Thursday, May 14, 2015

Jupiter Ascending: A Review

I don't care.
I won an Oscar.
I'm a legend in my own mind...
I mean, time.
I'm BETTER than Cary Grant!
I'M this generation's Peter O'Toole!


Why Do I Keep Saying Jupiter Descending?

Few films have gone into theaters with such negative buzz, with infamy already riding on them, than the Wachoski's Jupiter Ascending, their massive stab at a massive science-fiction epic to rival their own undisputed masterpiece, The Matrix (all other Matrix films not as universally beloved, and everything since pretty much detested).   Once the film actually rolled out (and rolled on, and on, and on), we saw that for all the bad publicity it was getting, the final product was much, much worse.  Jupiter Ascending would kill most other careers, but those involved have insurance; the Washoskis have an innate ability to defy logic,  Channing Tatum can go back to stripping (as taking his clothes off is his only discernable talent), and Crappie Redmayne can go hide in more period fluff and biopics to keep his fantasy alive that he's this great actor equal to a Richard Burton when he's nothing more than a shrewd Oscar campaigner. 

I have not shifted my view that his Oscar win for The Theory of Nothing was more a reward for his technique than for his actual performance. 

Jupiter Ascending was never going to be his Norbit, and this "Norbit Effect" has been exaggerated. It was a collection of circumstances that derailed Eddie Murphy's Oscar chances, lessons which were learned by this other Eddie and applied correctly.   In short, Redmayne was going to win the Oscar regardless of how lousy he is as an actor and in Jupiter Ascending because as an Academy voter observed to his main rival Michael Keaton, "Illness always wins".   However, I digress.

At this point I would describe the plot, but I'm not sure that the Wachoskis have one, but I'll do my best.  Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is an illegal alien (read double entendre): daughter of a British diplomat and Russian woman, her astronomy-loving father is killed by thugs before Jupiter is born.  They flee and Jupe is born aboard a ship smuggling them to America.  Now, with her loutish Russian relations, she is a cleaning woman in Chicago.  Her cousin convinces her to sell her eggs to be able to pay for a telescope (seriously, this IS the plot), but wouldn't you know it: real aliens are out to get her for reasons unknown and try to kill her at the egg-donation center. Fortunately, Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a creature who is something like a half-man/half-wolf, along with his gravity-defying boots, rescues her.

Let's see if I've got this straight.  Due to some weird intergalactic regulations Jupiter Jones is the rightful heir to Earth.  She is the reincarnation of the original owner, who is the mother of three powerful aliens, siblings in the Royal Family Abrasax.  There's Kalique Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton, no relation to HRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, also incorrectly known as 'Princess Kate', incorrect because her name isn't Kate and she isn't a "Princess" but a Duchess), there's the middle brother Titus (Douglas Booth), and the oldest, Balem (Redmayne).  Balem claims the Earth as his own, and he will 'harvest' (in other words, kill) humans to create some sort of bathing fluid that will allow him to remain young and hot.  However, because of Jupiter being the reincarnation of their mother, Balem has to kill Jupiter first before he can claim full legal rights since she, not Balem, own the Earth. 

It's now up to Caine, along with fellow disgraced soldier Stinger Apini (Sean Bean), to save Jupiter and have her claim her right (and perhaps throw in a restoration to Caine and Stinger to their military rank).  From this point, Jupiter Ascending goes from one rescue to another for poor Jupiter, who's bounced around more times than Tom Brady's deflated balls.  She gets to see all three Abrasax siblings, including almost getting married to Titus (which led me to wonder whether this qualifies as incest).  His plan was to marry the reincarnation of his mother (who apparently looked like Jupiter) and then promptly kill her to inherit Earth.  Balem has a different approach: inside his factory in the Big Red Dot on Jupiter, he plans to have her transfer legal ownership to Earth or he will kill her Russian family (like the cousin who got her to sell her eggs and her dismissive uncle, but hey, they're family).  Eventually, around the eight-hour mark, Balem is defeated permanently, everyone returned to Earth, Caine gets his wings (without any bells being rung) and Jupiter gets her telescope.

