Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Gentle reader, I’ve been a bad boy and need to be punished. With an almost breathless anticipation I approached the cinema for this weeks absolution, quivering with illicit delight as I presented my equipment to the cashier to obtain swift and immediate, deep and warm entry. The film I saw left me feeling dirty, filthy and ashamed of my wanton desires, a self-flagellation of the soul for my deviant appetite and salacious cravings. No, I’m not talking about seeing the imminent 50 Shades of Grey (which also sounds like an instant bad movie classic) I’m talking about Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowski directing duo’s latest and possibly last plunge through the criticially and financially desolate wake of Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas – y’see your expectations were subverted and thus the humor arose. SF of all dimensions and its numerous sub-genres remain an uncontrollable temptation for the Menagerie, so the plethora of bad reviews vomited over all social media couldn’t put me off, such is my relentless appetite for silver hewed spaceships, delirious dogfights, kaleidoscopic alien species, bombastic blasters and exotically skinned broads. The initial trailer warped in almost exactly a year ago to consigned shrugs, with an initial late 2014 summer release pushed back to this February with rumors of frantic re-shoots, re-edits and crisis management among the Warner Brothers brass. You can almost hear the fevered prayers of embittered executives praying for some of that Guardians Of The Galaxy magic echoing around the green-screen draped sets, when what we actually got was Starcrash with a $200 million budget.
After Cloud Atlas I am frankly shocked how the siblings managed to prise some money out of Warner Brothers, although a little digging has shown that when you factor in P&A costs the movie just about broke even with foreign territory hauls. Their picking at the carcass of cultural genre follows the traditional power fantasy trope of numerous otaku and YA dossiers – a socially dysfunctional / uncomfortable yet above average intelligence protagonist with hidden reservoirs of will is actually a secret inheritor to some manifest destiny, see also Harry Potter, Enders Game, Katniss Everdeen, Luke Skywalker, Peter Parker and just about every influential manga of the past twenty years. More specifically the hero of Jupiter Ascending is a heroine, a young woman named Jupiter (Mila Kunis) by her stargazing father before he was killed by some robbers in the film’s opening and deeply garbled prologue. When I say garbled I mean I literally lost the plot here, as it turns out Jupiter is actually the secret heir to an intergalactic empire, saved from an assassination attempt by the ridiculously garbed outcast Caine Wise (Channing Tatum, and yes that name just made me laugh out loud as well) who spends much of the following 90 minutes without a shirt, all breathless and brooding. Once the film exits our earthly orbit it begins to pick up some speed, reverting to a space opera model of courtly combat, intergalactic intrigue and the moustache twirling villains of the House of Abrasax, all vying over the inheritance of their departed matriarch. It’s a charisma vacuum as dense as the vapid wastes of Omega Centauri, punctuated with deflated dogfights and Mandelbrot melees, impressively rendered against a green screened digital delirium.
I’ve seen many, many bad films in my time, but there are certain special individual films which are simply so bad that they shatter the carapace of cursed, twirl through the wormhole of ‘what the fuck?’ and arrive back in the perverted realms of the so intergalactically bad that they are actually kinda entertaining – Jupiter Ascending just about flees into that flock. From the rigid performances to the perfunctory plot this is a major misfire on every level, with some horrendous exposition and unspeakable dialogue (oh dear god the ‘bee’ scene was just fucking amazing), making me truly wonder just what QC any producer must traverse before getting a nine figure studio approved cheque to cash. Every scene seems to follow its predecessor in some strange drunken stumble of incomprehension, before for some reason some action breaks out which at least alleviates us from the tedium of the insipid interactions. Behold my friends a film where Jupiter’s Russian mother exclaims ‘By Stalins balls’ in the film’s opening minutes, her daughter an heir to an ancient celestial empire which leaves her utterly non-plussed and unsurprised that a) our entire planet is being manufactured as a breeding resource for an ancient cabal of evil b) the existence of numerous, colourful alien species and empires and c) the fact that she is somehow a princess to all this wonder and majesty. I’m not entirely sure that fits in with her human pedigree and birth on earth, and frankly like the film I just don’t care. If Mila Kunis and her frozen, off-planet performance is something to treasure then you ain’t seen nothing yet, enter stage right Eddie Redmayne with the absolute worst villain act of recent memory. You can tell he’s really, really, really, really evil y’see because he rasps all quietly in a slightly effeminate way BEFORE SHOUTING AND BELLOWING like some Tourette’s afflicted tyrant, pulling the usual trifecta of casually executing inefficient henchmen, bellowing a Nietzschean purity manifesto, and clearly wanting to have fucked his dead mother. Gosh, he really is very, very, very evil indeed, and don’t get me started on dog-boy DNA Tatum and his incredible air-skating anti-grav boots……
Being charitable we must award some marks to the Wachowski’s for at least attempting to make a film which is based in original material, even if the failure may further dissuade the purse holders for financing such a risky proposition in the near future. Well, when I say ‘original’ the pulpy origins of the tale are clear, a hyperspace hybrid of a decadent Greco-Roman intergalactic civilization reminiscent of Dune, of the more psychedelic and juvenile populace of 1970’s European comic books, and a steampunk powered John Waters camping it all over the computerized chassis. There is something to the visual majesty of the Wachowski imagination, the visual pollution isn’t quite as bad as other space opera conductors, even if they (to paraphrase the Empire podcast) have used up all this years deployment of CGI, it’s all gone I’m afraid, so it’s a good job that both The Avengers and Episode VII have some practical and miniature work as all of silicon valleys processors must still be exhausted after rendering this spectacular simulacra. Some of the action beats are fairly well done even if the imagination clearly runs out of pixellated stream in the final showdown, with the usual henchmen side battles with interspersed with the central protagonist /antagonist melee. This is a film for a possible Friday night rental a year for now, alongside an XL pizza, a six-pack and some snarky friends of choice, willing to wallow in the mire and hurl howls of abuse at the screen – I can’t wait for the How Did This Get Made? crew to get their fangs into this sometime soon. I started this review with some rather puerile banter so whom better to paraphrase the climax than a misquote of the great Mae West – Jupiter Ascending really isn’t very good but when it’s bad it’s better;