Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending

Whatever flaws this film might have I genuinely recommend it for no other reason than I haven't seen design porn this good since The Fifth Element. This is a fantastic looking movie with every design department firing on all cylinders and for that alone it is worth seeing.

Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a young woman living in the first act of a romantic comedy. She's the daughter of a Russian immigrant (played with matriarchal relish by Maria Doyle Kennedy) working for her family's cleaning business as a maid. She's got the large, well-meaning but mildly unsupportive family; she's a romantic confidante to one of her wealthy clients; and she has a simple yet romantic aim to earn enough to buy a brass telescope like the one her deceased stargazer father owned. There's even a whole astrology theme about how her birth horoscope says she'll meet her one true love. If someone pitched you that set up you'd be confident in predicting where the film was going: she'd meet a man who combined her employer's wealth with her father's romanticism, class-based comedy would ensue and it would all end with them kissing under a starry sky.

Except instead aliens try to kill her at a fertility clinic and she's saved by a genetically engineered human-canine super-soldier called Caine.

This is the central gag of the film: Jupiter is from Romantic Comedy World but Caine drags her into Sweeping Space Opera World and the fun comes from the tension between the two. When it works it works fantastically, like the very Douglas Adams section where Jupiter plays the Arthur Dent role in an extended sketch about labyrinthine bureaucracy guest starring Terry Gilliam. A lot of times, though, the tension that should be animating the story disappears and we're left with Jupiter playing damsel to Caine the space hero.

But, my God, the visuals! One of the space villains has a private army of dragons wearing greatcoats; the spaceships look like flying cathedrals or mansions; Georgian fashion is all the rage in space; and all the space characters have this affected, performative delivery that works wonderfully to distinguish itself from the naturalistic style used by the Earth characters.

There are a lot of big ideas, this being a Wachowskis film, and being a Wachowskis film some of them are well-explored and some of them aren't. The outer space setting hinges on a large yet abstract atrocity that gets plentiful exploration while the smaller but more immediately relatable way in which Jupiter is connected to it remains strangely unexplored even though its the whole reason the powerful Abraxis family are alternately trying to murder, seduce and hoodwink her. There are times when I feel that what the Abraxis' think is happening with Jupiter and what is actually happening with her are completely different things.

So, all in all, a film well worth seeing even if it keeps working on separate levels instead of merging the different levels the way its better set pieces manage. 

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