a big honkin’ blockbuster works. I’m not sure the movie will live up to all that, but I’ll still see it.
Jupiter Ascending opens February 5 and is rated PG-13