Review of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”

Since joining the secret intelligence agency the Kingsman, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has found a purpose to his life, a beautiful girlfriend, Crown Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alstrom), and a close group of friends from his old days to keep him grounded. He still has strong feelings of sadness over the loss of his mentor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) but he focuses on the happy memories. While leaving the Kingsman tailor shop that is the front for spy agency he is approached by former recruit Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft). Eggsy thought Charlie was dead from their last encounter but he survived and is back with a high-tech metal arm and a desire for vengeance. Eggsy and Charlie fight inside a moving car and Charlie’s metal arm comes off. Eggsy is able to escape Charlie and the other bad guys in three SUV’s following him and must use the underwater capabilities of his car to enter a Kingsman secret base. What Eggsy doesn’t know is once he has left the car Charlie’s metal arm comes to life and plugs into the computer terminal. It transmits the locations of all Kingsman offices and addresses of agents to Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a ruthless drug dealer with plans to expand her business. With the information, Poppy launches guided missiles, destroying all Kingsman facilities and killing most of their agents. The only ones that survive are Eggsy and tech wizard Merlin (Mark Strong). Merlin initiates the doomsday protocol and discovers a bottle of Statesman whiskey in a secret safe. The bottle guides them to the Statesman distillery in Kentucky where they run into Tequilla (Channing Tatum) while checking out an overly secure storage facility. It turns out the whiskey factory is a front for an independent investigative organization similar to the Kingsman. Led by Champagne, who prefers to be called Champ (Jeff Bridges), the remaining Kingsman agents are taken in and aided in their mission to stop Poppy Adams from forcing the legalization of all recreational drugs after she has spiked all the drugs she sells with a virus that will kill all users. Unless her demands for legalization are met she won’t release the antidote that will save everyone including Eggsy’s girlfriend. The existence of the Statesman is a surprise but that Harry is still alive and in Statesman custody is an even bigger shock for Eggsy and Merlin.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” doesn’t mess with the formula that worked with the first film ”Kingsman: The Secret Service.” If anything this sequel turns up everything to a proverbial “11” and while that may work in some films it proves to be a bit distracting and a detriment in this case.

The film is a bit all over the place, zipping from one locale and group of characters to another. Just as we get comfortable with one scene it is immediately replaced with another. From mountain vistas to a painfully obvious CGI Statesman headquarters, the movie is a bit like a jittery child that can’t stay in one place for too long before moving somewhere else.

This is the fault of a story that is scattered like a shotgun blast. The script by Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn is chock full of plot points that send the characters all over the world on mostly meaningless side missions. Side missions are fun in video games but can feel like an utter waste of time in a movie. With a running time of two hours 20 minutes, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is over stuffed with asides that could easily have been cut out.

The action and gadgets in the movie have been upgraded and made more outlandish in the film. Attaché cases that double as machine guns and bazookas are fairly banal when compared to a car that can convert into submarine or a watch that can hack any device with a microchip. The mechanical arm used by one of the bad guys also seems over the top since it is merely strapped to him with belts and Velcro but can pull down stone columns and propel a bowling ball through a wall. Obeying the laws of physics is probably asking too much of a campy spy movie but giving some thought to how something might work and react in the real world would be nice.

It would be easy to dislike “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” if you give it too much thought; however there is plenty to find enjoyable in the film. First, it doesn’t ask too much of the audience. There is a crazy lady with a crazy plan that just might work unless the super spies can stop her. The story is fairly straight forward even if the script throws in a great deal of needless running around. Second, the characters are all fairly likable. Even Julianne Moore’s Poppy is sweet and charming until she’s not. I enjoyed the way Moore’s character is able to order one of her henchmen to kill another and do it with a smile. It’s a disarming trait that softens the edge of what could have been a shrieking monster. Third is the discovery of how Elton John may be the next elderly action hero. I know this is farfetched but John, playing himself as a captive entertainer in Poppy’s hideout, is very funny in the movie. He is given the opportunity to do both comedy and action and succeeds wildly at both. Of course, his action scenes are largely comprised of CGI (especially when he does a flying karate kick) but they work well within the loose structure of the story. Elton John appears to have been willing to do whatever director Matthew Vaughn asked and what shows up on screen is great.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is rated R for language throughout, drug content, sequences of strong violence and some sexual material. A main part of the story is how everyone’s drugs are spiked with the virus so we are shown people using pot and one person using meth. Other people show up with symptoms of the virus that aren’t shown using drugs but that’s the only way they could get the virus. There are numerous shooting and stabbings throughout the film with some more bloody than others. There is one awkward sex scene that is a little troubling to watch. There is no graphic nudity but there is a suggestion of a sexual act that is done during a mission. It felt like a forced scene that could have been handled another way. Foul language is common throughout the film.

