JUPITER ASCENDING, or: I Come To Bury This Movie, Not To Praise It

jupiter-ascending_mila-kunis

By the time you’re reading this review, the epitaph has already been written for JUPITER ASCENDING. It’s a bomb, and not only that it’s a bomb of catastrophic proportions. Originally set to be released in the summer of 2014, the shift to the following February seems to be designed to cut losses. In the early part of the year, it becomes just another costly casualty, whereas in summer it would have been the target of every late night talk show host and snarky internet commenter. But don’t pat yourselves on the back just yet with the many jokes that we can and will make regarding JUPITER ASCENDING. The failure of this film is bad for all of us.

The Jupiter of the title does refer to the planet, but more importantly it is also the name of our protagonist. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is the daughter of Russian immigrants. Every day, she works as a maid and feels trapped by her large, traditional and poverty-stricken family. But as it turns out, Jupiter isn’t so ordinary. Alien beings are on the hunt for her, all the way from alien greys, tough as nails bounty hunters and a half-wolf exile who takes a special interest in ensuring her safety. That last figure is Caine (Channing Tatum), a protector who whizzes around on what appear to be space rollerblades and informs Jupiter of her unique destiny.

A royal family in space owns most of the planets in the universe. They have brought the life-giving spark to these worlds and have cultivated life on them until those resources can be exploited. Think PROMETHEUS by way of Monsanto. Jupiter’s genetic code matches up perfectly with the family’s deceased matriarch, which in effect makes her that woman’s reincarnation. This also gives her ownership rights to the planet Earth.

Jupiter will be taken to the stars and separately encounter the three children of the family. All of them want her to cede ownership of Earth to them, so that they may increase their profit margins and have the planet’s materials to themselves. Meanwhile, Caine realizes that he has been manipulated just as Jupiter has and tries to prevent her from becoming a sacrifice in their game of intergalactic chess.

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JUPITER ASCENDING is the latest big budget flop from the Wachowskis. People have taken to poking fun at the siblings, despite any fond memories they may have of THE MATRIX or BOUND. But I still admire the duo even when, like in JUPITER ASCENDING, they miss the mark completely. Thankfully, each of their films always finds an audience no matter how small. I was one of the many who disliked SPEED RACER, though I acknowledge there are a few who loved it. Conversely, I was one of the few who loved CLOUD ATLAS, though I acknowledge there are many who dislike it. They are always going to find admirers, which at least helps soften the blow from JUPITER ASCENDING’s failure as well as the inevitable blowback that is bound to occur from it.

And make no mistake, JUPITER ASCENDING is a failure on virtually every level. What do work in the film are the action sequences. There is something heartwarming about space battles and aliens fighting it out with actual, honest to goodness laser guns. Scenes involving a flying battle through Chicago or hopping around a crumbling alien skyscraper are almost enough to make you forget how much of this film doesn’t work.

Things grind to a screeching halt however whenever the characters start talking. The Wachowskis wrote the script themselves, as they typically do. But this time, maybe they should have handed it off to someone else for a polish. There is simply no excuse for the ridiculous dialogue that permeates every scene of this film. Every line, whether referring to scheming familial space royalty or a toilet that needs cleaning, comes off as absolutely ridiculous, as if no one bothered to read them out loud before cameras rolled. It sounds like a quirky sci-fi novel which has been translated into another language, only to have that translation translated into another language and then have the whole thing belched back out into English via Google Translate. I defy anyone to sit through this film and not groan or giggle at the clumsy dialogue that is not limited to one facet of the production but present in every single scene. The most embarrassing moments come in the film’s romantic overtures which ultimately suggest that Jupiter is so hot for Caine, she’s willing to disregard that their coupling might border on bestiality.

Most of the actors should not be blamed for the terrible dialogue in JUPITER ASCENDING, that’s all on the Wachowskis. I believe several of the actors from this film will escape unscathed. Tatum seems to have plenty of projects on the horizon. I only hope the film is not a severe setback for Kunis. After all, she is the focal point of the film, even if for some reason, she is billed second to Tatum. Kunis is a talented actress and I restate that no actor could make this gobbledygook sound convincing.

jupiter-ascending_eddie-redmayne

But note that I said most of the actors should not be blamed for JUPITER ASCENDING. There is one performance in this film that cannot merely be chalked up to inferior dialogue. No, it is a performance so terrible, so egregious, that it can only be achieved if the actor had the exact wrong instincts regarding every nuance of the character and went full speed ahead anyway.

I am speaking of course of Eddie Redmayne, who turns in one of the worst performances ever seen in a film of this caliber. Every line is delivered in a near whisper, his eyes shifting from side to side. These near-silent mumblings are interrupted at scripted intervals with embarrassing outbursts. From his first utterances, he ceases to be a convincing character, which is a problem when you are the film’s central villain. There should be no reason for an actor to choose the approach Redmayne takes with the character unless he was actively looking to sabotage the film. As I do not believe this to be the case, I am at a loss to explain what he could have been thinking. It’s astonishing that any actor would present himself in such a way and even more astonishing that the Wachowskis would allow him to do it. This comes at a strange time since Redmayne has recently won awards for his decent turn in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. And yet, careers have ended over performances less heinous than Redmayne’s turn in JUPITER ASCENDING. Had this been attempted in a stage production, Redmayne would have been laughed out of even the most forgiving community theater group.

But JUPITER ASCENDING isn’t a stage production, it’s a film with a budget said to be over $200 million. This follows what the Wachowskis have been doing throughout the 21st century. While they are perfectly capable of spearheading a small production (Don’t forget they first turned heads with the incredible BOUND.), they have only gone bigger and bolder. And this is why I am always interested to see what they have in store. I love that they aim for the cheap seats every time and grow more daring with every production. And you should love that too, even if it sometimes results in a film as terrible as JUPITER ASCENDING.

JUPITER ASCENDING is reportedly the first film in a trilogy, one that no longer stands a snowball’s chance in Hell of happening. That JUPITER ASCENDING is a bad movie should not be overlooked, but its failure is nothing to feel smug about. These days, science fiction is getting more of a chance on the big screen than ever before. What used to be a niche market only given lip service once or twice a year has now become the major cash crop for studios. But take another look, it is not the sci-fi or fantasy elements that make studios take chances on these productions but that they are already existing franchises. Whether they be novels, comic books, video games, cartoons or reboots of previously successful films, the money men aren’t going full speed ahead because of their faith in the genre itself. JUPITER ASCENDING is an original work, albeit an incredibly wrongheaded one. Its failure doesn’t simply spell bad news for the Wachowskis; it spells bad news for ambitious and original science fiction productions everywhere.

There are so many wrong moves to recount regarding JUPITER ASCENDING that there isn’t room even in my wordy reviews. I haven’t even mentioned a chase scene that somehow manages to recall both BATTLEFIELD EARTH and THE SWARM. Or that Caine nearly suffocates in the vacuum of space, even though we had previously seen him hitch a ride on a spaceship leaving the atmosphere by clinging to the outside (a feat that makes Indiana Jones’ submarine trick look quaint in comparison). JUPITER ASCENDING is nonsense and it’s not even good nonsense. But should its failure claim some undeserving casualties, I for one will not be smiling.  Awful.

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RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA

  • What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals? 
  • In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?

The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.

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