Sunday, February 22, 2015

“Jupiter Ascending” – WARNING: This movie contains seizure-inducing visuals and a plot to match.

I had been looking forward to seeing Jupiter Ascending for months last year when it was announced that the movie’s release would be delayed from July 2014 to February 2015. This is never, ever, ever, ever, ever (ever) a good sign for a movie, but I guess I didn’t memorize enough evers (thank you Brian Regan). I have a huge soft-spot for science fiction movies, so I continued to look forward to it. Since I had already planned a two-week vacation for the same time as the new release date, it meant that I was going to have to pay actual money to see the movie and a week after its release at that. This also meant that I would see reviews (or at least composite ratings) before I saw the movie and those reviews were not kind. The opening weekend box office results followed with an almost unbelievably low $18.4 million (USA box office only), considering its titanic budget and aggressive marketing campaign. But, as I said, I didn’t memorize enough evers.

(WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS, and based on those box office numbers, you almost assuredly have not seen this movie. And, somehow, I don’t think you will.)

Perhaps my favorite critique about this movie (and one that appears in dozens of reviews) is that the movie’s plot is far too complex and confusing for the viewer. I have no idea what movie they watched, but the plot of Jupiter Ascending is not at all hard to follow – a human girl is the reincarnated queen of the universe and some people want her dead while others want her alive. Yes, there are a lot of details and plotlines that will make you scratch your head, but not because they are confusing to the plot. Rather, they are confusing because most of them seem pointless to the plot or are so poorly developed/explained that you won’t understand why they are in the movie at all. But, before we get to those, I need to point out something that no other reviewer (at least that I read) has noticed and that only a couple even hinted at – Jupiter Ascending is basically The Matrix, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise considering both were written and directed by the Wachowskis.

Let that sink in for a minute while you rewatch the preview or the movie in your head. Here are the things the two movies have in common:
1. The human race is nothing more than a resource for another technologically advanced race.
2. The human race is unaware of this.
3. The main character is supposed to set humanity free.
4. The main character is unaware of this until someone explains to him/her that he/she is “the one.”
5. The main character spends most of the movie trying not to get killed by agents of the overlords.

Either the Wachowskis are actually some kind of vampires or they might just be one-trick ponies good at convincing studios to keep handing them $150-million-dollar budgets. Hell, they even end both movies with “the one” flying off into the sky.

As they say, “the devil is in the details”, and that is what actually makes this movie such a stink bomb. The film comes right out of the gate swinging – and whiffing – with a scene whose sole purpose is to explain how the main character (Mila Kunis) gets her name – Jupiter. Her parents are Russian, her father is an astronomer, and he is killed by thieves who break into their house and steal his telescope (among other random things). Since he wanted to name their unborn baby Jupiter, the grieving widow honors him by doing just that. Considering the grandeur promised by the previews of the film, I was certain that dad was actually some important alien hiding on the planet and that the thieves were actually there for him, but the exact opposite is true. The crazy thing is that if he hadn’t tried to stop them from taking his telescope, he wouldn’t have been killed. But, then Jupiter might not have been named Jupiter and the movie might have had a dumb title like “Jennifer Ascending.” They sure dodged a bullet there.

Years later, Jupiter is an indeterminate age, scrubbing toilets as part of her extended Russian family’s housecleaning business (feel free to make poop jokes for the rest of this review). One of her cousins convinces her to sell some of her eggs so he can buy a big screen TV and an XBOX (of course, she thinks it’s for a business opportunity), but she goes along with it because she wants to buy a $4000 replica of her father’s telescope. Seriously – that’s how this movie starts.

Meanwhile, three siblings of the Abraxas family – Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth), and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) – meet on some distant planet to discuss Earth, their dead mother, their aging visages, the size of their “kingdoms,” and why every character in this movie has a ridiculous name, all while congratulating themselves on a great harvest (I only made up one of those things). Cut back to Earth and a bunch of weird little aliens are about to kill Jupiter in the egg-donation operating room when half-wolf, half-human, all-hunk, Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) bursts into the room, guns blazing, to rescue Jupiter. Well, this movie just went from zero to awesome!