It’s doesn’t live up to its predecessor but “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is a fairly enjoyable spy romp that continues the hyper-action and violence of the first film. There isn’t a jaw-dropping church scene like in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” but the discovery of the Statesman and the reveal of Harry still being alive and how that happened is almost as good.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” gets four stars out of five.

This week there are four new films hitting screens at your local multiplex. I’ll be seeing and reviewing one of the following:

American Made—


A Question of Faith—

Til Death Do Us Part—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan. Listen to, subscribe and review The Fractured Frame podcast available where ever you get podcasts. Follow The Fractured Frame on Twitter @fractured_pod. Send emails to

Reviews of “Hail, Caesar!” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

Hail, Caesar!

Movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped by a group of Communist script writers who feel they are undercompensated for their work. Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) works for the studio as a “fixer” who tries to keep movie production running smoothly by taking care of any problems for the actors and directors. Mannix gets a ransom note asking for $100,000 for the return of Whitlock. Whitlock is the star of a big-budget Roman Empire film called “Hail, Caesar: The Story of the Christ” and is needed back on set as quickly as possible. He also wants to keep Whitlock’s disappearance out of the two gossip columns written by feuding twin sisters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton). Mannix is also dealing with the pregnancy of unwed starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), and monosyllabic cowboy actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) being shoehorned into an upscale costume drama much to the chagrin of director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). As if this wasn’t enough, Mannix is also considering a lucrative job offer from aircraft manufacturer Lockheed and is also trying to quit smoking.

Joel and Ethan Coen are the talented writers, directors, editors and producers behind some of the best movies in history (“Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Raising Arizona,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “The Big Lebowski,” “True Grit” to name a few). They have also given us some interesting films with unique characters and a skewed view of the world. These films aren’t quite great but are certainly worth a look. Where “Hail, Caesar” falls on the list from worst to first will probably require some time to decide and may depend on your mood when you see it but, for me, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of their best efforts.

Right off the bat, you know you’re watching a Coen Brothers movie. The look of the sets, the way the characters are filmed and the often amped up energy between the actors are all signatures of a Coen Brothers joint, especially one of their lighter films. Adding to the mood is the utter self-absorption of some of the movie’s characters. They cannot see past their own wants, needs and desires to consider all the trouble they are causing. They need someone like Mannix to take care of the problems they are ill equipped to handle or blindly stumble upon. The film, set in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, gives the audience a peek behind scrubbed clean facades and into the dirty lives of Hollywood stars from the era. Reading a little of Hollywood history shows there were plenty of pregnancies, closeted gays and lesbians, and substance abuse to cover up keeping the real versions of Eddie Mannix busy. Watching the small emergencies and major catastrophes Mannix deals with fill his day made me wonder if what he does only enables the actors and directors bad decision making. Of course, the answer is “yes” since he was hired by the studio to keep the actors and directors working, on schedule and within budget.

Watching Mannix work is probably the most interesting thing about “Hail, Caesar!” making the subplot about the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock almost an afterthought. Sadly, that part of the story is written that way as well. There is a great deal of Communist ideology spewed by the group of writers holed up at a beachside bungalow. Granted, it’s all done in a friendly fashion, leading to a case of Stockholm syndrome for Whitlock. Nothing about this group is terribly interesting aside from the petty sniping between members. I suppose I expected a more aggressive gang hoping to convert Whitlock as a vocal and public advocate for their cause. Instead, Whitlock doesn’t really get it and is treated like the slow cousin at the family reunion with everyone just nodding and smiling as he tries to play along. Pretty much everything at the beach house feels like filler and tends to bring the movie to a bit of a narrative stop.

