“Expand Your Universe”
Directed by the Wachowskis
Starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne
Anglo-Russian immigrant Jupiter Jones (Kunis) works with her mother and aunt as underpaid cleaners, until alien bounty hunters come looking for Jupiter and she is whisked off on an interstellar adventure with demi-wolf tracker Caine Wise (Tatum).
Jupiter learns that she now owns the Earth, which was seeded with human life with the intent of grinding the population down to make skin cream for the Entitled, the universe’s near-immortal 1%. In order to save her family, and her world, she must confront her ‘kin’ in the Abrasax dynasty. Supported by Wise, his former CO Stinger (Bean) and the space police, she faces the three Abrasax siblings – Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Balem (Redmayne) – and struggles to decide where her own place should be.
What’s wrong with it?
Jupiter Ascending has been widely and accurately described as a hot mess. It throws concepts at the screen to see what sticks and while some of it does, an awful lot is just weird (and not necessarily in a good way.)
In the scene pictured above, the wedding is located due to the concentration of androids needed to create a suitable crowd, and not say because it’s being held in the fuck-off great cathedral on the prow of Titus’ space yacht.
In a lot of ways there is too much, and much that isn’t explained enough, and when things are it sometimes doesn’t help:
“They use gravity; shape it to differential equation planes that you can surf.”
“I heard gravity and surf.”
That’s okay, Jupiter; those were the only bits that actually meant anything.
Honestly, not enough is made of the big reveal that the Soylent Blue is people, especially since Stinger is paid off in Soylent Blue to treat his daughter’s illness. Does no-one have a problem with that?
The romance between Jupiter and Caine is kind of shoehorned in, adding little to the plot and not having enough focus to convince.
Given that ‘half-albino runt’ Caine is just about the most badass thing in the universe, a legend of the Legion, why does no-one else use Lycanten soldiers? It’s all mask-dudes and Draconians in sweet jackets, but Caine kicks all their arses, despite being broken.
Jupiter spends way too much of her time being rescued. Her role in the film is something like 20% sass, 9% badassness, 15% unconsciousness, 24% falling off things, 12% captivity and silly outfits, and 20% being rescued by Caine.
When Jupiter does woman up and start smacking Balem around with a five iron, she is mostly forced to escape from an exploding gas refinery in the red spot of Jupiter (the planet, not the character; for a woman who spends her life up to her elbows in other people’s toilets, she has excellent skin) by the tried-and-tested method of following the only open path. It’s more like a demo of a computer game than a film.
Bees are genetically programmed to recognise royalty.
Genes are magic!
We now interrupt this grand and sprawling space opera to bring you a satirical bureaucratic slapstick scene. Yes, it’s true; in order to claim the title which is hers by right of pure genetic happenstance, Jupiter has to be guided through the torturous nightmare of the Place that Makes you Mad from The Twelve Tasks of Asterix.
Caine’s gun barks. Seriously; he starts shooting and I’m sure I’m not the only one suddenly wondering who let the dogs out.
Titus references Beauty and the Beast. Is that a universal fairytale?
The universal use of ‘mister’ is a little odd, and is one of a number of small things that make the grand spectacle of the wider universe seem almost… mundane.
As rightful ruler of the entire Earth, Jupiter continues to clean toilets. Now, if that’s her choice, fair enough, but is she seriously happy to sit on unimaginable wealth and not just still watch her old Mum don the marigolds every day, but also accept the telescope they must have pawned their souls to afford without so much as a blush? I guess the Entitled are genetically shameless, which might explain some of the outfits.
What’s right with it?
Eddie Redmayne: I’m sorry I mocked you, and I see your value now. He husks his way through his role as Balem Abrasax, but occasionally stops to bellow like a mad thing; like… Sting in Dune. It’s fucking glorious.
Most of the performances are pretty decent in their way. If anything, Redmayne’s is the standout because it’s such a hysterical mess, compared with Middleton’s upper class restraint and Booth’s low-grade hedonism.
As you might expect, the film is gloriously pretty. The CGI is seamless, and the disarticulated spaceships are distinctive and unique. The array of ‘splices’ make for a fairly dizzying world, but it rarely looks too cluttered.
How bad is it really?
Jupiter Ascending is a total mess. I don’t think it’s actually fair to call it as terrible as some reviewers are saying, but given the amount of money and talent involved it is an inexcusable botch job.
Best bit (if such there is)?
- After a couple of unsettling awakenings, Jupiter asks the Aegis: “Do you have anything I can change into? In private. While conscious.”
What’s up with…?
- The Aegis? Are they serious? A joke? Kalique lets Jupiter go because the Aegis have arrived to escort her, but Balem acts like defying them and potentially trashing an Aegis cruiser is something he can do with complete impunity.
- ‘Fixing’ Chicago? Caine assures Jupiter that the city will be repaired in hours despite a fight scene which was much rougher on the iconic architecture, public transport infrastructure and populace than on Jupiter, and the memories of the witnesses blanked, leaving the a handful who might be missed to be later dismissed as crazy. And yet this is already hours after the event, so video of the incident must have gone viral by now. To retcon this would require a massive operations including both boots on the ground and a pervasive cyber presence to remove amateur and professional media cover, make repairs, hide bodies and then erase all pertinent memories. And yet these yahoos can’t find one cleaner without hiring bounty hunters.
- Channing Tatum’s face? That’s some extensive prosthetics there, but also that goatee? The hell?
- Caine’s purported ability to track a gene across half the galaxy by scent? Even if genes don’t work the way we think, I’m pretty sure hard vacuum does.
Production values – Jupiter Ascending boasts the kind of effects that could have ILM weeping into their Corn Flakes come the technical oscars. The costumes are a mixed bag, with the rugged military uniforms generally coming off better than the Entitled formal wear. 3
Dialogue and performances – The performances in the film are almost too restrained and naturalistic for something this vast in its scope, with the upshot that the dialogue often seems to be working at odds with the production to make a very big film small again. There should be more melodrama: The soldier types should be matching up to the eight-foot tall dragon dudes and the Entitled need to be way more decadent. Kalique should be vamping it up and it’s a crying shame every time Titus fails to recline on a piece of furniture. Only Eddie Redmayne gives it the hugeness it really needs. 9
Plot and execution – The plot rambles, with Jupiter bounced around like a pinball to fit in as much as possible on her whistle stop tour of the universe. The result is cluttered and inconsistent. 17
Randomness – There is an awful lot in this film that is there for visual impact rather than sense. In essence, the film is a collection of loosely connected vignettes which suffer from being tied together as a single narrative. 13
Waste of potential – So pretty, yet so very stupid, Jupiter Ascending had the potential to be something so much, much more. 18