I recognized you right away. I can spot a lone Python in the wild with the precision of a non-migratory African swallow. It wasn’t your wispy Einstein hair, unkempt beard, or mischievous, darting eyes that gave you away. It wasn’t even the familiar grumbles or snorts you made while issuing official documents from a steampunk-inspired Rube Goldberg contraption. The whole scene's homage to your 1985 opus Brazil predicted your arrival. It was at that moment that I realized just how much you and The Wachowskis have in common as filmmakers.
Because - and I say this with absolute respect to all parties involved - Jupiter Ascending is a mess. A spectacular, giddy, sprawling, hot mess.
For the uninitiated, Brazil is a movie about a future overtaken by bureaucracy (now, it's a training film for all new employees at Bell call centres). It satirizes and even celebrates the labyrinthine, so you must have felt right at home reading the script for Jupiter Ascending.
The plot reads like the peyote-fuelled fever dream of a sci-fi nerd who stayed up for a week watching camp classics like Dune, Soylent Green, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Spaceballs on a loop. Jupiter Jones is a housecleaner who unknowingly contains the DNA of the dead royal matriarch from a distant galaxy. The dead queen’s children fight over their inheritance which includes Earth and its inhabitants who are being harvested for a youth serum for the galaxy’s elites. Genetically engineered ex-soldier Caine Wise is sent to protect Jupiter from Balem, the eldest of the royals who wants to kill Jupiter so she will lose her claim to Earth.
Did you know right away that you wanted in? Like you, Andy and Lana Wachowski love to cram the screen with mesmerizing visuals; a thrilling chase scene through the Chicago night sky, the Rococo royal palace filled with women dressed like Vegas showgirls, and a galactic dogfight where planets and ships look like gaudy jewels against a velvet backdrop. The effects are as dizzying as the characters, and just as over the top. Eddie Redmayne channels Gary Oldman in Fifth Element (and Bram Stoker’s Dracula) as the scenery chewing, bare-chested villain Balem. Channing Tatum’s Caine might be part dog, but he’s all man to Mila Kunis’ cartoony Jupiter Jones. There are giant lizard minions (reminiscent of yours in Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas), an egg-harvesting sub-plot, and Sean Bean living in a beehive.
I have to be honest, before you made your appearance, I wasn’t really sure what the Wachowskis were up to. Until then I was awed by the jaw-dropping effects yet frustrated by the over-baked plot. But when Jupiter has to claim her royal status on a new planet, and is given a droid named Advocate Bob to herd her through the serpentine bureaucratic process (which is how she meets you), I got wise to their game. Jupiter Ascending is the kind of movie you would make if you were ever given a budget larger than the one the Wachowskis spend on craft services. It’s a campy, cheesy, gleeful tribute to the space opera, an episode of Flash Gordon with a limitless bank account. All that’s missing is Freddie Mercury screeching “Jupiter ahhh! Savior of the universe!”
The Wachowskis are as guilty as you have been of falling a little too in love with visuals at the expense of the pace, which in places drags under the weight of all that eye candy. The love story between Jupiter and Caine is obvious but adorable, and offers many of the film’s comedic moments. This film is almost perversely goofy, even when it tries to be serious about consumption, commodification and human enslavement. And yet it’s still unambiguously fun. In the not too distant future, I could see Jupiter Ascending and 12 Monkeys sharing a midnight double-feature bill. For now, this film just has to be patient for its inevitable bestowment of cult classic status.
It’s a shame you and the Wachowskis suffer from the same curse; being constantly, maybe even irrationally, held to the standard of your most universally adored films. The Matrix and Brazil are flukes, beloved cinematic freaks of nature that managed to capture the imaginations of audiences and critics to be rightfully assured a place in film history. As filmmakers, it’s not something you could duplicate even if you wanted to. Your die-hard fans know this. We will always line up to see what you’ve done because even when you fail, you fail spectacularly.
Jupiter Ascending is the kind of movie people will either love, or love to hate. I loved its frivolity, pageantry and playfulness. But most of all I loved its ambition. Without ambition, we’d all just be mindless administrative drones, forever chasing the elusive 27 B stroke 6.
With much respect,