Far more entertaining are the films within the film being filmed. A water ballet featuring Johansson’s pregnant DeeAnna Moran in a mermaid costume and a big dance number with Channing Tatum’s Burt Gurney leading a group of sailors tap dancing on tables at a bar the night before they ship out contain dazzling visuals, impressive choreography and catchy tunes. I almost wish they had just made a movie that stitched these scenes together with a Hollywood backlot story about Eddie Mannix and left the Communist kidnapping plot out. Even watching Clooney chew the scenery in the sword and sandals epic his character is filming beats anything that happens after his kidnapping. It’s the dichotomy between what Hollywood is trying to sell us and what this movie is trying to show us about the real world that drags the film down a peg or two. It’s far from awful but I could have used a bit more screwball action and a lot less Communist manifesto.

“Hail, Caesar!” is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking. The suggestive content is very mild and hardly noticeable. Smoking is common throughout the film.

One of my favorite Coen Brothers movies is “Raising Arizona.” It is goofy and sweet and features some very memorable characters. From time to time, for no reason, my wife will just suddenly announce, “Short of Edwina. Turn to the right!” which is a line Holly Hunter’s character says on her first meeting with Nic Cage. “Raising Arizona” has more memorable lines. Perhaps that’s what “Hail, Caesar!” lacks…scenes and dialog that burrow into your brain and pop up for no particular reason in conversation. While that isn’t a requirement for a great movie, it does help.

“Hail, Caesar!” gets four guitars.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The Bennet family lives on a nice estate in the English countryside. The five Bennet daughters have all been schooled in Chinese martial arts as all good young women should be in a land plagued by a zombie scourge. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) meets and takes an instant dislike to Col. Darcy (Sam Riley), a well-known zombie killer, at a reception at the home of Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth). Mr. Bingley sees Elizabeth’s sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) and is instantly smitten, making Jane’s mother, Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips), quite happy as she hopes to marry her daughters off to wealthy families as her own is not as financially secure as she would like. The zombie plague is beginning to overrun most of London’s defenses and Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston) is brought in to improve them. Darcy and Wickham have a strained history going back several years that Wickham blames on Darcy. This drives a further wedge between Darcy and Elizabeth.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” henceforth to be referred to as “PPZ,” is a brilliant idea on paper. The juxtaposition between the mannered and stuffy British upper class and the mindless hunger of zombies should have been a no brainer (pardon the expression). Sadly, this theatrical representation of a genre mashup is about as dry and dull as a British costume drama without the ravenous undead.

“PPZ” isn’t funny, isn’t scary and isn’t otherwise much of anything. It seems to have taken more of the tone of the original Jane Austen work and left any of the excitement of Seth Grahame-Smith’s modification on the page. While there are moments when Austen’s words are said during a fight scene between two characters and that does provide some visual humor it doesn’t translate into actual laughs. Perhaps Grahame-Smith’s book wasn’t intended to be funny; however, if you want a film like this to appeal to a broad audience, it needs some laughs that aren’t the polite chuckles this film only occasionally provides.

The movie isn’t scary in the least. These zombies still possess some of their former intelligence and can maintain their composure at least until they consume human brains. After they get their first taste of grey matter, they become ravenous and aggressive. The world of 19th Century England dealing with zombies is somewhat interesting and the modified history, construction of a massive wall and deep moat to block zombie progress, is a nice touch of background; but it doesn’t do much to carry the story past the opening credits.

I suppose the filmmakers were hoping to attract fans of Austen’s work AND people that enjoy “The Walking Dead.” The Venn diagram of those two audiences doesn’t have a great deal of overlap and you need an audience big enough to justify making the sequel suggested in the film’s closing image. Considering the anemic opening weekend box office, a second film seems unlikely.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is rated PG-13 for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material. We see a few zombie heads explode when they are shot. An arm is severed and zombies often appear to have severe injuries to their faces. We also see some corpses with large holes in the tops of their heads and their brains removed. Suggestive material is limited to the occasional sight of the tops of a heaving bosom.

When I heard “PPZ” was being made I was actually a little excited to see it. I believed it might be possible to turn a one-note premise into an entertaining movie. Sadly, I was wrong. With such a serious tone and ignoring its humorous potential, “PPZ” is largely a lifeless mess.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” gets two stars out of five.

