Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Directors: Lana and Andy Wachowski
Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne
It’s an interesting thing keeping the pulse of the film industry, you see directors rise to become almost rock stars and then you see them fall, to never be heard from again. They make that one good movie that takes over the world and then a god awful second and third film. For some reason, they can’t recapture whatever it is that audiences loved about their first film; the muse fades away and vanishes completely. I can now say that I have witnessed the downfall of the Wachowski’s, the duo of film directors who became box office sensations when they released the Matrix Trilogy onto the world. Their downward spiral started with Speed Racer (2008), a visually interesting film that tanked at the boxed office, because audiences considered it too cartoony and silly. They continued with Cloud Atlas (2012) a star studded sci-fi film that failed to connect with audiences, probably because it was too complex or convoluted. I’ve yet to watch it in its entirety. That one tanked as well, yet another film by the Wachowski’s that didn’t make its money back. And now, they’ve probably put the last nail on their coffin with Jupiter Ascending (2015), a gigantic mess of a film that didn’t make its money back either. I ask myself, how do these guys keep working when their films keep losing money? I’m thinking Hollywood’s patience with the Wachowski’s is running out, they ‘re probably thinking “third one you’re out dudes”. I don’t think we’ll be seeing a film from these guys in quite some time. Hollywood producers can be very unforgiving when it comes to losing their millions.
I didn’t want to believe Jupiter Ascending was a huge mess of a film because usually, I’m the guy defending those films that everybody hates for seemingly no reason, like for example Waterworld (1995). Sadly, on this occasion I could clearly see why people didn’t connect with Jupiter Ascending. It was clear as daylight. First off, it had a female protagonist and that usually spells certain doom for science fiction films. I would love to see more female laden science fiction films, sadly, the track record shows that female laden science fiction films equals death at the box office. It could be one of two things. My theory is not that these films fail because they have women as protagonists; they fail because when they decide to cast a female in a sci-fi film and market it as such, it’s usually a shitty film like Barb Wire (1996), Aeon Flux (2005), Catwoman (2004) or Elektra (2005). I cheer every time they put a female lead in a great science fiction film, say something like Charlize Theron in Mad Max:Fury Road (2015) or Noomi Rapace in Prometheus (2012). But both of these films are rare exceptions and both films were not marketed as having females as leads. Are sci-fi fans mostly chauvinist pigs that won’t go see a movie if they know a woman is the lead? Or are female leads cast in shitty films? Whatever the case may be, Jupiter Ascending was one of the times when they cast a female lead in crappy film. What matters to me with movies is not what gender is leading the film, but if the film is a good one, if it entertains, if it says something. Sadly, Jupiter Ascending failed on all these accounts.
Where did Jupiter Ascending go wrong? Why was it a huge fail? One of the reasons is that this was The Wachowski’s trying to do their own version of Frank Herbert’s Dune, unfortunately, it feels like the Wachowski’s bit off more than they could chew, because Dune is not a gee-whiz, magical, feel good, happy ending type of novel. It’s deep, complex, political, religious and all encompassing; Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic is the anti-Star Wars and by that I mean, not exactly commercial. It’s dense, it’s epic, yet it has heart, it’s passionate. What the Wachowski’s did was make a soulless commercial version of Dune. They’ve stolen so many elements from Frank Herbert’s Dune novels that it’s not even funny. The element of royal families feuding over planets, the idea that aristocrats use a drug that makes them more powerful, the idea of young people with wisdom beyond their years, these are all elements taken from the Dune novels, yet Herbert’s novels deliver all these ideas with gravitas, dignity and solemnity. Jupiter Ascending brings it down to b-movie territory, accompanied by cheesy dialog and terrible performances. While Dune keeps a solemn tone, Jupiter Ascending turns into an overdose of messy computer generated effects involving flying boots and incomprehensible laser battles. I guess the Wachowski’s thought they could pull off a story like Dune, but with an emphasis on action and a dose of ‘cool’ which doesn’t sound so bad. If only Jupiter Ascending didn’t have so many negative elements going for it, I might have enjoyed it.
