A Year of Unlimited #15 – Jupiter Ascending

This is the latest in a series of blogs I’ve called “A Year of Unlimited”, which isn’t perhaps the catchiest way to put it, but encapsulates my attempts to blog about every film I see while I’m signed up to the Unlimited service. I’m not linking to every one, so go and find them yourselves!

Everyone loves a film that’s “so bad it’s good”, and sci-fi’s created more than its fair share (Chronicles of Riddick, Flash Gordon and The Fifth Element to name but a few), but Jupiter Ascending, the new film from the Wachowskis, reaches a whole new level, threatening to become one of the all-time camp classics. The film takes itself much more seriously than you will, and it could have been better if it just tried a little harder to introduce the viewer to the world it’s created, rather than just being really bizarre and expecting you to accept it.

Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) goes from being a toilet-cleaner to discovering a hidden universe of power struggles, animal/human hybrids and all sorts of madness, which she is actually heir to (through some bizarre, reincarnation-like nonsense). Half-man, half-wolf – yes, really – Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) protects her/falls for her as she stumbles through the plot, while three universe-controlling toffs, the Abrasaxes (played by Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton), scheme to undermine her ascendancy.

If that sounds like nonsense, that’s because it is. It’s absolute tosh. Little time is given to suspend your disbelief, or explain what the hell is going on. You’re expected to understand what’s happening, and just go with the flow when it comes to bizarre alien creatures and space dynasties, but it’s so inert. There’s nothing interesting or dramatic about it at all – it’s just weird for the sake of being weird. You’re already subject to a lot of crazy stuff before Sean Bean’s gruff half-man, half-bee (seriously) gives us the rundown almost an HOUR in (I didn’t know there was a Sheffield in space, or that “bees can’t lie” – one of the greatest/worst lines of dialogue in the film). He seems to be wondering how he got there and why he’s shouting “beeswax” in place of a swearword.

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The whole idea of human/animal hybrids is clever, in principle – giving them the abilities of animals to improve them. But beyond Tatum’s stupid ability to sniff other character’s scents, we’re treated to lizard men in bomber jackets and mouse-humans who look like Jim Carrey from The Grinch, so terrible is their make-up. An elephant man pilots a spaceship at one point and trumpets instead of speaking – it’s all so weird. An extended scene of space bureaucracy seems to have stumbled out of a Terry Gilliam film (he makes a cameo just to ram this home), and it’s just one of the scenes that kill the film’s momentum dead. And the lack of action with any substance – from the people who gave us bullet-time – means it all just harmlessly passes by with little impact.

The acting – with the exception of Eddie Redmayne – can be described as ‘meh’, as if the cast twigged the film would be awful, and it does Tatum and Kunis a disservice, as they’re better than this: if their presence is due to simply wanting to work with the Wachowskis, it’s a real shame this is the film they chose. Tatum is your average “soldier with a tortured past”, just with added wolf-face and flying boots (yes, really), while Kunis is robbed of anything important to do, despite being the star – I was bewildered that the makers of The Matrix could be so sloppy with a protagonist’s story.

Redmayne’s ridiculous villain, Balem Abrasax, is something else though – the guy winning awards for playing Stephen Hawking hams it up as a whispering, fey, decadent space-lord who SUDDENLY ERUPTS INTO SCREAMING FURY, and he’s the only person to come out of this film with any credit, just for taking it to the extreme.

The special effects are good, but the film was actually supposed to come out last summer – it was delayed to finish them – and to be quite honest, I can’t see why. Some creations are clever – the spaceships of the three Abrasax rulers are like cathedrals – but everything’s so insubstantial. The 3D is totally pointless, making the film dark and not even giving scenes depth – surely that’s the point!

I honestly don’t know how this film got made. In years to come, I believe people will look at it with a mixture of wonder and surprise – “the Wachowskis made this?!”; “bees don’t lie?!?” – but other than Eddie Redmayne’s OTT performance, I can’t recommend anything about this film other than its value as a piece of comedy trash.

3 thoughts on “A Year of Unlimited #15 – Jupiter Ascending

  1. If it reaches the magnificent heights of the singing alien in Fifth Element, I’m sold.

    This sounds very much like a Wachowskis film, though–at this point, The Matrix and Bound are two slick exceptions to a very lumpy, dorky, kitchen-sink rule.

  2. The stuff with Sean Bean certainly does, and Eddie Redmayne’s performance, but a lot of the rest of it will drive you mad – lazy lazy plotting and inexplicably non-consequential set-pieces (which always end with Jupiter falling and Caine catching her). I did like Cloud Atlas – it has flaws but the central story works – though that was an adaptation anyway! Nic hasn’t seen Fifth Element so she’s currently being treated to the opera performance in all its grandeur

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