This week, comic book fans get what could be a cinematic Valentine’s card from a much anticipated character. There is also a comedy about dating and a revisit from Blue Steel! I’ll see and review at least one of these films.


How to be Single—

Zoolander 2—

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Reviews of “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys”

Summer is the season of school being out, vacations, spending time at the pool or lake or ocean or whatever body of water you might be near and braindead movies meant to pass a few hours between warm weather activities. Few films this season will probably be as braindead as “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys.” I saw them both and could feel the death of grey matter as they both progressed. One was responsible for more synapse-cide than the other.

Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) has left the male stripper life behind and is now building and selling custom furniture. He gets a call from former fellow stripper Tarzan (Kevin Nash) telling him their old boss and MC Dallas (played in the first film by Matthew McConaughey but only mentioned in this film) has died. Mike travels to a motel where a wake is supposed to be held but finds Tarzan and the rest of his old crew of Ken (Matt Bomer), Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) partying around the pool. Tarzan admits he lied and Dallas isn’t dead but left them on their own to go start another club overseas. The gang is headed up the coast to Myrtle Beach for the annual stripper convention for one last ride before they all hang up their G-strings and try for some kind of normal lives. They ask Mike if he wants to go but he says no as he has a life, business and responsibilities there. That night, he hears a song he used to dance to and does an impromptu routine in his work space. The next day, he meets with the guys and agrees to go on one last ride. An accident disables their ride and puts Tobias in the hospital with a head injury, standing them until their converted food truck van is repaired. Mike decides to approach his old boss Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) who runs a private club for women in a house where male strippers are scattered around performing shows. While unable to convince Rome to be their fill-in MC, she does give them access to a car and has Andre (Donald Glover), one of her performers, give them a ride. Things are looking bleak as the troop heads to their last convention with no MC and not much of a plan.

“Magic Mike XXL” looks like a movie that didn’t have a completed script when it went into production. The story is very fragmented and jumps around like a child playing hopscotch. The only cohesive section of the film is the road trip until Tobias gets hurt; then, the section with every fortuitous turn imaginable begins. People who won’t help suddenly appear to do exactly what the boys need. There’s no slot during the convention for them to perform but that suddenly opens up. All their plans, thrown together in what appears to be a matter of hours story-wise, work out perfectly leading to a triumphant conclusion. It appears the only thing you need to live a charmed life is washboard abs and bulging pecs. Anything resembling everyday life is left behind once Mike decides to rejoin his buddies in Stipper-ville. “Magic Mike XXL” is a silly fantasy about shallow people living lives filled with as much instant gratification and recreational drugs as they can find. Of course, we discover they are all much deeper than we suspect and all they really want is just an average life with someone to love…except the New Age healer/actor/singer who realizes his dreams of stardom are likely never to be fulfilled but tells Mike, “I’m still pretty.” There were times in this film that I wanted to smack ever character on screen for being so petty.

About the only saving grace of the film is a scene involving Andie MacDowell as a divorced, modern southern belle hosting some friends at her home when Mike and the guys show up. It turns into a session of discovery and revelation that, while ridiculous, was interesting to watch. It seems like the only scene in the film that actually had a little thought applied to it. It also is one of those aforementioned fortuitous turns helping the boys get to Myrtle Beach. The film is also saved (somewhat) by the charisma of Channing Tatum. Tatum plays characters in most of his films that seem like decent people. Tatum comes off in interviews like an average guy that just happens to make movies. It’s his appeal as an everyman that keeps “Magic Mike XXL” from being an insufferable experience.

“Magic Mike XXL” is rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. Most of the dance scenes involve simulated sex acts. The only nudity I remember is Joe Manganiello’s bare backside early in the film. There are also some exposed cheeks when the boys are wearing their stripper gear. The guys are shown smoking weed and taking capsules that are referred to as Molly. Foul language is common.

While this film certainly isn’t aimed at me, “Magic Mike XXL” still manages a few laughs with the antics of the male strippers and a cameo by Michael Strahan as one of Rome’s dancers. While the humor and the charisma of Channing Tatum provide some bright spots, “Magic Mike XXL” feels like it was made from an unfinished script that left me feeling at times confused and then finally uninterested.

