It seems as though nothing can come between the Wachowskis.
When the brother-sister filmmakers are asked what incites the biggest spats between them, Andy and Lana Wachowski provide a non-verbal response: They sweetly clasp each other’s hands and tap their contrasting noggins — Lana’s fuchsia-hued dreadlocks, Andy’s wrapped-up bald head — together.
“It’s all just love,” said Lana. “Is that too good to be believed?”
The Wachowskis, best known for writing and directing “The Matrix” trilogy, are equally unflappable when it comes to criticisms of their recent work. They’re undaunted by the weak box office for their 2012 time-bending drama “Cloud Atlas” and their hyper 2008 cartoon adaptation “Speed Racer,” and they’re impervious to the torrent of pessimism swirling around their space opera “Jupiter Ascending.”
“I’ve gotten a thicker skin when it comes to Internet searches on our art,” said Andy matter-of-factly.
“Jupiter Ascending” centers on a toilet-scrubbing Earthling (played by Mila Kunis) and her rocket-boosted alien bodyguard (Channing Tatum). The pair become caught up in an epic case of intergalactic sibling rivalry, with Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton and Douglas Boothand portraying a royal space dynasty with nasty plans for humanity.
“I like things that are different,” said Kunis, who plays the titular character, Jupiter Jones. “You have to do things because you want to do them, not because someone else wants you to. If it fails, it doesn’t matter. I did it because I wanted to work with the Wachowskis. If it doesn’t do well, at the end of the day, I still got to work with great people, and I learned a lot.”
The result is a mostly straightforward sci-fi romp — for the Wachowskis, anyway — that recalls space sagas like “Star Wars” and “Dune,” as well as last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It also marks the first original, non-adapted film that the 49-year-old sister and 47-year-old-brother have written and directed since they said goodbye to “The Matrix” trilogy in 2003.
“There’s directors like John Ford and Christopher Nolan who find a tone and stick with it throughout their careers,” said Lana. “We’re not like that. We’re always looking for the range of what we see in life. That creates a tension between us and our audience because they don’t know what to expect. It makes people excited, but it can also make for frustrated consumers.”
The delay of “Jupiter Ascending” from a July to February release, as well as a surprise screening at Sundance where some audience members reportedly walked out, has raised questions whether the film will become a $175 million black hole for distributor Warner Bros. Lana likened the reshuffling of “Jupiter Ascending” to the studio’s shifting of “Gravity” in 2013.
“The summer is built around familiarity,” said Lana. “Many cultural critics who shape awareness for films are obsessed with sequels and derivative material. They wildly crave it. That kind of environment is hostile to originality. It only makes space for derivative material and rejects originality. I think Warner Bros. was uncomfortable with that environment.”
For the Wachowskis, “Jupiter Ascending” isn’t just another sci-fi flick. It’s also an opportunity to stand up for fresh material at a time when studios are keener to greenlight sequels, reboots and adaptations. (Andy called the possibility of returning to “The Matrix” a “particularly repelling idea in these times.”) It’s yet another subject where the duo are united.
“The cultural obsession with equating a movie’s success to its box office is incredibly damning to this industry,” said Andy. “It’s pushing the industry more and more to making pure product, which is another reason why you constantly have reboots. It’s McDonald’s. People know what they’re going to sit down and watch. Inherently, it’s unhealthy for your brain.”
Whatever happens with “Jupiter Ascending,” the siblings are deep into work on their next ambitious project: a mind-bending drama about eight mentally and emotionally linked strangers called “Sense8” that was filmed entirely on location in cities including San Francisco, Reykjavík, London, Berlin, Nairobi and Mumbai.
For that project, the Wachowskis won’t have to worry about box office tallies. “Sense8” is a streaming Netflix series.