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Entries in Jupiter Ascending [2015] (1)

Friday
Feb062015

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Star Worst

I can't defend the Wachowskis on this one. As a huge fan of their critical and box office disappointments Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, I read the negative reactions to Sundance's Jupiter Ascending screening with an arched eyebrow. Having now seen the film, I'm sad to report that it's not only as bad as you've heard, but that Warner Brothers is lucky to have only coped with walk-outs and stunned silence. I wanted to burn down the theatre. Then all theatres. Then never leave the house.

Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter, a thirty-year-old maid with a crazy Russian family, who dreams of finding a man to take her away from it all. Turns out she's the heir (sorry, “genetic recurrence”) to an intergalactic people-mining dynasty that's headed by three squabbling siblings. One wants her dead; one wants her to assume control of the family business in order to squash the others; the third one...I honestly don't remember.

While trying to sell an egg to a fertility clinic one morning, Jupiter is accosted by a team of alien assassins working for Really Bad Dynasty Guy (Eddie Redmayne, delivering what’s best described as a sore throat in search of a performance). In swoops* Caine (Channing Tatum), a half-human-half-wolf-part albino-disgraced-bounty-hunter who wants to win back his wings from the space marines.

Got that? Good. It’s the last thing in this movie that makes a lick of sense.

The clinic scene is the first of four or five big-rescue set pieces, most of which involve Caine saving Jupiter from imminent danger brought on by her spectacularly dumb decisions. He crashes a ship into a flying wedding hall in order to prevent her from marrying a scheming asshole. He crashes a Pacific Rim Jaeger into a mining kingdom to save Jupiter from revoking her royal title at the behest of the scheming asshole’s scheming brother. Caine also smashes a good number of non-descript alien spaceships during an endless dogfight over downtown Chicago, a city that, if we’re to believe Jupiter Ascending, is a sleepy li’l burg with neither a police force nor air traffic--and just about as many residents.

Have I mentioned that Jupiter Jones is one of the most borderline-offensive heroines to darken the silver screen in quite some time? Seriously, people gave Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson flak in the Raimi Spider-Man flicks, ‘cause all she did was get rescued and complain about things. Kunis’ character is an anachronistic, put-me-in-the-kitchen cliché of female desperation who falls for every handsome doofus in the picture--regardless of their intention to turn Earth into the third food pantry from the sun. On the plus side (and by pure coincidence, I’m sure), the screenplay makes Caine’s disinterested resistance to Jupiter’s advances seem wholly believable.  

Of course, studio-driven sci-fi doesn’t have to feature well-rounded characters in order to resonate with audiences. Fantastical ideas and production values go a long way. The problem with Jupiter Ascending is that the universe is at once too big to make sense and so derived from other movies as to be claustrophobic. What made the Star Wars cantina scene so memorable was its glimpse into a diverse galaxy of weird creatures. The Wachowskis give us over two hours of cantina and no unifying visual themes.

The space-set scenes introduce new species, planets, and ships every thirty seconds, it seems. Who are the main characters? Is it the hulking lizard men who look like a cross between Smaug and the Goombas from the Super Mario Brothers movie? Or is it the luchador stormtroopers with the football helmets and stumpy machine-gun arms? Maybe the winged lizard people? The sniveling rat-men?

Don’t even get me started on the bounty hunters.** Each is a nerve-wracking reminder of every illustrative atrocity committed by Image Comics in the 1990s.

The award for Greatest Stylistic Cribbing goes to the screenplay, though. Unlike The Matrix, which waited until the last thirty minutes to ditch its ideas and descend into routine, Jupiter Ascending plays like the sci-fi-blockbuster version of 52 Card Pick-up from the opening moments to the last. Dead-parent-and-destiny catalyst? Check. Uptight droid sidekick? Check. Melt-ready rogue’s heart? Check. The human race being harvested as food for an advanced race of cold, unfeeling overlords? Come on, now!

The only surprise The Wachowskis offer up is the fate of Sean Bean’s character—which, if you know anything about the actor’s track record, really does qualify as a groundbreaking development.  

On a positive note, I really enjoyed actors Tuppence Middleton and Douglas Booth. As the not-as-skeevy sibling rulers, they provide more intrigue than any of their better-known counterparts, and the film positively deflates upon their exit.

In the end, Andy and Lana Wachowski deserve a lot of credit for reinvigorating mainstream sci-fi action pictures with groundbreaking ideas. They have proven themselves true visionaries, building teams of technical and artistic innovators who’ve expanded the canvases and palettes on which all filmmakers create. Commercially speaking, though, Jupiter Ascending looks to be their third strike, and I’m sad to see them go out on a project with such a Redbox-rental lack of conviction. Though the duo has tackled time, technology, and reincarnation with a spirit of sheer pop poetry, space may prove to be their final frontier.

*By "swoops", I mean he figure skates into the movie on a pair of anti-gravity boots while wielding a green holographic shield and plasma gun.

**To be clear, I mean the bad ones--not the good one with the wolf ears and rocket boots.