"Flash Gordon approaching"
When I say the film is messy, I’m speaking of the special effects heavy action sequences, which have cool concepts and ideas (like the flying boots) but things move so fast on the screen that all we see is this huge blurry mess, we can’t really appreciate what the hell is happening on screen. Sometimes the action happens from so far away, we can’t even appreciate who or what we are seeing. This is something that happened to me once before in a film called The MutantChronicles (2008), a film I totally despised. Well, Jupiter Ascending suffers from this same malady; the camera distances itself from the action so much that we can’t see what the hell is happening; mix that with lightning fast action and the end result is you won’t understand a thing happening on screen. The visuals are too fast and too cramped, at times I felt like I was watching a Jackson Pollock painting, look at all those pretty colors, but what the hell is happening? The effects work goes from good to terrible, for example, I loved the look of the spaceships, but I hated these terribly animated lizard men that kept reminding me of the Koopas from Super Mario Brothers: The Movie (1993). These lizard creatures where so obviously computer generated, there was no effort put into making these creatures look remotely realistic or alive. Also, for some reason the film looks very dark, it made it even harder to see anything.
Jupiter Ascending is infested with ancient clichés that any knowledgeable filmmaker would try and avoid. For example, they decided to dedicate a whole portion of the film to the age old cliché of having the good guy stop the naïve girl from marrying the wrong guy, ugh. That was cool when I saw it in Flash Gordon (1980), with Flash trying to stop Emperor Ming from marrying Gale. But here it feels old hat because it’s been done to death in a million movies before, most recently in John Carter (2012). By the way, this whole thing with the wedding, it plays out exactly like Flash Gordon (1980), so much so that the whole scene felt like a copy paste. I could probably do a whole list of films that end with a wedding having to be stopped by the good guy, so whenever I see this particular cliché I just have to roll my eyes. Yet, here are the Wachowski’s, filmmakers who were once considered groundbreaking, doing a film that’s filled with every single cliché in the book. They even included the one where the bad guy falls to his death! Come on! Don’t believe this film is ridden with cliches? Okay, then count the times in which Channing Tatum rescues Mila Kunis at the last moment from certain doom.
Then we have the main character, Jupiter Jones played by Mila Kunis, in my opinion, a terrible miscast. She doesn’t come off as strong, or a possible leader, nothing like say Paul Muadib in Dune. My advice to The Wachowski’s is, if you’re going to have a female lead a film, at least make her a strong female. Isn’t she supposed to become the leader of a nation? Shouldn’t she at least have demonstrated some leadership skills or at the very least be a go getter? Instead, she comes off like some helpless damsel in distress, and that my friends is just so passé. Audiences want to see strong women who use their brains and smarts to escape their perils. Sadly, Mila Kunis’s character comes off as an airhead who hates her life, she hates honest work. She wants to stay home sleeping. And this is the person to whom incredible responsibilities will be bestowed upon? I guess they were going for a Cinderella type of deal, but with Cinderella, you felt like she deserved better, Mila Kunis’s character doesn’t come off that way. The filmmakers just didn’t demonstrate her changing or evolving, she doesn’t seem to learn to become responsible, her character doesn't go through a journey of growth, or what they call a "character arc". Things just happen. Boom, now she’s royalty, boom know she owns a planet. These magnanimous events don't seem to affect her much, she just takes for granted that she is now responsible for a whole planet. Bottom line, Mila Kunis was horribly miscast here, she falls in my opinion on the list of beautiful actresses who can’t act. She's taken her place right next to Megan Fox. The screenplay with its cheesy dialog, didn’t help much either. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie squander its cast in such badly written roles; did the directors not give a crap about solid performances? Was the script beyond repair? Whatever the case, the cast was wasted on this film. Not even recent Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) can escape from this scripts awfulness.
So that’s it my friends, this was in my opinion one of the worst of the year. It’s an overdose of unintelligible CGI. Some reviewers refer to this one as a visual feast, but I don’t, I like to be able to appreciate and look at my visual feasts. Bottom line is this was a real disappointment coming from once groundbreaking filmmakers; there was no intent here to be innovative or interesting. Is there anything good I can say about this movie? Well, I liked those flying boots that’s for sure, but a movie cannot ride on cool flying boots alone. Oh and they cast legendary director Terry Gilliam in a cameo in which he plays a bureaucrat, which was awesome because as most film buffs know, Terry Gilliam’s films are always against bureaucracy! And like I said, the design work on the spaceships and buildings was interesting, but that’s about as good a compliment as I can give this movie. Did I mention this huge mess of a movie is over two hours long? I don’t mind long movies, just as long as they are good. To me Jupiter Ascending was lazy filmmaking, mired by bad writing and lack of originality. Sure it’s trying to be as epic as Dune, but it falls short because it feels like a stupefied version of Dune, which isn’t a good thing.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Cool boots, bad movie.