It’s not nearly as ideal to finally have a review of Michael Mann’s latest film Blackhat so long after it had been completely run out of theaters almost immediately after its poor opening performance. But I did see Blackhat and I did want to talk about it and thankfully there is one matter that will certainly keep Blackhat a relevant matter alongside Jupiter Ascending, the other subject of this review.
They both got heinous reviews. Both are at 30% and 22% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a bit disconcerting since they are arguably my favorite releases of the year that I have seen so far (Timbuktu takes a higher point than them but – as some of you recall – it gained a spot in my Top 10 of 2014 list, but due to a very perplexing fact… that apparently it premiered here in Miami before New York City… I would kind of concede to calling it a 2015 release. But my brain is still hurting from that fact.). And I honestly don’t think I can say they aren’t trashy or that their screenplays are not in fact sloppily written – which is precisely the case for both films – but I just couldn’t bring myself not to enjoy either film.
But first, let’s go ahead and tackle Blackhat since it’s clearly the one that nothing much can be further said for it now that it has disappeared from theaters.
Morgan Davis Foehl’s screenplay opens with two unbelievable cyber attacks made between two of the bigger superpowers in the world – The Mercantile Trade Exchange is hacked into and certain numbers are meddled with that probably would make sense to me if I had any clue how stocks work, while in the meantime, a Hong Kong nuclear plant is affected enough to straight up explode. By the power of computers. Yeah.
But of course, due to the severity of these attacks, the Chinese government and the FBI pin heads together in the form of military cybercrimes investigator Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom), who brings along his similarly cyber-gifted sister Lien (Tang Wei), to investigate the code used alongside tough fed officers Barrett (Viola Davis) and Jessup (Holt McCallany). It becomes immediately revealed to Dawai that the code was co-authored by him and his former roommate at MIT, Nick Hathaway (the rainbow-American-accented Chris Hemsworth), who is currently imprisoned for carding. Dawai implores that Hathaway is a necessary addition to the team and, after arranging his release, the five members of this team go on a patchy run around the world to find and stop the source of these crimes before he goes on to cause more havok.
Ok, so it sounds banal, but I did already acknowledge that. It’s a movie with Transcendence amount of fascination/fear of technology and doesn’t seem to pay off that fascination with either immediately understandable babble about what our heroes or villains are doing with said laptops or any true understanding itself of that. The only true anchor to the storytelling plays in both its relentless global chase that it leads its characters on, in a somewhat less autonomous romantic subplot (without divulging the characters involved, I don’t think you need to guess very hard who the hell it is), and the vast scope of the film (we get various moments of cross-cutting scenarios). Foehl doesn’t make matters easier by somehow allowing all of those factors to weaken the screenplay – the frenetic pace of the film leads to us somehow feeling like moments were way too easily glossed over and that the audience missed something and the movie should go the fuck back, the scope further incites this jumping of plot, and the subplot kind of demands to a third act that almost is quick to completely neglect focus on characters it blatantly deems disposable to the conflict. But damn, here I still am tearing apart the screenplay without taking a moment to at least address why I liked Blackhat so much.
In spite of its suspension, Blackhat‘s story is not nearly as batshit as Jupiter Ascending‘s. But then again, that would be due to the nature of the tales. Blackhat is not entirely realistic, but is at least devoted to this reality. Jupiter Ascending is in its own little world.
The latest project by the Wachowski siblings – who still have my heart after Cloud Atlas – Jupiter Ascending kind of feels like if Roald Dahl and Phillip K. Dick had a love child that ended up writing Twilight (I know the popular thing to claim is that Jupiter Ascending is Cinderella in space, but isn’t Roald Dahl the king of less overt Cinderella stories?). The beautifully alliterated name Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) belongs to a young toilet scrubber who is apparently of some importance to a group of siblings in the sky who each claim a stake in the galaxy after the death of their mother. The eldest of these siblings, Balem Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne), has Earth within his cut of that inheritance, while the other two, Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) feel fine with their share, but would feel a lot better just cutting down Balem’s. And so the three of them are off to capture Jones, along with a hired gun who happens the wolf-man genetic hybrid Caine Wise (Channing Tatum). From this we end up being tossed in a similar chase as Blackhat, all around the galaxy to figure out why Jupiter seems so important to the Abrasax House and how can the Earth be made to avoid a very perilous fate.
