Having effortlessly conquered dystopian, cyberpunk sci-fi with The Matrix (and then fucking it up a bit with the sequels) the Wachowski siblings decided they’d try their hand at sprawling space opera – after their pit stop in the realms of live action anime adaptation, Speed Racer.
At this point in their career, the boundary pushing filmmakers seemed to be on an interesting upward swing after their crack at time hopping, character swapping, sci-fi melodrama Cloud Atlas had borne some critical fruit despite the best bits being directed by co-director Tom Twyker and the movie deciding to straddle the incredibly dodgy notion of having a white character play asian and a black character play Jewish. Obviously with with a sizable amount of their mojo restored, the directing siblings dived headlong into a dense, hugely expensive looking, science fiction world packed with outlandish aliens and elaborate politics. Surely this was the Wachowski’s ticket back to the kind of large scale, science fiction that changed the very face of cinema as we knew it… yeah… about that…
Depressingly backstoried Russian immigrant Jupiter Jones lives a modest existence as a house cleaner despite looking like Mila Kunis, but between scrubbing toilets and yearning after her client’s extravagant lifestyles gets a right royal boot up the kiester when she encounters battling aliens right under her very nose. It seems that an alien Royal family, the painfully upper class House Abrasax, established Earth and many other planets just so they could harvest them eons later to create a youth serum for intergalactic elites and because of this cosmic capitalism, this group of intergalactic toffs have the insane wealth to keeps themselves perpetually young. What has this got to do with a lowly bog scrubber from Chicago? Well, I’ll tell you why. It turns out that our Jupiter Jones is the reincarnated vessel of the matriarch of the powerful house and this has marked her out as the target of the various plots her three scheming “children”. Daughter Kalique is merely content to manoeuvre Jupiter to achieve her aims but Brothers Titus and Balem have far more sinister agendas that involve murder and marriage (not necessarily in that order) and it’s down to himbo, genetically spliced space warrior Caine Wise to help the perpetually confused Jones to claim her birth right and not end up being married to one of her own kids.
Bouncing from set piece to glittery set piece while simultaneously trying to unravel over-complicated side plots and inpenetrable space politics, Jupiter and Caine have to negotiate various explosions, Sean Bean delivered exposition and the outer space equivalent of the DMV in order to save the Earth, a planet that coincidentally she just happens to own… now that’s prime real estate.
Just as the House Abrasax is trying to harvest the organic life off the face of the earth, the Wachowski siblings proceed to shamelessly harvest elements of The Fifth Element, the Star Wars Prequels, Flash Gordon, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and David Lynch’s Dune to populate their bustling space epic, but in their haste to compile this sci-fi greatest hits package, they’ve unfortunately only seemed to have gathered the worst parts from all of them to form a huge, misshapen mess that feels like Terry Gilliam and George Lucas did a shit ton of opium and made a movie from their ramblings as some sort of tax write-off.
The impressive world building skills shown in The Matrix, now seem to have completely abandoned the Wachowski’s here and it’s densely layered world irritates when it should intrigue and exasperates when it should be exhilarating and their overt themes of anti-establishment and distrust of authority are frequently heavy handed when not being suffocated to death by fequently incomprehensible, CGI saturated action. Virtually nothing in the film holds together and it really makes you realise how tough George Lucas must have had it way back when as he struggled to build a universe in a galaxy far, far away; especially when it’s so hard to choke back guffaws when poor old Channing Tatum turns up with bleach blond facial hair and pointy ears as his half man/half dog hero. Literally entering almost every scene by bursting into rooms and pointing a gun at someone’s face or swooping down on his flying space shoes to scoop Kunis up like he’s wearing a pair of glowing, space Heelys. Choosing to wilfully ignore the fact that their dashing romantic lead is part canine – although mercifully sparing us the knowledge of whether or not he can lick himself or if Jupiter allows him up on the furniture – the film banks on us buying any of this shit by chiefly hinging everything on the audience believing that our a life time of bathroom cleaning can prepare our heroine to handle he role as the owner of planet earth; and while Mila Kunis is, as always, a refreshing presence, she’s hideously miscast here. Still, at least Kunis and Tatum do what the script requires of them with a minimum of fuss – which brings us to chief villain Eddie Redmayne, who gives a toweringly ludicrous performance of such awfulness you’re stunned the Academy didn’t demand their Oscar back for The Theory Of Everything (which he won in the same fucking year). His wheezy voiced villain is a defiant low point in which clumsily deals such themes as Jones volunteering to sell her eggs cells so her cousin can buy a TV, aliens disguising themselves as gynecologists and at least one of Jupiter’s wayward brats expressing a desire to fuck their mum – in fact, it’s pretty telling that one of the more sensible scenes in the cluttered clusterfuck has Sean Bean’s grizzled soldier banging on about how much he loves bees.
It becomes apparent that with all of it’s randomly dangling threads that this is definitely a universe that needed either far longer than a mere two hours or even less (preferably none would’ve been nice) to fully realize it’s massive world of politely cutthroat politics and alternative lifestyles (Tatum’s hunky dogboi has to be the directors throwing a literal bone to the Furries, right?) but despite some legitimately timely themes it has all the emotional weight of a gnat’s morning bowel movement.
It’s all very well to have boundless imagination and the budget to back it up, but in this universe of winged lizards in Nazi leather coats and elephant-faced pilots, nothing actually seems cohesive, with all the different alien species and craft barely looking like they belong in the same movie, let alone the same universe.
However, with Lana Wachowski going solo for the upcoming forth Matrix film, you kind of feel that this might be a last gasp for the filmmakers at this level of filmmaking; but maybe that’s what the doctor ordered and a return to lower budget movies, like their superlative debut Bound, could give them back the platform in which their inclusive concepts truly deserve: to be fully formed without having to contend with an audience chortling at Channing Tatum playing a swole woofer…