Expand Your Universe

Lana Wachowski
Andy Wachowski

Mila Kunis
Channing Tatum

As the story opens, we are introduced to the universe unseen: the concept that life beyond our world not only exists but has done so for millennia. Furthermore, life didn’t start on Earth and in actuality our planet is little more than a commodity to be cultivated and reaped. After a brief introduction to three of the ruling royal siblings who hold claim over such planets, we are brought back to Earth and witness the birth of illegal Anglo-Russian immigrant, Jupiter Jones [Kunis]. Her life is an unassuming one as she accompanies her mother and aunt on their daily occupation of cleaning the homes of the wealthy. But one night, Caine Wise [Tatum], an ex-soldier, is contracted to find Jupiter, who is apparently the reincarnated form of the aforementioned sibling’s mother and therefore rightful heir to the Earth (among other systems). Oh, Cinderella, you shall go to the ball! *sigh* Watching Jupiter Ascending with its dark palate, hidden world narrative, god-awful script and bland directing, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was rewatching Super Mario Bros.; a comparison I haven’t drawn once in over ten years of reviewing films. It was probably all the shitty lizard people.

In the lead up to this release (and the terrible early reviews) there have been reports that we should all go a little easier on this film for ‘the sake of the industry’ that even a bad original film is still an original film and without its success, studios will hesitate before backing unique and novel scripts. There is a tiny element of truth in this mentality but of all the films deserving leniency, Jupiter Ascending is certainly not it. The first sin to scrutinise is the foundation; the utterly appalling script. I can almost imagine a Wachowski pitch resembling the archetypal Ron Howard pitch famously parodied by The Simpsons: “So we have a story, it’s a huge space opera” “I’m listening” “There are these three siblings who rule the universe and trade in planets” “Interesting” “But we learn that what they actually trade is the life on the planets” “Wait a minute..” “Which they harvest to stay young forever” “God damn it! That’s just The Matrix in space” “No, it’s different because there’s a princess, who doesn’t even know she’s the one” “For crying out loud” “And she’s going to open everyone’s eyes and change the world” “Why do I even bother?” “And the male lead is a guy with dog ears” “Ok, you can leave now.” For every step in the right direction, the script navigates the film straight into a pit and shrugs its shoulder innocently. A good example would be presenting the central character as a potentially strong female lead only to reveal her as a cripplingly weak individual, bouncing off of the walls, manipulated by everyone, waiting to be saved by a man. And it’s not just the fish-out-of-water human in an alien environment issue, it’s that she’s so blind and so easily coerced. Too often we’re presented with a building event that almost turns to the audience and whispers, “Woah, I think she’s a goner here!” before someone (Tatum mostly) bursts in and saves her right at the last second, “Close call there! I wonder what’s going to happen next” says the film to a completely unsurprised audience. And if the characters and story weren’t middling enough, we have the shockingly dumb dialogue. It’s uninspired, hollow, stereotypical and should be penalised for the sheer wealth of colloquialisms alone. I know you want the banter to be relatable but if you have a universe as vast as is implied by the script and Earth is just a tiny cog in an industrial machine, surely our references would be lost on everyone offworld – something shows like Stargate: SG1 and Farscape managed to play up to brilliantly.

As much as it’s a cliché to say this, you can’t make a good film out of a bad script and Jupiter Ascending is no different, displaying astonishingly bad performances given by talented actors. Every single character is horribly one dimensional and their presence is either to push exposition or populate an action scene. In fact, I’m not entirely confident I could name any of the supporting roles. So we have a hackneyed story, crappy dialogue and sub-par acting. Anything else the film can throw at us? How about ineffective genre categorising? I understand this film is supposed to be a science fiction action drama but being clearly marketed at teenagers, there’s a healthy dose of comedy injected throughout. However, it’s the kind of comedy that not only falls flat but has to really hammer to the audience that a comedic moment is apparently happening. Case in point, having escaped yet another deadly scenario, Tatum and Kunis are speeding away from Chicago in a stolen car, which gives Kunis just enough time to notice “Oh my God, you’re bleeding!” because that’s wholly original. So does she do the clichéd standard of ripping the hem of her shirt to fashion a tourniquet? No, no, this is a unique and original movie, let’s check the glove-box for a sanitary towel. Problem solved. Slap that on your gash. But it’s not that it was used as a bandage, in all honesty it actually makes a lot of sense, it’s Tatum’s disdain and humiliation that threw me off. As stated earlier, how well versed in every planets’ industries and practices are known to these off-world creatures that he would immediately know the purpose of the sanitary towel.. and why in the hell would he care either way? Despite this, they thought it was funny enough that it merited a call-back and we’re graced with Sean Bean shooting Kunis a look too, as if to say, “Really?”