“Magic Mike XXL” gets a fully clothed three stars out of five.

John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) along with the rest of their troops are on the verge of destroying Skynet and ending the extinction of the human race. One team is hitting a facility where Skynet is based by Connor and Reese lead a team against a facility that contains the time machine used to send Terminators to the past. Skynet is disabled and all the robots shut down; but the time machine has been used to send a T-800 model back to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Kyle Reese volunteers to go back and protect Sarah. John knows if he doesn’t he’ll never be born. Kyle begins the process of time travel but sees John being attacked by someone in the crowd. Kyle shows up in 1984 and is almost instantly attacked by a liquid metal T-1000 model (Lee Byung-hun). Hiding in a clothing store, Kyle is saved by Sarah Connor driving an armored truck. In the back is an aged looking T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Kyle tries to shoot him but the old T-800 knocks him unconscious. When he wakes, Sarah tells Kyle that the Terminator she calls “Pops” has raised her since she was nine. He’s there to protect her. Kyle is suspicious and doesn’t trust Pops. Things have changed from the history Kyle was told by John. Kyle also has memories of being a child and telling himself that Genisys is Skynet. Nothing is making sense.

I don’t want to give away any more than that brief synopsis as I often get yelled at for telling too much. Besides, the whole story of “Terminator: Genisys” is far more complicated as time is twisted into knots and histories and futures are as fluid as water. Nothing you know about the “Terminator” universe stays completely unchanged from film to film so this shouldn’t be a big surprise. That the timeline can be manipulated and changed was one of the most appealing aspects of the film. It also means there can be endless sequels since the past can be manipulated like soft clay and molded into whatever the next writer wants.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the star of the film even though his is more of a supporting character. Pops is given the job of putting the science of the film into words. It seems like a risky idea considering Schwarzenegger’s thick accent. Still, he manages to deliver explanations for the various timelines that at least sound like they have a scientific basis. Schwarzenegger also provides much of the film’s humor. His scary dead-eyed smile is usually delivered at the perfectly inappropriate time and his lack of emotion and understanding of emotional expressions means lines that aren’t funny take on a humorous context.

Most of the film’s action is created through CGI. While many scenes look pretty good, including the film’s climax, some look bland, particularly a helicopter chase amongst the skyscrapers of San Francisco. There are shots that look flat and unfinished like the nighttime setting would hide the flaws. It doesn’t. This is a brief scene compared to others but it stuck out. One highlight of the CGI is the fight between old and young Schwarzenegger. An Australian bodybuilder with matching physical measurements to 1984 Arnold was used as a body double then had Schwarzenegger’s young face digitally stitched to his head. It works surprisingly well and looks almost completely natural. Oddly enough, the digital Arnold face actually has a brief flash of too much emotion.

I believe the studio made a tactical error in releasing a major plot twist in one of the film’s trailers. It caused a bit of a stink on the Internet but I didn’t think that much of it at the time. Having now seen the film it was a much larger mistake than I originally thought. This kind of surprise (which I won’t tell if you don’t already know) is the kind of major story event that can raise the audience excitement for a film and give it enormous word-of-mouth buzz. Since it was revealed in the trailer, the reveal is ho hum. According to press reports, director Alan Taylor didn’t know about the spoiler being in the trailer and is quoted as saying he wouldn’t have revealed it before the film came out. Since the film is underperforming at the box office in its opening days, this may actually be costing the studio some money. It also doesn’t help that “Inside Out” and “Jurassic World” are still performing strongly this late in their runs; but people talking about that surprise might have driven a few more patrons the film’s way. The trailer reveal seems at best short sighted and at worst incompetent.

“Terminator: Genisys” is rated PG-13 for gunplay throughout, brief strong language, intense sci-fi violence and partial nudity. Guns of various types are fired throughout the film, most frequently at non-human characters. Those humans that are shot show very little blood. The fights between the various types of Terminators involve lots of bodies getting thrown around and through walls and ceilings. The flesh gets beaten, burned and ripped off the T-800 models in various ways. The nudity consists of those people who travel in time as they must do so naked. The most we see is bare male backsides. Foul language is intermittent.

