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Ascent Into Madness: The Wachowski’s Have Made the Craziest Movie Ever


I finally got the opportunity to see Jupiter Ascending. Jessika surprised me with it last night, the deluxe 3D Blu Ray version no less. The 3D functionality of our TV was dormant for at least two years, but this seemed like a good a catalyst as any to knock the dust off the glasses and fire it up. Nothing could have prepared my eyeballs or my mind for what would unfold, an opera of the absurd painted across glorious high-definition plasma.

Jupiter Ascending is pure madness. I haven’t felt a sensation quite like it since Showgirls.

The Wachowski’s go for broke in a way that seems to be almost an act of rebellion. Whatever poker chips they acquired in Hollywood via The Matrix are shoved into the pit here, all in, double or nothing. With Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowski’s are like mad scientists who once discovered a fantastic equation (Bound, The Matrix) and are now consumed by a blinding desire to find a unifying theory of everything. The aspiration is admirable, the execution less so.

What they’ve produced is astonishing in its boldness and creativity, but also equally so in its hackiness, camp, and all-out goofiness. There is so much that doesn’t work, so many lines that fall flat, so many dead-end avenues left unexplored or over-explored or both. Amidst the endless machine-gun volley of experience it’s near impossible to latch on to anything that feels grounded or human to see your way through it.

When the flying lizard men show up, all pretenses of this being anything resembling a normal motion picture are completely disintegrated. Andy and Lana Wachowski shift tone so rapidly and with such brazen disregard to any sort of restraint that the film’s gearbox fuses into a lump of white-hot slag. The controls quickly spent (it’s crazy before the title card) Jupiter Ascending just goes, like an out of control mine car rocketing down the tracks

It’s a film of the future but also a potent love letter penned by the Wachowski’s to the cinematic past, with a host of overt nods to Dune, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Shadowrun, comics, anime, and more.  They even have the tremendous balls to channel Richard Donner’s Superman, for god’s sake. For a brief bizarre moment, one of the countless among the confetti onslaught of the film, the viewing audience of 2015 is without irony taken back to Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder soaring over Metropolis. You will believe a half-dog man with gravity boots (yup) can cradle Mila Kunis, or something.

The Star Wars influences struck me as obvious and reverential, however in what might be the film’s supreme act of strangeness, it’s far more Prequels than Original Trilogy. I  imagine the Wachowski’s in a Berlin condo watching Attack of the Clones on repeat, leather-clad assistants clearing away bottles of absinthe and canisters of illicit gas.  “This! This is what we do.” God bless ’em.

Like the Star Wars prequels, the special effects are incredible, innovative, and in parts, breathtaking. Unfortunately, also like the prequels, they rarely are attached to anything with emotional heft or reality. There are sequences that truly stun, including a massive battle fought through the Chicago skyline that is among the most impressive I’ve ever seen. Warner Bros. spared no expense. This also adds to the film’s unrelenting weirdness– the fact that the production and effects are second-to-none, yet cobbled together in an unholy union with a script and story that feels like something written during a NyQuil-induced fever dream. Taken together, the whole of Jupiter Ascending’s many, many parts add up to something that comes across like the greatest science fiction film of 1995 parsed through the movie making technology of 2015.

There are so many gems of absurdity tumbling about in the kaleidoscope of Jupiter Ascending that it’s impossible to highlight them all here. Channing Tatum smelling the pages of a book, ala Wolverine, is an image that won’t escape my mind for some reason. His character, Caine Wise, is a blend of the Marvel mutant, Harrison Ford’s Decker from Blade Runner, and a Santa Monica rollerblader. Sean Bean shows up and does all sorts of badass Sean Bean things. There are cyborgs and cyberpunks aplenty, a ruling aristocracy of cosmic royalty, menacing little aliens right out of Mars Attacks! and so much more.

Eddie Redmayne. Dude. DUDE. If time takes its correct course and Jupiter Ascending becomes a cult favorite played at midnight in arthouse cinemas and college campuses around the world, it will be Eddie Redmayne’s Balem Abrasax supplanting Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show as the reigning champion of vamp camp. Every line is a nugget of melodramatic, over-the-top gold.

My mind was shattered by the cinematic ayahuasca that is Jupiter Ascending, but I’d be negligent if I didn’t point out that the Wachowski’s, with all their power and their might (perhaps now depleted) choose to make their Luke Skywalker a young woman, and that’s important. Mila Kunis doesn’t seem to fully buy the world created around her, likely due to her own personal lucidity and sanity, yet she manages to muster a heroic vibe and her oft repeated line “I am not your mother” seems destined to become a cultural mantra. There’s this old lingering falsehood that science fiction is somehow a boy’s club, although in my own life I’ve been fortunate to know dozens of women totting worn sci-fi paperbacks with fiery painted covers and 1,000+ page counts. Despite going about it in its own completely bonkers way, Jupiter Ascending holds the promise of being inspiring and if it reaches just a small slice of humanity with the message that we are all equal, there are far worse outcomes. I cannot in good faith recommend that anyone see Jupiter Ascending, however I have a feeling like the movie may find a unique audience of its own over time, and that audience will be as diverse and varied as they come. Perhaps the Wachowski’s aren’t so crazy after all.

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