Jupiter Ascending

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Like the disappointing Seventh Son, Jupiter Ascending looked like it could have been just the sort of movie I love: cheesy, fun impossible adventure. It seemed to fit right into the mold of beloved (at least by me) films like Star Wars, Flash Gordon and John Carter. In some ways it is. In the moments when Jupiter Ascending shines it does so with a brilliance that is hard to match. No idea seems to have been excised. Space battles, palaces on gas giants, immortal humans and genetic farms; everything is thrown in in a jumble. It makes for a movie that is occasionally beautiful, occasionally terrific and almost always a little muddled.

While the Wachowski’s certainly deserve their reputation for making stylish movies with deeper themes than your average blockbuster, I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed more than one of their films before this. I liked the original Matrix; it is amazing. However, its sequels, Reloaded and Rejected Revolutions, left me cold. Hell, not just cold, angry. They are among the worst movies I’ve ever paid money to see in a theater. After V for Vendetta was simply not for me I kind of checked out on them. (I really should see both Cloud Atlas and Speed Racer at some point) Still, even in the movies I didn’t like their actions scenes were entertaining and coherent. Plus, that engaging style had clearly not abandoned them. Despite my misgivings, I was plenty excited for Jupiter Ascending. It just looked so weird, so out there that couldn’t help but be intrigued.

In many ways it lives up to that. It follows poor Russian immigrant Jupiter Jones who finds out that she shares her genetic code with a Space Queen of some sort and finds herself entangled with the murderous heirs of a space empire and protected only by Kaine, a former soldier with some dog DNA spliced in with his. She must navigate complicated family drama and figure out how to save Earth, which it turns out is little more than a gene farm.

The action scenes are great, kinetic but also highly readable. The numerous weird and wonderful things put on the screen are beautiful, reminiscent of Star Wars in their variety and imaginativeness. Channing Tatum’s Kaine is an excellent hero, and Sean Bean is fun as the conflicted Stinger. The highlight is Eddie Redmayne as the villain Balem, who seems almost perpetually overcome with ennui, except for when he bursts out with uncontrollable rage. He makes for an enjoyably hateable villain. Mila Kunis, while adding almost nothing to the action parts, is largely enjoyable as Jupiter, who despite being the focus of the plot is shockingly passive. Like the viewer, she is given no clue as to what is really going on and spends her time listening to other people explain things or being saved by Kaine. I really did by the romance between those two characters, but otherwise she is given little to do.

Really, that lack of explanation is the real flaw here. Some details are eventually eked out, but for most of the movies runtime what exactly is going on is hidden from the viewer. Titus, one of the fighting Abraxas siblings, apparently plans to marry then murder Jupiter. Why is never made a particularly clear. Exactly how power family Abraxas is is never made clear. How the government of this space empire is set up is not clear. Nothing, outside of the two brothers wanting Jupiter dead because she is messing up their inheritance is made clear. While the everything else is beautiful in its excess, the plot lacks the clear through line of something like Flash Gordon or Star Wars. It doesn’t help that movie spends a lot of time on asides that don’t seem to add anything at all. There is a Gilliam-esque scene dealing with space bureaucracy that, while amusing, seems to be from another movie entirely.

As unfortunate as some of Jupiter Ascending’s missteps are, though, I can’t bring myself to dislike it. Seeing Tatum fight a space dragon while flying around on rocket boots is just too entertaining. Or watching Redmayne pulled along on a chariot with a living woman’s torso for a masthead. Or seeing Mila Kunis fall from so many high places, only to be saved at the last minute. It is highly entertaining, but the plot is way too overstuffed to be called genuinely good. Jupiter Ascending is full of great ideas, but they do not come together to form a cohesive whole.

**1/2

Seventh Son Review

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I grew up on fantasy movies. Movies like Legend, Willow, Conan the Barbarian or The Princess Bride. Not all of them are great, or even good movies, but I loved them all the same. Swords and sorcery was my jam. When I see something like Seventh Son in theaters, something that appears to be something of a throwback, I can’t help but get a little excited. Even though I had no expectation that Seventh Son would be a good movie, I did hope it would be a fun one. Even that hope was dashed. Seventh Son hovers uncomfortable between misplaced gravitas and campy fun. Its humorlessness and weightlessness dim its slight charms. Still, just enough fun shines through that I can’t be disappointed to have seen it.

The movie opens with Sir Gregory trapping a woman, Mother Malkin the witch, down a hole, then her escaping when the moon turns red. When Gregory, the Spook, a man who hunts witches and other such beings, loses his apprentice in another confrontation with her, he must seek out another one. Since only the seventh son of a seventh son can become a Spook, his options are limited. And he must train this new apprentice fast, since if they can’t defeat Mother Malkin before the Blood Moon is full then she will conquer the land. It should be a simple quest, but it gets rather muddled.

The sole reason to watch this film is Jeff Bridges. His Sir Gregory manages to be both off putting and charming, some ungodly mix of Gandalf and The Dude that sounds like Sean Connery. He drinks and struts and quips his way through every scene, while leading man Ben Barnes’ Tom takes everything so seriously. Really, his over serious romance with the ambiguously allied Alice is the unbeating heart at the center of this movie. Julianne Moore comes close to matching Bridges weird energy, but her underbaked but interestingly designed allies don’t have much to work with.

The real problem with Seventh Son is that no matter what fantastic thing is happening on screen, it manages to make it feel dull. One can becomes deadened to CGI effects, but Seventh Son’s are more than fine. But the fight scenes lack rhythm and weight. They just sort of happen. When a fight scene bogs down, then a convenient cliff is found for everyone to leap or fall off of, though this rarely results in any great harm. Moments that should be full of emotion are instead completely devoid of it. When a character’s loved one dies, you expect an emotional reaction, not just a cold acceptance of the fact of their death. Discovering a betrayal results in a few seconds of confusion. Somehow it makes an aerial battle between two dragons boring.

The film also lacks a comprehensible sense of geography. The bulk of the action takes place in misty green mountains, on the rocky crags and mirrored lakes. But they visit a city that is emebeded into the wall of a desert mesa. Yet this city seems to somehow be the one closest to the rest of the action. They ride horse a lot, but never seen to actually go anywhere. There is no progression to their travels.

Despite all the problems, Bridges almost carries Seventh Son to being worth watching. He clashes with everyone else in the movie, save Moore, but his take is much more entertaining than theirs. If his oddball charm had been complimented by something, anything exciting then I think I could recommend this as a piece of entertaining trash, something like Dragonheart’s enjoyable badness. There just isn’t enough joy to be had here. It squanders whatever charms it might have had and results in a movie that, while not as brain dead stupid as many blockbusters, is unfortunately dull.

**