Directors: Lily Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Stars: Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Channing Tatum
Poor Channing Tatum. Looking back over the films of his that I’ve reviewed on here, combined with those I’ve seen otherwise, and some quick maths reveals my average score for his output is 1.625 out of 5. Including The Lego Movie skews this upward a bit, but really that’s just a cameo. So 1.625. Hardly comforting when approaching any new prospect that features him, especially considering that the lowest scoring of these was his most highbrow effort; Foxcatcher garnering a measly 0.5 out of 5. I guess it’s sadly safe to say I’m not his biggest fan.
When it comes to Jupiter Ascending, however, I can concede that he’s probably guilty of the least wrong-doing here, though by that point all that’s left is desperate salvaging of dignity. Tatum works in this movie because he is never expected to do anything other than roller-blade around the sky, catching Mila Kunis’ pitifully resourceless heroine whenever she does something inept enough to get her knocked off of the digital scenery. His character is essentially a part-human, part-wolf (but not werewolf) safety net. A reset button for every time Kunis needs a continue but doesn’t actually deserve one.
This has been a troubled picture. I’m fairly certain I first saw it trailed over 12 months ago, around the time of The Desolation of Smaug. At that time it looked spectacular; the Wachowskis were returning to their own brand of home-brewed science-fiction, and evidently going all-out on it. Cloud Atlas may have divided audiences, but I rather enjoyed it, and it had worked best when venturing into David Mitchell’s future worlds. The prospect of the Wachowskis taking us down the rabbit-hole once again guaranteed me a ticket come opening weekend. I was fully on board for this. But then opening weekend never arrived. The summer season came and went and Jupiter Ascending wasn’t part of it. See also the Christmas rush. I forgot about it.
Then came the murmurings.
The internet loves a failure. It’s horrible that way. The delayed project became wrapped in an aura of doom, seemingly the butt of jokes before anyone had actually seen it. Then it was unveiled – note, not premiered – at Sundance. The reaction, for the most part, was bemused befuddlement. By the time I saw it, previewed again just two days before wide release, the audience around me already seemed ready for it; whole areas of the cinema catcalling Eddie Redmayne’s atrocious performance before he’d even had a chance to marvel us with what he does here. We’ve already made up our minds about Jupiter Ascending, it seems. And that opinion is that it sucks balls.
I gave it a chance. The benefit of the doubt. That started slipping pretty quickly. The story here is at once so simply derivative and bum-numbingly elaborate that boiling it down becomes a chore in itself. Milas Kunis plays Jupiter Jones (“call me Joop” [yes, really]), a young woman without a nation or a father (but with a borderline racist family of Russian immigrants who all work for the same toilet-cleaning company [yes, really]) who, it turns out, is actually the reincarnation of an intergalactic queen (or not reincarnation; there’s a lot of waffling about genes. A LOT.) When this fact arbitrarily becomes known to feeble space bad-guy Balem Abrasax (Redmayne), a cadre of little grey men are sent to Earth to kill her. Fortunately, Caine Wise (Tatum) has also been dispatched on his fancy flying boots (“are those gravity boots!?”) to repeatedly save her from a certain death, whisk her out of her humdrum existence, and present her on a platter to Titus Abrasax (Douglas Booth) so that he can marry her, kill her and gain her title to the Earth. None of this is spoiler; it’s all so blindingly obvious except to the gullible leads.
Circling all of this you have Sean Bean loving the shit out of bees in some rundown shack in the country, Tuppence Middleton caked in Cloud Atlas make-up giving herself a morally dubious bath and a trio of mysterious bounty-hunter types zooming around causing noise-disturbances in alleyways and cornfields before getting abruptly jettisoned from the narrative entirely. Because, you see, Earth is merely a battery farm for some grade-A resource that allows these supreme space-humans to approximate eternal youth. Soylent Green is people. You are what you eat, and so forth.
Jupiter Ascending is as bang-my-head-on-a-desk bonkers as it is irksomely familiar. The production design is easily the film’s most lavishly detailed aspect. Like the pilot for America’s Next Top Cosplay, the film is overstuffed with crazy costumes and alien designs (this is a feature that has no qualms about introducing talking lizards without batting an eye, or elephant-faced navigators), while the CG palaces and intergalactic battleships are as garish as they are resplendent. It’s as though every department has been given the same note by the Wachowskis; “yeah, go nuts”. So we have quasi-Eqyptian space-cruisers, palaces that put the Marvel universe’s Asgard to shame, and one of the most decadent wedding ceremonies in recent movie history. It’s as over the top as Michael Giacchino’s buoyant-yet-pompous score; presumably a late addition to the feature and thus the most-knowing aspect of the film.
Because by that point even the Wachowskis must have realised just how shit this is.
Jupiter Ascending is terrible. The failing is largely in the script, which clunks with howlers throughout, but these errors are compounded by their various delivery mechanisms. Kunis and Tatum conjure derisive laughter, have zero screen chemistry, but forge ahead bravely through scenes that smash the film occasionally into so-bad-it’s-good territory (“I love dogs” [you’ll see]). Bean and Middleton at least seem prepared for the notion that they’ve got themselves involved in something so hammy it’s worth playing for pantomime effect, but then… then there is Eddie Redmayne.
Ho-ly shit. Can we make him give back his Golden Globe? All good graces he’s received for The Theory Of Everything are swiftly undone here. But bless him, he almost makes the movie. Unfortunately, he does this by careering it whole-heartedly into that special subset of films that achieve longevity through mockery. Jupiter Ascending may be destined for the same cult following that latches onto the likes of Showgirls for its utter, utter naffness. Goddamn it, the internet was right all along.
The perhaps joyful upshot of this is that while Jupiter Ascending is awful, it’s sort of entertaining because of that. In between the uninspired action sequences taking place in apparently deserted cities (both local and… less so) and reams of waffling exposition are nuggets of crap the likes of which you’ll struggle to find elsewhere right now (unless you’ve stepped into the path of Nicolas Cage’s airline passengers in Left Behind). Otherwise, this loopy sci-fi opera is just so much money getting thrown at the camera before anyone’s asked why. Don’t blame Tatum; he’s just along for the ride on this one. Nevertheless, it does little to change his fortunes with my scoring system.