The classic safety net of a terribly scripted film is the saving graces of the technical production; the aspect of cinema that ensures that if it’s pretty enough, even massive cinematic failures can win Oscars. Many critics and defenders will argue the ambitious nature of the visuals but for all the time and effort put into the importance of the scale it never enters the realms of credibility, leaving the actors looking as if they’re plodding around a green screened environment.. which they are (one of the key issues with the galactic sequences in the equally miserable Green Lantern adaptation). Furthermore, the production design of the animal/human DNA cross-spliced characters and assorted other alien life forms was lazy, stupid and laughably fake. On one hand we have the outright unhuman races from the bulbous-headed typical alien creatures to the leather coat wearing, bat wing sporting lizard people to the quasi-animalistic humanoids. Cross a guy with an elephant, he’s going to have a trunk (and they call him Nesh.. as in Ganesh for pity’s sake), character spliced with a deer or a wolf? Change their ears.. problem solved. Sean Bean’s character, Stinger, is spliced between a human and a bee. This naturally means that he is very fast, has hexagonal irises and yellow and black stripy hair. It also affords the film some amazingly moronic dialogue, such as “Have you ever been stung by a bee? They are very loyal and sense royalty.” Who’s the poor sap they wheeled in to work on the score? Michael Giacchino? Really? Well at least it’ll sound good, even if everything else is unsalvageable. But even Giacchino seems to be completely thrown off-kilter by this lemon. The man is one of the most prominent rising composers in mainstream cinema, yet somehow produced a rather flat, disinterested score, devoid of all life, personality and connection with the visuals. I know the score was recorded prior to filming but as a method that works perfectly well for other movies, it really shouldn’t have generated this kind of mediocre result.

Admittedly, I’ve rated dumb action and dumb science fiction movies higher than this one in the past (I enjoyed John Carter for crying out loud), so I’m sure my inbox will be flooded with accusations of bias and unfair treatment. But allow me to explain. This is a bad movie. It’s a bad movie in the same way that the recent run of high CGI prequels of family classics (Alice In Wonderland, Oz The Great And Powerful, Maleficent et al) are bad movies. They solely exist to show off lavish computer generated worlds that are so saturated with colour and nonsensical quirkiness that they never really rise above video game quality. All complexity, maturity and interest are lacking from the narrative and the ‘story’ is only there to string together visual sequences. Ironically, the words we use to describe this would be cheap and lazy but the truth is neither is accurate. The cost of this film was something like 176 million dollars and the time it would take to generate all these effects would have been months upon months. Yet the final result is shoddy, lacklustre and forgettable tripe and unless the Wachowski’s next feature is something genuinely innovative or gripping, their career may be tarnished permanently.

Release Date:
6th February 2015

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoiler laden paragraph**
By the time we approach the final onslaught against the evil Balem (played by Eddie Redmayne), at least ninety per cent of the audience lost complete interest. Tatum growls at the camera, pushes his ship through the protective barrier of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and *bang* the shields are ruptured and the vampiric harvesting factory begins to collapse on itself. At this point, as nauseated as I was by everything going on around me, I couldn’t help but wonder, if it was so easy to take down the most powerful ruler in the galaxy, why had no one else done it up until now? Because ‘plot’, that’s why. Plot dictates that now is the time for this to happen so we can cue a rather mediocre but very busy action sequence. This is what I meant when I described the film as lazy. Absurdity and naivety wreathed in idiocy.

Notable Characters:
Without a doubt, the highlighted and most memorable character of this schlock fest is Eddie ‘what the fuck happened to your acting abilities’ Redmayne. I’ve never been much of a fan of Mr. Redmayne but he’s getting quite a bit of media attention these days and his chances of Best Actor Oscar are incredibly high this year. But watching this mess, you really wouldn’t think it. Every utterance is delivered in a fart-breath whisper which is supposed to imply nobility but just comes off as amateur old man acting. But feeling the full extent of his acting prowess isn’t being explored, Redmayne will, on occasion, scream a singular word like a small animal in a trap. The whole thing is depressingly laughable really.

Highlighted Quote:
“I’m not your damn mother”

In A Few Words:
“Unpleasingly stale and unoriginal space drivel that offers little in the way of originality and less in the way of entertainment”

Total Score: