Saturday, February 07, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

There is a sequence in the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending that points to a film that might have been. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is an unhappy cleaning woman taken from Earth when it is discovered she is the reincarnation of a powerful intergalactic figure. The scene in which Jupiter claims the title and privileges due her doesn’t involve a fight or even a confrontation, although there are plenty of both of those elsewhere. Instead Jupiter and her protector/love interest Caine (Channing Tatum) must go through a sort of bureaucratic hell, a trip to a series of increasingly warren-like offices each with its own officious clerk. Finally Jupiter receives her signet from a man who looks like a mad professor. The whole sequence feels like something out of a Terry Gilliam film, and in fact Gilliam plays the man who gives Jupiter her signet. The director of Brazil could have made quite a comedy out of this story which the Wachowskis have turned into a dull mess.

Jupiter Ascending is about Jupiter’s discovery that the Earth and her people are a commodity, part of an intergalactic capitalist system in which people are “harvested” for their ability to produce a substance that will give other people longer lives. To put it another way, this film could bring back the phrase “It’s made out of people!“ Three siblings seem to control most of the market, most annoying among them Balem (Eddie Redmayne, who speaks in a strangled whisper and appears to be sedated until the last half-hour or so). Balem has plans for Jupiter’s family and the rest of the Earth’s population, but Jupiter can save the Earth by doing … well, it isn’t quite clear exactly. The Wachowskis’ script is so full of exposition and legalistic detail that it wasn’t until after I’d left the theater that I realized that all Jupiter really had to do was show up and not get killed for her royal blood to negate Balem’s power. That’s where Caine comes in, a character who’s always swooping in to save Jupiter at the key moment just like a sort of unfunny Han Solo. The doggedness that worked for Tatum in Foxcatcher doesn’t save him in a film in which his character is required to explain how his gravity boots work. There is also Sean Bean, playing a man who lives in a house full of bees who turns out to be a sort of mentor and sidekick to Caine. At one point Bean’s character sits down to explain nothing less than the history of the universe to Jupiter only to have the lecture interrupted when his tablet breaks. Perhaps the Wachowskis were pushing the limits of their budget at that point.

Jupiter Ascending ends with Jupiter and Caine flying into the camera as if they were headed for a story meeting on a sequel that will never be made. The Wachowskis have made the worst kind of bad movie, one that takes itself far too seriously to be enjoyable even as camp. May I suggest the Wachowskis set their next film entirely on Earth? Or, failing that, just hire a screenwriter.

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