The Wachowskis, who hit gold with “The Matrix” but have stumbled since then, fall still further with “Jupiter Ascending” (wide release), in which they construct a highly derivative fantasy that mashes together not only their own earlier work but “Dune,” “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “Soylent Green” and any other number of sci-fi flicks.
The premise is that the human race is descended from a seeding by a superior race eons ago that intends to eventually harvest the resultant population for their own sustenance. But a woman born on earth turns out to be the reincarnation of the recently deceased matriarch of the extraterrestrials, and by their law heir to all she possessed, including the royal title.
This sets off a battle between the children of the dread queen to kill, or at least control, the earthling. But she has come under the protection of a hunky intergalactic mercenary-turned-hero, with whom, of course, she will fall in love.
The visual effects in “Jupiter Ascending” are, almost without exception, staggering, especially in 3-D format.
But the picture is essentially a cinematic comic book, with a plot and characters no more developed than what one finds in a “Flash Gordon” serial from the 1930s. If you leave your brain outside the theater, it might provide a couple hours of mindless amusement. Otherwise, however, its juvenile sensibility is likely to grow boring pretty quickly.
One of the Oscar nominees in the Foreign-Language Film category this year is “Leviathan” (Angelika), a long, powerful, very dark satire about the corruption of power in contemporary Russia. Combining references to the Book of Job and Thomas Hobbes, it is about a man who tries to fight city hall to save his family homestead from the clutches of a grasping mayor, a stand-in for the national government as well as the ecclesiastical structure that helps prop it up. His effort will bring about his ruin, and unlike in Scripture, there will be no hopeful reversal of fortune in the end. Amazingly, the film was subsidized by the Russian Ministry of Culture, which only goes to prove that in Vladimir Putin’s Leviathan, the right hand doesn’t always know what the left is doing.
Even sillier is “Seventh Son” (wide release), yet another failed attempt to turn a fantasy book series — in this case Joseph Delaney’s “The Last Apprentice” — into a movie franchise.
Jeff Bridges, in one of the oversized, mushy-mouthed performances for which he is becoming infamous, plays an over-the-hill knight in a vaguely medieval setting who does battle with the forces of darkness. He takes on a new apprentice (bland, boring Ben Barnes) in order to track down and destroy the queen of the witches (Julianne Moore).
The picture, like so many of its ilk, turns into an orgy of action sequences marked by innumerable scenes in which witches and warlocks turn into CGI creatures — dragons, bears, leopards and such — to do battle with the heroes. There is also an obligatory romance between the apprentice and the daughter of a witch who turns against her kind.
“Seventh Son” turns out to be stillborn, and one can be fairly certain that the sequel hinted at in the epilogue will never appear.
“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water”
On the other hand, the wackiness of “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” (wide release) is fun rather than exhausting. This second movie based on the popular Nickelodeon animated children’s series has a good deal of the anarchic spirit that marked the old “Looney Tunes” shorts, coupled with the sly, punning humor of Jay Ward’s “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”
The plot, of course, is simple. The recipe for the Krabby Patties that hold the underwater community of Bikini Bottom together disappears, and naively optimistic SpongeBob must join forces with villainous Plankton to retrieve it.
Of course their mission takes them into a series of adventures via a makeshift time machine, including a space dock where a talking dolphin keeps the planets in orbit, while back home society has fallen into a post-apocalyptic state as a result of the lack of their tasty burgers.
In the end, the main characters of the show all transport into the “real” world in CGI form to do battle against the thief, Burger Beard, played by Antonio Banderas. This mixed computer-animation, live-action sequence goes on too long and lacks the zest of the traditionally-cartoonish part of the picture, but Banderas’ gusto goes a long way in making it reasonably amusing.
All in all, kids will enjoy the movie, and adults will find themselves chuckling through a good deal of it, too.