After a ludicrous chase scene in which Caine is flying around on gravity boots designed to mimic roller blades in the air, Caine takes Jupiter to meet a former friend and beekeeper, Stinger (Sean Bean). No, seriously, his house and land are covered in bees and Jupiter doesn’t even blink when he says his name is Stinger. Jupiter is quickly surrounded by bees, but realizes that by waving her arms around, she can control the bees. Stinger immediately kneels to her, determining in that moment that she is the genetic reincarnation of Queen Abraxas because bees can sense royalty. This movie just went from awesome to “wait, what now?”

(By the way, if you haven’t figured it out by now, this is a great time to tell you that this movie is completely insane.)

Shortly thereafter, Jupiter is captured by some aliens with more silly names and delivered to Kalique, who actually verbalizes the whole reincarnation thing and explains that Queen Abraxas bequeathed everything to herself if this very scenario occurred. Kalique hands Jupiter over to an intergalactic police force called the Aegis, who have also collected Caine and Stinger, which is followed by the strangest scene ever put in a movie – Caine escorting Jupiter through a series of buildings in which Jupiter must navigate the bureaucracy, red tape, and paperwork of claiming her title. It’s literally a sequence of men behind desks telling Jupiter to fill out such-and-such form and taking said form to some other desk. Apparently, this was supposed to be an homage to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, a 30-year old movie that nobody outside of crusty old film critics has even heard of, let alone seen, but it comes off as awkward and not at all comedic (which was the intention).

By this point in the film, it’s easy to see why a lot of those movie critics had become confused, but I promise it’s because those reviewers are morons. While all of that stuff sounds completely nuts, it’s all fluff that doesn’t change the overarching plot. The one thing that hadn’t been explained yet was the motivation behind the people who wanted her dead. Thankfully, Titus explains things to us when he snatches Jupiter away from the Aegis. In the greater universe, the Abraxas seed thousands of planets with lifeforms to be harvested when their population reaches a certain point. The harvest yields a liquid that, when bathed in, infuses the bather with youth and extends their life. Apparently, humans yield the best bathwater, but in her dying years, the queen wanted the practice stopped. Considering the value of the bathwater and that the Abraxas fortune is built on the bathwater industry, Balem (who inherited Earth) has no intention of stopping. But, his two siblings want to take Balem down a peg, so each is executing a plan to stop him. There are a couple of other twists I won’t get into, but there’s nothing confusing in there. They each want control of Earth for their own reasons and Jupiter is the key. What those other reviewers should have been talking about is: bathwater, really?

Like I said, I have a soft spot for science fiction and spent nearly the entire movie desperately trying to enjoy myself, but the film just wouldn’t let me. Between a housekeeper wanting to sell her eggs to buy a wildly expensive telescope, Channing Tatum air(?)blading through the sky, Redmayne randomly screaming in between creepily whispered lines, paperwork, bees, and crop circles (to name just a few), I just couldn’t enjoy the movie. It didn’t help that there was no world-building done at all to explain any of this galactic empire beyond life-extending bathwater, or that Tatum and Kunis delivered the performances of a couple of 2x4’s and had all of the chemistry of those 2x4’s banging against each other (yeah, there’s a romance subplot in this thing too), or that the visuals were so mesmerizingly good that it forced you to notice how terrible the writing was in contrast.

I’d like to tell you that the movie at least ends in a climax that dispenses with any writing stupidity and just gives in to an explosion-filled, action-packed, laser-gun shooting crescendo of fun. I’d like to tell you that the movie redeemed itself at the end and didn’t show Jupiter happily scrubbing toilets. I’d like to tell you that Channing Tatum doesn’t fly off into the sky on angel wings, chasing an airblading Jupiter. I’d also like to tell you that Emily Blunt showed up at my house last night to discuss my reviews and ask me to star with her in her next movie, then made out with me. I told you this movie was completely insane.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back and remember to memorize enough evers.

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