One of the great paradoxes of the modern age of filmmaking is that a large number of movies are made every year that are seemingly designed with my particular tastes in mind, and yet I like so few of them. Slickly produced action and horror movies in the 'isn't this shit awesome?!' mold flood the theatres every year, and every year I dutifully check in on them and feel nothing bit a nagging boredom as they go through the motions of presenting me with everything my 13 year old self would have killed to see, with production values my younger self could never have imagined. Like Priest, about a man of the cloth hunting down vampires in an old west setting, or Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, which is about Abraham Lincoln hunting vampires, or I, Frankenstein, about the titular doctor's monster fighting demons throughout the ages. I should love them, but they all feel so lifeless, so free of personality and individuality, that I can't seem to muster any enjoyment out of them. Which made it such a modest joy to finally sit down and watch Jupiter Ascending, the latest (and possibly last) big budget mashup of pulpy comic book influences to come from the Wachowski Siblings. Say what you will about it's byzantine plot, so overstuffed that it feels like three movies stuffed into one, or complain all you want about the silliness of Channing Tatum playing a half-wolf, gravity-defying surfer dude by the improbably name of Caine Wise trying to save the life of Mila Kunis as a housekeeper who is secretly the intergalactic queen of our section of the universe with the even more improbable name of Jupiter Jones, but at least the film has a personality.
After the Matrix, the Wachowskis have had trouble recapturing success, though personally I've found everything they've worked on to be worthy of attention. I wasn't a huge fan of the Matrix sequels, particularly their mix of boring committee dialogue of the type that sank the Star Wars prequels with MTV-ready rave scenes, but they at least showcased filmmakers taking the philosophical discussions within their film seriously. I'm quite fond of Speed Racer, and Cloud Atlas may be their masterpiece. Although these films all have their followers, they've each fared successively worse at the box office. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal before Jupiter Ascending came out, the Wachowskis seemed to realize that their Hollywood moment was coming to an end: "We've been lucky," Lana says. "People at studios have been interested in our crazy, strange brand of complexity. And we've been allowed to keep making them. Will that continue? Probably not." "But it was a good run," Andy added.
So, with the knowledge that this would probably be their last chance to play around with a huge studio budget at their command, the Wachowskis appear to have thrown every leftover script idea they had into one go-for-broke, crazy ass movie, peppering things throughout with references to the sci-fi and fantasy properties that have inspired them. The film isn't the most original, groundbreaking story you're likely to see, and they actually pilfer a couple of concepts from their own films, but it has a goofiness that overpowered me into just grinning along with every ridiculous development. The film's major downfall, and it is a rather big one, is that the duo haven't gotten any better at dialogue or exposition. It's never a good sign when a film begins with a voice-over that explains the rules of the world we're about to see, and Jupiter Ascending frequently feels like it's stopping to impart jargon-filled information we need to digest in order to keep up. This is something they've struggled with through their entire career, but it's at its worst in this film, even though the exposition scenes usually come with a few crazy looking aliens.
Jupiter Ascending is no classic, but it's better than its current reputation would suggest. For once there's a film that appeals to everything 13 year old me would want, complete with totally awesome skating scenes and a 'chosen one' story that thankfully doesn't feature a drama-killing prophecy. Taken on those grounds, the film is a lot of fun, although it does make me excited to see what the Wachowskis might do now with a smaller focus, a tighter budget, and more polished dialogue.
Final rating: 3.5 (out of 5)