Jupiter Ascending is the newest film from the Wachowskis, the sibling team responsible for the Matrix trilogy, a $150 million science-fiction/action epic starring Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum. Its July release date was staked out over a year in advance, with the publicity machine clicking right along on that timeline: first trailer last Christmas, second trailer at the beginning of the summer, posters in the multiplexes, magazines on the newsstands, etc. And so it came as a bit of a shock when, last night — after most of the sites covering the film had closed up shop for the day — distributor Warner Brothers quietly announced that they’re pushing the film off its July 18 release date to a new spot clear in February of 2015. And movie fans issued a collective Uh-oh.
The official explanation for the delay, according to The Hollywood Reporter, is that “the film needed more special effects work.” And that may well be the case, but it seems awfully dodgy that they would’ve waited until six-and-a-half-weeks before release to make that call (particularly when so much has been made of how the picture relies more on practical effects and stunts than CGI). The more common presumption, one that’s easy to make any time a big studio movie is bumped from a premium summer slot to the doldrums of February — when, as science has proven, the worst movies are released — is that the studio has lost faith in Jupiter Ascending, either because it’s bad, or because it’s too weird (and thus, in the eyes of the numbers-crunchers, bad).
But let’s back off of that fear — one which, as THR notes, isn’t quite as much of a given as it used to be (thanks to G.I. Joe: Retaliation and World War Z). Don’t get me wrong, Jupiter Ascending could be terrible; it is, after all, the story of a maid who meets an elf-eared intergalactic warrior and discovers she’s a princess. But it’s more likely, based on the trajectory of the Wachowski filmography, that it’s just an oddity, and Warners doesn’t know what the hell to do with it in the summer. When they staked out the July berth, they may have been hoping for another Matrix; perhaps it took them this long to realize they were getting another Cloud Atlas.
And that’s not a bad thing. This viewer genuinely admired Cloud Atlas — every messy, odd, weirdo detour and inexplicable decision of it, and the glimpses we’ve seen of Jupiter thus far indicate more of the same. The Matrix was a giant, game-changing mega-hit, but it was also the duo’s last crowd-pleaser; the Matrix sequels attempted to meld blockbuster concerns with greater philosophical ambition (and ended up doing neither adequately), while the disappointing box office of Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas indicated that the Wachowskis may have been whittling down their audience to a base of core fans.
Maybe that’s for the best. I, for one, would rather have them creating oddball hybrids of art films and action epics than churning out an eternity of Matrix sequels and rip-offs; when you see a Wachowski movie now, you can’t say you don’t know what you’re in for. The people who like what they’re doing are going to see their films whenever they’re released — the comparison may seem peculiar, but in the same way that Wes Anderson’s loyal legions have made his spring releases into sleeper hits, so might the Wachowskis’. Summer is a good time to release an action movie for maximum attention; it’s also a good time to find your action film in heavy competition, throwing elbows for a limited number of box office dollars, with every week promising a new, elaborately promoted tentpole film that is forgotten by the following Monday. (Remember when that new Spider-Man movie came out, a month ago?)
Good, bad, or indifferent, Jupiter Ascending promises to be unique, and it’s hard to push a unique movie when it’s wedged in between the new Planet of the Apes and the new Hercules. The move to February may be a vote of no confidence, but it may also give the film a chance to shine. And sometimes an unconventional release date is the best thing that can happen to a movie. Ask the Wachowskis; back in 1999, Warner Brothers chose a March slot for a little movie called The Matrix.