I thought that the DVD rental places have all gone the way of dodos and unicorns, but apparently there are still a few that survived the onslaught of the internet and Netflix, including one not too far away from my Mum’s house. I don’t download so I thought it would be a good opportunity to support a local business and catch up on some movies I missed out on for various reasons. It sure did bring on a sense of nostalgia to walk along the stacked shelves.
I wanted to watch Jupiter Ascending chiefly because many of my favourite YouTube reviewers bagged the crap out of it in a very entertaining fashion, so it sounded like one of those “bad but nutty and fun” cinematic disasters. It’s directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, who were inexplicably given $175 million dollars to play with despite the fact that The Matrix afterglow had faded away ages ago, and at the heart it’s a fairly straightforward sci-fi fairytale. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a young Russian immigrant who lives with her extended family in Chicago and spends her days scrubbing rich people’s toilets, while also wearing immaculate make-up (naturally). Until one day, our Cinderella gets thrust into the middle of a galactic conspiracy and encounters Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), an extraterrestrial human/wolf crossbreed, who saves her from a bunch of murderous aliens. Jupiter learns that she is in fact interstellar royalty by the virtue of being an exact genetic duplicate (basically reincarnation) of the head of the powerful Abrasax family, a fact that the three remaining Abrasax siblings aren’t too happy about. It seems that, through a weird loophole in the inheritance law, Jupiter is entitled to some prime space real estate, including Earth.
The biggest compliment I can pay the movie is that it at least tries to tell an original story in the world of safe sequels, remakes and adaptations. It could have worked as a fun wacky adventure in the vein of The Fifth Element and in fact some of its sequences really seem to aim for that vibe. Unfortunately, Wachowskis lack the lighter touch necessary to pull it off, and can’t resist weighing the movie down with their trademark portentous dialogue and side characters who look cool/bored and speak in disinterested monotone. There are some interesting visuals and cool designs for ships, fashions, technologies and cities, but the action for the most part is so video-gamish my brain would just switch off for the lack of interest. The story is non-existent and consists mostly of Jupiter getting kidnapped then saved over and over and over again – she’s honestly the worst damsel-in-distress I’ve seen onscreen in a long time, which probably explains why Kunis remains such a blank throughout. Tatum is pretty decent as an action hero, but Caine and Jupiter’s love story can’t survive howlers like this:
Caine: “You are royalty. I’m a splice … I have more in common with a dog than I have with you.”
Jupiter: “I’ve always loved dogs.”
Sean Bean also pops up as Caine’s former colleague and his always-likeable presence does a lot to brighten up the film. He just has a magical ability to ground any scene despite the ridiculous dialogue he’s saddled with, like “Bees are genetically designed to respond to royalty.” The biggest standout of the film – if you can call it so – is Eddie Redmayne as the villainous Balem Abrasax. His performance as a spoiled cosmic brat with severe mommy issues and penchant for flashing his abs has to be one of the most WTF performances ever given by an Oscar-winning actor, and consists of wheezy over-dramatic whispering punctuated by the bursts of manic screaming. It’s so utterly bizarre and campy it transcends bad acting into some kind of warped genius territory. I loved every minute he was onscreen.
As an aside, I’m used to hearing my native language mangled in English-speaking movies by the supposedly Russian characters, but the “Russian” conversations between Jupiter and her family were so incomprehensible I needed the subtitles, too.