Jupiter Ascending – A Review

13 Feb

This is when you hope she dies.

This is when you hope she dies.

Great movies can be experienced by all regardless of genre. Those who claim to hate science fiction love Star Wars. Anti-romantic comedians adore Annie Hall. Don’t like action flicks? Try Die Hard. Costume dramas? Gosford Park. Oaters? The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Great movies turn haters into lovers.

But if you love a specific genre, there’re plenty of mediocre films to choose from that will still entertain you. I love action movies, not because they’re good, but for their two hours of explosive stupidity. I saw both – both – White House captured by terrorist movies. Why? Cuz. These aren’t necessarily good films, but I usually cut them some slack. They tend to be well-made, stupid, and fun. Entertaining nonsense to fill an otherwise humdrum afternoon.

Once in a while a movie comes along that is right up your alley, that is sort of made specifically for you. It could be a goofy buddy comedy that somehow syncs with your psyche (The Heat), a romcom that perfectly mirrors your own views on romance and/or comedy (Her), or perhaps a space opera about factory farming, incest and cannibalism.

Wait, what? (Jupiter Ascending, that’s what.)

Jupiter Jones (totes realz name, played by Mila Kunis, also real name) is an Anglo-Russian living in Chicago and cleaning one-percenter toilets by day while contemplating having her eggs harvested by night. In walks Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) a bounty hunter from a far off planet specially delivered to bring Jupiter back home. See, Jupiter is the reincarnation of the matriarch of the House of Abraxas, an alien dynasty that…well, I don’t want to give too much away. Or should I? I mean, you won’t be seeing this. Trust me. Unless you get really stoned. Like Cheech & Chong levels of ganja-ness. Okay, if you really want to see this movie and don’t want to know what it’s all about, stop reading, puff that magic dragon, drop $15 on Jupiter Ascending and…

Hey, you’re back. Some movie, eh?

Okay, so these aliens, like the aforementioned House of Abraxas, are actually humans, and they’ve been seeding planets throughout the entire solar system for hundreds of thousands of years. Then, when the planet reaches a certain point in population growth, they “harvest” the people for a serum that they use to remain eternally young. So, they’re factory farming their own species and then eating them. Hence the cannibalism. The two sons and one daughter of the murdered-but-now-resurrected matriarch are trying to gain control of Earth apparently because it’s like Lumberjack Breakfast for the eternally youthful. One of the sons wants to marry (and then re-murder) Jupiter in order to gain control. And there’s the incest. The Trifecta has been achieved!

Now, let me just say this: the fictional gimmick that humans are being used by other humans – albeit alien humans – as food, is not in-and-of-itself a bad idea. Neither is the idea of a resurrected queen of an alien civilization. Or many of the other things co-writer/directors Lana and Andy Wachowski throw at the screen for two hours. But that’s the thing: they throw it at the screen. Jupiter Ascending is a smorgasbord of sci-fi themes and motifs, but they’re all heaved at us by a couple of color blind and tone deaf artists. They’re also taste insensitive, if that’s a thing.

Let’s begin at the top with the characters of Jupiter and Caine. Going into this film, I was hoping to finally see a kick ass female sci-fi action hero. (I mean besides Ripley.) But Jupiter is merely a pawn, one with few skills and no brains. Her trademark saying (AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Quotes should sleep tight tonight) is “Oh my God!” as she stares at yet another piece of alien technology. She is a gaping imbecile who never – not once, from wanting to sell her eggs, to choosing to marry HER OWN SON!!!!!!!!!! – makes any fucking sense. WHATSOEVER!!! As for Tatum’s Caine, he is less the Han Solo-esque bitter, chaotic-good rogue that he is meant to be, and more a hairless, less coherent Chewbacca.

And together they’re worse. Take for instance this piece of dialogue. Jupiter is flirting with Caine, I mean really flirting with him.

Caine (all standoffish): Your Majesty, I have more in common with a dog than I have with you.