Where, oh where to chronicle where Jupiter Ascending goes wrong.  You're rather spoiled for choice.  Let's start with the story.  There isn't one.  Instead, you as a viewer get the sense that the story makes sense to the Wachoskis but they never bothered to think that everyone else may not know what's going on.  Whether the film expects you to know things or not is ambiguous at best.  No, having the Abrasax siblings dump information when speaking to each other is not 'plot exposition'. 

Speaking of 'speaking', Jupiter Ascending really is playing all over the place with how it should sound.  We have voice-over by Kunis (a bane of my cinematic experience), and then we have Eddie Redmayne, who thanks to his Oscar imagines himself one of the Legends of Cinema at age 33.  Much has been made of his whispery, Don Corleone-type speaking in Jupiter Ascending, breaking from his sotto voce style twice to let out some all-out ear-shattering screaming.  Let me join in that chorus of bashing.  It isn't so much that he's hard to understand.  It's that it makes it all look more hilarious.

You really can't take a villain seriously when he makes Andrew Scott's take on Moriarty in Sherlock look like Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter.  Redmayne was so effete one wonders how he could have gotten away as dictator of the universe.  He (and the Wachowskis) might have thought this came across as menacing, but in only came across as way beyond camp.

Eddie Redmayne isn't stupid.  He may be a smug, entitled upper-class twit who has convinced himself that he's more than an actor but a 'serious thespian' to rival Olivier or his My Week With Marilyn costar Sir Kenneth Branagh (and I figure imagines himself greater than Branagh and his idol Olivier), but he's not stupid.  One thing about Redmayne: he's not a great actor.  He's fine in other films (My Week With Marilyn, Les Miserables), but someone to rank among the greats?  No.  I imagine he knew what he was doing when he played Balem Abrasax, Emperor of the Universe as the long-lost son of Ming the Merciless.  He knew what he was doing when he played Balem as camp to the Nth Degree: a whispering, effeminate, wimpy, willowy figure, pouting, preening, and prancing through his scenery-chewing avarice.  At one point, when examining video of Jupiter's first attempted abduction (the poor girl gets grabbed left right and center), Redmayne looks like a frog.

I personally think Jupiter Ascending is a better reflection of the kind of performer Redmayne is than that shameful Oscar-bait The Theory of Nothing, where his physicality trumped any real acting (and for which he was richly rewarded).   One of two things: either he was entirely aware that this was nonsense from the get-go and decided the best thing to do was play it camp and not bother to pretend this was serious, or he truly was unaware of how nonsensical and laughable his performance was and he really thought he was menacing as the fey Mumbles.  Either way, it reflects badly on "Our Generation's Richard Burton".

Not that anyone else did any better.  I want so desperately to give Mila Kunis a bit of a break here because part of me is convinced that Jupiter Jones was drugged at some point.  I say this because Kunis looked permanently drugged through the entire sordid spectacle that is Jupiter Ascending.  She looked like she was in a permanent stupor, unaware of anything, looking perpetually perplexed and desperate to figure out what happened in the previous scene in order to have any idea of where she was going. 

Granted, Tatum looks like that all the time.  We do get a lot of what Tatum does best (appear shirtless) but even I, longtime Tatum detractor, think he deserved better than to have to submit to having a Tampon put on him to stop the bleeding.  If only that were the worst of it for Chan.  Tatum is not an actor.  He never has been.  It's always been about that meathead appeal he has, where he comes across as a moron, but a sweet-natured one.  Even in 21 Jump Street (about the only film of his I genuinely like) he at least was spoofing himself and was in on the joke.  In this, however, even the most talented (or in Redmayne's case, the person who deludes himself into thinking he's the most talented) couldn't make this work.  Tatum looks confused throughout the film, and even thought he's saddled with such a silly character as a half-man/half-dog type to play, he tries.

In fairness, that's what I like about Tatum: no matter how awful he is, he always tries. 

I feel for Sean Bean, who simply deserves so much better.  He too tries, and it's interesting to see how he tries when I figure no one save the Wachoskis know what's going on.

As a side note, you can tell how clever/original Jupiter Ascending is by the names: Jupiter Jones (which brings to mind one of the title characters from the juvenile mystery book series The Three Investigators).  There's the half-man/half-dog or wolf Caine and the former bee-like Stinger.  That's the level of the film's creativity.