If you don’t think too hard about the twisty timelines (or know anything about actual physics and the improbability of time travel), “Terminator: Genisys” is a fun action flick with plenty of nostalgia for those of us old enough to have seen the first film in the series. Seeing Arnold in his various forms saying his most famous “Terminator” lines in completely different contexts brings a smile to those of us who have aged along with the T-800. Resetting the timeline also opens the door for more films with two already planned and getting 2017 and 2018 release dates. It would appear Arnold is telling us, “I’ll be back.”

“Terminator: Genisys” gets five stars.

Horror, sci-fi, a sex romp and little yellow helpers are all on tap at theatres this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following.

The Gallows—


The Overnight—


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Review of “Jupiter Ascending”

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) works in the family house cleaning business. She wakes up before dawn and spends her day scrubbing the toilets in the homes of the rich. At night, she goes home to her extended family that shares a home. Jupiter, named after the largest planet by her father who died years earlier in a robbery, hates her life and yearns for something more. Her cousin Vladie (Kick Gurry) also wants a better life and concocts a scheme to sell Jupiter’s eggs to a fertility clinic for $15,000 with a third of that going to Jupiter. With the money, she plans on buying a brass telescope that was just like her father’s. At the clinic, the doctors and nurses ignore Jupiter’s pleas to stop the procedure and slap bracelets on her ankles and wrists that cause her to float above the bed. Freaked out, Jupiter struggles but can’t get away. The doctors, who are actually genetically modified creatures called messengers, check Jupiter’s DNA and then try to kill her. Bursting into the procedure room is Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a former military officer in an otherworldly army, flying around the room with boots that defy gravity. Caine saves Jupiter and takes her to the top of a skyscraper in Chicago. Caine explains he has been sent to retrieve Jupiter and bring her to Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth), a member of a powerful family that controls most of the galaxy. Jupiter is confused and doesn’t understand what’s going on but has an innate trust of Caine who explains his DNA has been spliced with a wolf-like creature, giving him enhanced senses and amplified bravery. As the pair is being lifted up to a ship floating above the skyscraper, smaller fighter ships attack and destroy the larger ship, causing Caine and Jupiter to fall. Caine’s gravity boots save them but they are chased through the skies over Chicago by the ships flown by messengers. Caine is able to take over one of the ships and manages to destroy the others but his ship is damaged beyond repair as well. Stealing a car, they head out to a run-down farmhouse that is the home of Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), a former soldier Caine knows. After a bit of a disagreement between the two men, bees begin to fly around Jupiter but they don’t sting her. She seems to be able to control them with hand gestures. Caine and Stinger begin to refer to Jupiter as “your Majesty” as it appears she is royalty of the interstellar variety. The farmhouse is attacked by bounty hunters and messengers looking for Jupiter. She is captured and taken to a planet to meet Kalique Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton), sister to Titus, who informs Jupiter she has the identical genetic code as her mother who died many years earlier. This code entitles her to claim the throne and take over the galaxy-wide corporation currently run by the Titus, Kalique and their brother Balem (Eddie Redmayne), the oldest of the three. Balem has designs on being the sole leader of the family corporation and will stop at nothing to make sure Jupiter is killed.

A synopsis of the first 30 minutes of the movie would, if complete, probably be three or four times longer than above. The Wachowski siblings have stuffed “Jupiter Ascending” to the absolute gills with political intrigue, familial shenanigans and genetic manipulation. It also is a film that is absolutely gorgeous to look at and seems to have a fully realized history that leads to the events in the film. There are stunning landscapes of alien worlds, ornate spaceships that more closely resemble palaces and unique creatures of the CGI variety that are seamlessly integrated with the live action. All the ingredients are here for a spectacular space opera so I wonder where that movie is? “Jupiter Ascending” is far more style than it is substance.