Jupiter: I love dogs.

And there’s your implied bestiality! The Superfecta.

The trio of Jupiter’s previous incarnation’s children – one of whom, did I mention, she decides to MARRY!!! – are millennia-year-old slithering villains. But special note must be made for Eddie Redmayne’s Balem. Redmayne, who is the frontrunner for Best Actor for his solid impersonation of Stephen Hawking, gives one of the most beguiling performances in years. He whispers and hisses. He only fucking whispers and hisses. Because that’s what bad guys do apparently. All the time. Thinking, perhaps that the softer one speaks, the eviler one appears.

There is one point, a five minute long sequence near the middle of the film, where Jupiter goes through a bureaucratic rigmarole, trying to get herself re-certified as her former self. It is a humorous little montage, reminiscent of Douglas Adams and Terry Gilliam (the latter actually makes a cameo). It’s a funny bit of satire of a society ridiculously advanced but still stuck in an Mobius Strip of endless paperwork. And for five minutes I forget this movie was an atrocious piece of tauntaun shit.

That scene is emblematic of what is wrong with Jupiter Ascending. The film is a mishmash of differing tones and various sci-fi sub-genres. On one level it’s trying to be a thrilling space opera á la Star Wars or Buck Rogers. Its plot – with heavy criticism of capitalism, the addiction to natural resources, and a bizarre futuristic feudal system – is right out of Dune. It’s reliance on a chosen one is reminiscent of the Wachowski’s own Matrix trilogy. Its hodgepodge of the goofy and the campy – mainly by way of the various aliens or genetically engineered humans – goes back to Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

But this is like putting three solid square meals a day into a blender and then drinking it. When the film needs to be serious – you know, like about the ingesting of distilled humans in order to live longer – it becomes campy, mostly because of Redmayne’s ridiculously hissing performance. When it goes for action, it’s even campier, introducing a multitude of grotesque alien species right in the middle of a fire fight. Jupiter’s status as a chosen one never makes any sense. What is she chosen for? Remedial Class on Life Skills? Choosing the Wrong Man? Not Kicking Ass? Being Cute? Killing a Promising Career by Being in this Movie?

If the film is a pastiche of different films and styles, the script is a mishmash of the different movies Jupiter Ascending could’ve been. It’s as if the different iterations of the screenplay were all smooshed together and then vomited back out for the audience to try to pick through and figure out on its own.  We have extended scenes with all three Evil Siblings Who Drink The Soul Spirits of Other Humans. But do we really need all three? We didn’t need Darth Vader, Darth Mookie, and Darth Zeppo? All three are basically gradations of the same evil. Sean Bean’s character, Stinger (the Lando to Caine’s Han), changes allegiances in back-to-back-back scenes, but I have no idea why. And why does an advanced civilization light everything with candles? Fire hazard, people!!

Now let me say a couple of nice things about this debacle of a film. First, it’s ambitious. It may be one of the most ambitious movies I’ve seen in years. But its ambition is not tempered by any sense of common sense or creative planning. It’s all art(iface) and no craft. Second, it’s a bad film in the MST2K sense of the word. I saw this in a theater with maybe twenty other people, and half way through several of us were mumbling – then shouting – comments at the screen. No one shushed us. Sadly, I was completely sober.

I’m not twelve years old. If I were, maybe – just maybe – I would have enjoyed this film in a completely non-meta, non-ironic way. In many ways that’s the intended audience: nerdy teenagers who dig on the far out wackadoo sci fi stuff. But I doubt that younger me would have thought too much differently than older me, and that’s what bothers me the most about Jupiter Ascending: it’s offensive to people like me who actually love these kinds of movies, but the good variety of them, not the ones which will be placed on a shelf next to Battlefield Earth, Leonard Part 6, and The Adventures of Pluto Nash.

Grade: D-

(Still waiting on that F! Hey, Fifty Shades of Grey opened this weekend… and only one month until Chappie!!!)

 

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