Just as banal as Blackhat, just as patchy a screenplay too. The first act takes a mite too much longer than I would wish it to be before the action actually finally starts up. I would like the relationship between the Abrasaxes to have been a bit more in the forefront as something affecting the plot rather than their rivalry to just be character background (we receive only one scene with the three of them and only two where they talk about each other, otherwise). The treatment of oxygen in space is one of the more inconsistent things within Jupiter Ascending where the same character can survive a whole trip through space in one scene and then needs some oxygen. And Jupiter Ascending‘s pace feels like a ride that speeds and jolts on its own whim with no real conscience on how it affects the story. The biggest writing bit I can see people having a problem with is that Jupiter does not on paper make a very compelling everywoman, she’s unfazed by all the fantasy and calamity to her, with exception to the first major action setpiece – an outstanding and breathtaking sky battle that happens to still be IN FUCKING CHICAGO! She’s not even in Space yet.
On the last point, however, I can forgive that lack of wide-eyed overwhelming behavior since I had plenty of it to spare looking right around at the novel science fiction production design by Hugh Bateup recalling all the facets of science fiction that makes it just perfectly ripe for children of pulp fantasy magazines like yours truly to wrap themselves around. An adventure surrounded by color floating in the air, pleasantly accented by beautiful costuming by Kym Barrett that touches on each characters personality as a soldier, or a bureaucrat, or a worker, etc. and makeup design that, while looking uncomfortable (most obviously on Tatum’s face) brings to mind my favorite comic Saga (though God forbid that is made into a film).
Attached with a bombastically sweeping score by the always enjoyable Michael Giacchino, it’s just full of style and whizzing flavor to it enough to make me get over the terrible acting by everyone who isn’t Sean Bean (though granted, Redmayne seems to be the only actor trying… he just tries a bit too hard) and flawed screenplay. The movie flies past it and hopefully pulls you along with it so that you both gives those faults the same brush. It is the substance of a space fairytale with more of the attitude of Star Wars and less of the similarly designed but deliberately irreverent Guardians of the Galaxy. And Jupiter Ascending apparently suffers from the audience for not having that same principal of sarcasm to its space opera attitudes, but it doesn’t get that suffering from me. I mean, do I really want fucking moments of self-parody when I am involved in a scene where Caine and Stinger (Sean Bean) have to battle a fucking huge ship all on their lonesome in a ticking clock scenario as one of the large setpieces of the film? Not at all, it’s just way too intense and transfixing for me to care. I know that even allowing for all those concessions I was willing to leave with, it is in the end just a distraction of a film, but hey… anybody remember what I made my number one film of 2014? Anybody?
So, you know why I liked Jupiter Ascending a hell of a lot, but back to Blackhat? Well, Blackhat happens to hold the same principal to itself. Not as bombastic a style at all, but it is a film that dedicates itself to making the actions and scenarios in the film look as sleek as it can, in spite of not spending too much time imperatively pointing out the scenarios and making them as cohesively as the images of the film itself.
It’s no damn secret to use that Michael Mann has, at least the past decade, had a real infatuation with digital cinematography and once again, it has returned to his usage. But this subject matter seems most appropriate – making its technological focus seem much more solid and making its physical real-world subjects seem a little bit less defined like the computer programs. I can’t think of any way Mann and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh could have possibly pulled this off without the control digital cameras allow them, from grain to color all the way, it feels like how it was made, all the way down to twice within the first ten minutes watching the first among several little beelines through the inside of a computer as information is being passed down…
… until the end starts to belong to a very different film with now a really physical setpiece set in Jakarta that involves moving bodies unaware of what’s going on around them and men fighting against men – flesh and blood without being behind any computer screens. To watch the conflict expand in such a manner, that’s quite a headtrip for me (though maybe it’s because, by the time I finally saw it, I could only catch a midnight screening as one of only two times that were available. Damn this movie was launched out of theaters). Seriously, the Jakarta finale alone is worth the damn admission price. A friend of mine described Blackhat as if GoldenEye had taken itself a touch too seriously and I fully encourage that description. And it’s all the more fun for me in regards to it.
Let’s get something out of the way: Despite the title of this post, of course, critics did not give both movies a very cold reception due to a vendetta towards me (or the filmmakers really – Mann has been in the Golden Boy area for a while). I realize that it’s more obvious that I am injecting my own personal experience of the films as being style over substance and being better for it, and that even in that treatment of these as fluff pieces, they might not work.
But y’know what, fuck me for not taking either of these films seriously. If it worked enough to make me still enjoy Lucy, these absolutely less-dedicated works by filmmakers who nine-times-out-of-ten know what they are doing aren’t demanding any more than Lucy is. And I got a blast in the theaters in return.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with turning it off for a few hours.