9 March 2015
I think that I have figured out what is wrong with movies by the Wachowski siblings -- they take simple archetypical stories and try to wildly overcomplicate them.
And in the case of "Jupiter Ascending," the story is effectively a sci-fi version of a fairy tale. Think Cinderella minus the prince or the glass slipper. Or the plot. Instead, this admittedly gorgeous sci-fi movie careens aimlessly through various subplots that never connect together -- it's like the Wachowskis wanted to make a fun, action-packed sci-fi movie in the vein of "Guardians of the Galaxy," but had no idea how to do so.
So hang on, because it's a complicated ride. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a humble janitor whose only dream is of buying a telescope, and she's so desperate she's even willing to sell her eggs. But the procedure goes horribly awry when Jupiter suddenly starts levitating, the doctors and nurses try to murder her, tiny aliens swarm the room... and she's unexpectedly rescued by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a dog-human hybrid ex-soldier.
He takes her to his friend Stinger (Sean Bean), who farms bees for a living. Stinger. Ha ha. Since bees are genetically predisposed to recognize and serve royalty (no, I'm not kidding), they immediately identify Jupiter as a queen. It turns out that she is the genetic reincarnation of an ancient queen of House Abrasax, which seeds many planets with human DNA and eventually "harvests" the human population in order to make Regenex, a fluid that rejuvenates people and gives everlasting life. They also have an underclass of "splices" (human/animal hybrids), lizard alien soldiers, and advanced technology.
Apparently legal inheritance is negated if your are reincarnated (wut?), because Jupiter now can be the queen of a star empire... if she can live long enough to legally take control of it. Even worse, the dead queen's devious children are targeting her -- they all own a chunk of her empire, and they're loath to give it up. And unfortunately, the cruel Balem (Eddie Redmayne) is holding the entire Earth hostage.
One thing "Jupiter Ascending" is not lacking is imagination. The world of "Jupiter Ascending" is a big colorful, action-packed, sweeping mishmash that draws influence from "Dune," "The Fifth Element" and every young adult fantasy/SF-romance book ever written. Like "Avatar," this is a movie that is at its best when it shows us the spellbindingly beautiful visuals, with baroque palaces, lizard soldiers and spaceships filled with glass and gilded beauty.
It might have worked as a book series or a TV show, where the Wachowskis could explore the star empire, the glorious visuals (the ships) and the repercussions of Jupiter's queendom. Preferably with someone else holding the reins, because they have a lot of ideas that are wretchedly awful. The factory in the Big Red Spot. The rocket-roller-blades. The bees that identify royalty, and NO I AM NOT OVER THAT.
The problem is... the actual plot. It doesn't exist. Here's a sum-up of the plot: Jupiter is in danger. Caine saves her. Jupiter is in danger. Caine saves her. Comic relief. Jupiter is in danger. Caine saves her. Climax.
It's more a series of episodic vignettes that are completely unconnected to each other, like someone took a full-length TV series and chopped out all the character development, side-stories and intricacies to make it into a movie. All we have are fragments that lead to nothing. For instance, Jupiter spends some with her "daughter" Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), who spends ALL her time expositing. You would think a powerful character who wants to help Jupiter would be a valuable ally, and take an important part in fighting Titus and Balem. She's not, and she doesn't. Kalique is never seen again.
And the writing is awful. I think the Wachowskis were trying to create a light-hearted, colorful sci-fi adventure in the vein of "Guardians of the Galaxy," because it has these.... moments that are meant to be funny. They're not. Either they stretch the joke out until it dies (the "Brazil"-style bureaucracy-go-round) or it's skin-crawlingly uncomfortable ("I love dogs. I've always loved dogs!").
It doesn't help that Jupiter is a failure as a heroine. Frankly, she's too dumb to recognize obvious traps and lies, and finds it deeply hurtful that the devious prince she's known for six seconds might (gasp!) betray her. She also is a sociopath -- even when she learns what harvesting is for, she doesn't seem to actually care that countless human beings are coldly murdered on countless planets, so a small number of elite humans can be young and pretty forever. She only cares if EARTH is harvested, and particularly her family.
Kunis gives a performance that is flat as paper doll, and she has a painful lack of chemistry with the visibly uncomfortable Tatum. Douglas Booth is decent as a slimy playboy, and Sean Bean gives a typically good performance as a token honeybee splice. Not kidding. But he's Sean Bean, so he infuses the flat character with a real sense of world-weary strain and loss.
But Eddie Redmayne... hoo boy. You would not know this man would win an Oscar within a year of this movie's release, because he is HYPNOTICALLY bad. He slurs out every syllable like a drugged, dead-eyed mannequin, with the occasional bipolar shriek of rage.
"Jupiter Ascending" sinks in a cloud of interesting ideas that aren't attached to anything -- the characters are flat, the story is a string of episodic perils and the writing is just painful. The saving grace is the stunning visuals and the unexplored world behind it.