It's almost so sad, the cluelessness of nearly everyone involved.  That includes the Wachoskis, who threw us (and the characters) into things that were if not incomprehensible, at least a little on the nutty side.  You have the problem of thinking that you're coming into a sequel of something that has come before, this complex universe with its archaic rules and generations of crazy people.  That isn't the worst of it.  Whole characters and sequences could have been eliminated without any problem.  Her entire bureaucratic frolic to claim her right was pretty much useless (as was the nod to Brazil, complete with Terry Gilliam's cameo).  Early in the film, Jupiter's friend is temporarily stunned by aliens, thinking that she is Jupiter.  Once they know she isn't, we never hear from said friend again.

As a side note, Jupiter Ascending cribs from a lot of films: Brazil, Dune, and I think I saw a little of Princess Bride there too.   It's almost a drinking game: See what other movie Jupiter Ascending is stealing from!

Of particular note is Middleton's Kalique, who served the purpose of 'Information Dumper' never to be seen again.  She didn't need to be there.  Same goes for Booth's Titus (and yes, he is pretty but also pretty bad as an actor, not having grown since last I saw him in the bad Romeo & Juliet).  Why couldn't Balem have gone and married the reincarnation of the mother he apparently murdered?  Well, there was the reason that Balem may not be 'the marrying kind' (given Crappie Redmayne's performance), but that's just a guess. 

At one point, Caine tells Jupiter that the bees won't attack her because they recognize royalty.  I've never been attacked or stung by bees.  Therefore, I too am Royal.  Good to know.

The film is rife with laughable dialogue.  Jupiter telling Caine "I love dogs," when he tells her he's more like a dog than a man is pretty much infamous now, but there are more.  "Up is hard.  Down is easy," Caine tells Jupiter in one point about flying.  "We should tell Lord Balem.  That is what we should do," two lackeys of the female impersonator Balem tell each other.  "Not the bees", Stinger says (there's another movie Jupiter Ascending stole from: the remake of The Wicker Man). 

My favorite though is a question Caine asks Jupiter or vice versa (can't remember because I was too astonished by the dialogue, "Is there any part of you that wants to bite me?"  "Bite me", I think, was the Wachoski's mantra during the making of the film.

I'm a sexy Oscar winner and I know it!

Again and again so much went wrong that one wonders why they didn't just shelve the film.  I think we were suppose to be impressed by the bigness of it all, but admittedly pretty costumes (for those who wore them) and big sets don't a good movie make.  Michael Giacchino's score makes a horrendous decision to announce how 'important' everything is by having loud choirs harmonize (another bane of my existence, since I hate it when choirs indicate a BIG moment in a film).  The battle in Chicago may be impressive-looking (though the print we saw was pretty bad), but it is astonishing that no one in Chicago noticed whole buildings collapsing in a heap of destruction.

The film explains all this away by telling us that humans simply don't notice all this, and that magically everything is restored before morning.  Am I really suppose to believe that Chicago is so quiet at night that no one is around to see or hear large explosions and mass destruction?!

One thing the film doesn't explain is why if Jupiter Jones is I figure a dual British-Russian citizen (her father being British), she couldn't just apply to live in the U.K. legally (which I figure she had the right to) instead of her mother having to illegally come to America.  What, Mr. Jones didn't have any relatives thrilled to have the only child of their late relative come and stay with them?

Oh, well, logic is not Jupiter Ascending's strong suit. 

I've spent a lot of time telling you a simple truth: Jupiter Ascending is horrible (though who knows: I imagine that maybe Cody Decker thinks it's better than Gone With the Wind).   It's something you should watch if you want to see once highly-touted wunderkinds squander their good fortune.  It's something you should watch if you want to see an Oscar-winner show his contempt for everyone else by hamming it up unapologetically, knowing the Academy Award was in the bag from the get-go.  It's something you should watch if you enjoy bad films (though it isn't a 'so bad it's good' movie).  It's just bad. 

If you like seeing terrible films done terribly, with camp performances by self-proclaimed artistic geniuses, then go to Jupiter Ascending.  If there were any justice, it would be the last chance to see a Wachowski Siblings film.  However, in an industry that imagines Eddie Redmayne to be the Best Actor...

Not even Stephen Hawking could make sense of this.


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