Let’s start with the positives: “Jupiter Ascending” is a visual feast that is actually worth the added price of 3D. Battle sequences in space and above Chicago insert the audience in the center of the action so thoroughly you may have to look away for a moment to avoid vertigo or nausea. The added depth of field gives the more frenetic sequences enough visual cues, allowing the audience to keep up. The one exception to this is a flying fight between two characters late in the film; otherwise, following the action is usually pretty easy aided in part by the tendency to slow the action way down so we can enjoy all the acrobatics. The designs of both the larger space cruisers and the smaller fighter craft are unique and eye catching. Parts of the ships are unconnected to the main body but act as if they are physically attached. They often look like shiny insects as they make quick maneuvers in battle. There are beautiful worlds we visit for far too short a time. Majestic castles soar into the alien skies with architecture both familiar and foreign. Technologies that are impossible now (and probably forever) dazzle the audience with wonders like floors that can become transparent at the wave of a hand, personal protective shields to fend off attack and the previously mentioned gravity boots. The Wachowski’s and their collaborators have given a huge amount of thought to how these different worlds work and it shows. As the characters discuss the issues brought up in the film, it feels like there is a significant amount of history in the background that has led everyone to this point. Some of that history is mentioned in the film but there must be a great deal more we know nothing about. The whole idea of humanity being seeded on Earth a million years ago by an advanced humanoid race has been suggested before in part by those who believe we are not alone and were too backward in the distant past to build the Egyptian pyramids or draw the Nazca Lines in Peru. While it makes for an interesting plot device for a movie, it seems unlikely to have any basis in reality. It is the story which seems to have a heavy dose of realistic motives for the antagonists where “Jupiter Ascending” begins to fall apart.

The plot can be boiled down to a power struggle within a family-owned company and the lengths the siblings will go to in order to secure control over the operation. There is nothing about this story that engenders any real interest. For me, it was just the thing I had to sit through to get to the next action/special effects scene. While the outcome of the fight would decide the fates of billions of intelligent beings, it wasn’t presented with enough emotion or passion to make me care. It reminded me of the plot of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” which used a trade war and the imposition of tariffs to set the ball rolling toward what we get in Episodes IV-VI. At least in the Star Wars prequels, the trade war was actually a smoke screen for what was really happening under the surface. There is nothing under the surface of “Jupiter Ascending” other than the fight for control of the family business. It all seems very petty and trivial as the basis for a massive space opera. Another part of the story that didn’t work was the growing affection between Jupiter and Caine. While they are both very attractive people, their characters have no chemistry. The way her part is written, Jupiter acts more like a school girl with a crush on the quarterback than a woman truly falling in love. While Channing Tatum is very good in the action scenes and when he’s interacting with Jupiter and other characters to move the plot forward, he seems to not know what to do when Kunis is playing all lovey dovey. Their romantic interactions are more embarrassing than emotional.

Another problem with the film is the performance of Eddie Redmayne as Balem. While the characters of his brother and sister behave in a fairly normal way, Balem uses a husky, bored-sounding speaking style. I guess he’s supposed to be acting as if he’s above everyone else and making sure all know who the boss is. It comes off a bit creepy and silly. I’m sure Redmayne was doing what he was told to do by the Wachowski’s and probably agreed with the affected style of Balem’s speech and attitude; but it was taken way too far. Balem likes to punctuate his intentions by yelling at times to express his anger or impatience while the rest of the time he sounds like he’s about to run out of breath. It is an off-putting performance that sticks out like a sore thumb.

“Jupiter Ascending” is rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity. We see several people shot with ray guns. There is the occasional blood splatter when the aliens get hit. There is a long battle scene between Caine and a flying lizard creature that gets a tiny bit gory. There are a couple of fights between spaceships that are often incredibly fast moving. There is a scene where a woman is shown walking around in her bra and panties. We also get a brief glimpse of a naked backside. Foul language is widely scattered.

“Jupiter Ascending” is a feast for the eyes but a famine for the mind. It relies far too much on spectacular visuals and lets the story languish in a meaningless business struggle. Truly spectacular space dramas have to be rooted in some kind of easily understandable and emotionally charged story that could be told as a western, a war movie or any other genre. While MBA’s may enjoy the story, the rest of us will be stuck with what might have been.

“Jupiter Ascending” gets three stars out of five.

Three new movies offer a wide range of options for Valentine’s Day dates. I’ll see and review one and let you know if you should spend your cash to buy a ticket.

Fifty Shades of Grey—

Kingsman: The Secret Service—

Old Fashioned—

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