Jupiter Ascending (**): Plateaus quickly, then sinks under its own insignificance

jupiter-ascendingJupiter Ascending – 2015

Written and Directed by The Wachowskis
Starring Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Maria Boyle Kennedy, James D’Arcy, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Jupiter Jones (Kunis) is the daughter of a broken young Russian couple.  When her father is killed while she is in the womb, her mother journeys with the rest of the family on a shipping boat towards America. Midway across the ocean, she is born. Little does she know, that doesn’t even explain her path to personhood by a longshot.

Working as a lowly maid for rich people in New York, she is rescued by Caine Wise (Tatum)  from an attempt on her life by agents of Balem Abrasax (Redmayne). Before she can say “Who is Abrasax?” it is explained to her continually in pieces as she is shuttled around from battle to battle, place to place, new character to new character. We never get one grand explanation, but each person she meets picks up where the other left off, almost like they’d read the script. This method worked in The Matrix, because the people who rescued NEO were all on the same side. It’s very hard to say any two people share the same allegiance here, so the result feels clumsy.

The clearest sign of script trouble comes in the 2nd act. Jones has been rescued from Kalique Abrasax (Middleton), who really never had her in a position of danger. As she rests for a moment on a spaceship, many miles from home, she listens to Wise’s breathy explanation of her position at that moment. In the midst of it, she answers his game plan talk with a speech on how hard it was for her to “find the right guy” when she was back home on Earth. Wise listens to her, catching her off-beat and out-of-place vibe, then says that he has no place with her. He is a genetically engineered, or “spliced” bounty hunter, which apparently does not even rate as high as a dog, compared to her. Her answer, “I like dogs.”

When dialogue like that derives from the Wachowski’s, it could mean anything. Either way, the entire sequence is just dumped there, out-of-place and juvenile.

More about the Abrasax clan. They are 3 siblings of a recently murdered mother who is a doppelgänger for Jones. There is a reason for this that I will not get into. I don’t want to be part of the reason you are bored with this film. Of the 3, Kalique is the best represented. She explains why it is that she, her mother and siblings are all hundreds of years old. She also exhibits a patience that they other two lack to such a degree that it is hard to believe that either of them made it past 100 years old. Her section of the film stands out like a beacon, but as soon as she departs, the light of sensibility leaves, too.

Her younger brother, Titus (Booth) is suave and tries to impress Jones with his intentions and his words about how alike Jones and his mother are. Then he immediately proposes marriage to her. The kinds of red flags this would set off for the normal viewer of this film is not aligned with that of The Wachowski’s sensibilities, it would seem. The only thing seemingly wrong with the scenario according to the script would be that Titus wants to kill her immediately afterword. Jones seems oblivious to this. Perhaps she’s never seen The Princess Bride, or studied anything of Roman, English or any other royal history.

It’s supposed to be some sort of climactic point when we are finally graced with Balem (Redmayne), who is the oldest and has inherited the most from his mother (including the planet, Earth). By the time we arrive at his palace / refinery, we’ve been given so many glimpses of his petulance we are more annoyed with him than intrigued.

Not since Jaye Davidson in Stargate has there been a weaker looking bad guy. Redmayne is terrible in the role. His idea of showing that he is a bad guy is to never close his lips when he speaks. By the end of the movie, it’s hard to resist the urge to seek him out so one could smack him in the mouth just to shut those lips up. His character throws the balance of the story off.

It seems that there would be no reason that anyone in power would really listen to him or do his bidding. There is a concerted effort in the middle of the film to show the legalese of the universe that Jones is thrust into. It’s a not subtle at all reference to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, that even has him playing a cameo as a Minister of legalese. It’s supposed to be a humorous change of pace for the middle of the film that ends up stopping everything in its tracks. After all the paperwork is done, though, still nothing stops the bad guy from doing bad stuff if he wants to. Even if Jones wound sign a paper authorizing it.

This film represents a vision of the universe outside our own. There are elements borrowed from better films all jumbled together to give the appearance of originality. It’s treading on some very old ideas, and not very interestingly so. The acting, for the most part, is awkward and the tempo is off, but that is nothing new for Wachowski work. They can make stuff that looks cool, but they cannot build tension in a scene to save their lives. If you don’t believe me, try to imagine if anything you see in this film gives you the same type of thrill – or even close – to the simple pacing of this scene (in two parts) from Jurassic Park:

It’s hard to blame Kunis or Tatum (but not Redmayne) for their relative ineffectiveness in the midst of the chaos they are enduring, They both seem lost to the events going on around them. The editing of the story is so choppy and yet bloated, one would need to keep notes (à la The Matrix Reloaded) and cross-reference inconsistencies to imagine what their motivation might have been intended to be at that particular moment.

I think the era of the big budget Wachowski film may be over. To say they went out with guns blazing would be true, from a certain point of view. When you have so many guns firing in so many directions, it gives the viewer the sense that the point of the shooting is to desperately hit something, anything. What’s more, no one can really tell what the heck is going on. This is likely to hide the reality that if they knew what kind of story it was, most would not even care to know.

(** out of *****)

 

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