Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review: Jupiter Ascending

by Adam Riske
This is unfortunate.

Being a fan of The Wachowskis is like being a parent of a kid that plays soccer. During some games they’ll look great and score the game-winning goal (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) and during others they’re going to be all over the field (Speed Racer, The Matrix Reloaded) and maybe even shit the bed (The Matrix Revolutions) but there you are supporting them through thick and thin. With their latest, Jupiter Ascending, you and the kid are going to need to go out for ice cream afterwards to cheer each other up.

The movie is just not very good. Awkwardly structured, confusingly set-up and drowning in flop sweat, Jupiter Ascending is a real missed opportunity that reminded me of Titan A.E. and, in most cases, the Star Wars prequels – there’s a fun moment here and there but you’re in mediocre town most of the way. I admire The Wachowskis for doing their own thing; this is not a movie that feels the victim of studio notes, but the fact of the matter is that not much of this movie works.
Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) lives in Chicago with her family and works as a maid alongside her mother. Desperate for an escape from her unsatisfying life, she is recruited by Caine (Channing Tatum) for an important task. It seems Jupiter is fated by genetics to be next in line for a cosmic inheritance that could alter the balance of the universe. She needs to go into outer space to make a claim to it. Desperate to stop her are the Abrasax siblings (Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton), who want the power all to themselves.

This is a standard "chosen one" story that only seems complicated while you are watching it because it’s so poorly laid out and lethargic in the outset. I was often confused in the first act who the characters were and how they connected to one another. Forty five minutes in, I was quite bored and it took a while for me to get back into the proceedings. That’s my definitive issue with the movie: the story is uninteresting. For a movie with a universe this big, why not have it be that the fate of the universe is at stake? Instead we are put through the paces of an uninteresting family’s power struggle and the fly in the ointment that is Jupiter Jones.
The performances are problematic, too. Coming off best is Channing Tatum, though I wonder why The Wachowskis cast him in one of the two lead roles when they had so little interest in capitalizing on his usual on-screen charisma. His co-star, Mila Kunis, comes off worse. Kunis has a likeable persona but combining her work here with her bad performance in Oz the Great and Powerful, I think it can be said that she should stop acting in fantasy movies. She seems lost and cannot carry them on her shoulders with her limited range. While everyone else seems to be acting in the same movie, Kunis plays her role like she’s the lead in Maid in Manhattan. She’s a damsel in distress that is always acted upon instead of moving the action herself and never seems all that surprised by anything. It gets really annoying after a while. Sean Bean is on hand in a supporting role but he fades into the background. The less said about Eddie Redmayne (who I must say deserves the praise he is getting for The Theory of Everything) the better. He plays his villain like someone suffering from strep throat. It’s hammy nonsense.

Many of the supporting characters and the locations are digital effects. The creature designs are creative but underwhelming; none are stand-outs and the all-CGI environments rob the movie of much vitality. I read a critic somewhere (at some time) describe a movie as an action painting where animation has replaced photography and the actor(s) remain the only thing real in the shot. That is a perfect way to describe the majority of Jupiter Ascending and I don’t mean that to be complimentary.
To be fair, though, I didn’t hate the movie. There are some things I liked, albeit they are more in theory than in execution. I appreciate that The Wachowskis wanted to build a universe from the ground up. The movie is audacious and confident in what it is doing. It’s very nerdy, but in a charming way. The technical aspects are top flight, including a fun score by Michael Giacchino and beautiful cinematography by John Toll. In short, there was enough for me to admire that I wasn’t in agony in the theater as I watched Jupiter Ascending.

I really wanted to like this movie. I wish it were more entertaining and not so dull. With a budget reportedly north of $175 million, it’s important to many (namely Warner Bros. and The Wachowskis) that this movie is successful. It does not appear that will be the case, unless it does great internationally. That’s a shame. This movie bombing financially tells the film industry not to give directors like The Wachowskis, who make movies on a big scale, chances to create original projects of this size. This is a case of no winners and only losers. It was important for this movie to do well, even if it doesn’t necessarily deserve it.

Now it’s time for the ice cream. Rocky Road seems appropriate.

29 comments:

  1. That's a bummer. I haven't had time to see it yet but I'm planning to this weekend, mostly because I want to support craziness like Cloud Atlas. What I hate is how many people (and this may just be a sign that I'm following some toxic people on Twitter) seem to be positively drooling over the failure of this one, the same way they were for the serviceable-but-not-great John Carter. I don't understand the mind-set of rooting for something to fail, especially something built on imagination and love of spectacle and adventure.

    Even after this review, I'd rather give something ambitious a shot than just line up for the next Transformers sequels. i appreciate the warning to keep expectations in check, though.

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    1. As always, let me know what you think when you see it. I'm curious.

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  2. Oh boy this movie. I paid my money, I sat down and gave it a real chance but... My god...what a mess. I saw this with my girlfriend who it turns out had never seen the matrix so I bought the bluray and forced her to watch it and I was amazed at how well the Wachowskis build a fantasy world that's coherent and believable in that first matrix movie and what a shitty job they do trying to do it in Jupiter Ascending. I really tried to force my way into this world they were creating but I just didn't care and it all just became cgi non sense to me. The action scenes were dull and repetitive and went on way too long. Channing Tatum does his best but he is completely stranded here and i ended up just feeling bad for him. His character is there just to save Mila Kunis over and over and over again when she keeps getting into stupid situations.

    Mila Kunis is a block of wood in this movie and her character basically exists to ask questions and have shit explained to her throughout the movie. She is not a character and i couldnt tell you one thing about her besides that she wants to bone Channing Tatums wolf man even though theres 0 chemistry between them. This movie is 95 percent of people just explaining shit to each other and for how much exposition there is I couldn't tell you what the hell was going on half the time. Eddie Redmayne should probably give his Oscar nomination to someone else after giving one of the worst performances I've ever seen playing a villain whose motivations were never clear to me and the "threatening" dialogue that came out of his mouth had my audience laughing. I will give the movie points for swinging for the fences and I will classify this as a hugely ambitious failure, but I was fascinated by how much it completely missed the mark. I feel like I could right an entire thesis paper on why this movie doesn't work but ill stop here. Phew.

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    1. TravisL wrote, "This movie is 95 percent of people just explaining shit to each other...."

      Now that I think about it, that is kind of true for "The Matrix" as well.

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    2. True, there's surprisingly little action in the complete running time of "The Matrix." But it executes its exposition scenes so well that you don't notice it as much as in "Jupiter Ascending," which has about as many action scenes (time wise) as in "The Matrix" but the exposition scenes just don't have weight. I blame it on uncharismatic leads. Whenever Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne or Nikki Amuka-Bird state their expo dumps I'm drawn by their characters doing so with authority, like Neo and Trinity. But Tatum and Mila have the bulk of the exposition dump scenes, and they're just liteweight and unconvincing. Shame, because as far as world building and creating a science fiction fantasy setting this movie is aces.

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    3. Yes matrix handles it better and they're spread out between cool action scenes. That and I cared about more about that story and the world. Now the matrix sequels however fall into the same category as Jupiter Ascending and that's when I lost interest in that world.

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    4. You're complaining about uncharismatic leads..... because Keanu is sooooo charismatic

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  3. Can't say that I had high hopes for this one, but I was hoping it would be better than you make it sound Adam. I will still check it out at some point.

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    1. Cool. If you do, let me know what you think of it.

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  4. I want to want to see this, but the hair/makeup/look of Tatum and Redmayne in this is so off-putting.

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  6. Because of my intense love for Cloud Atlas I was so on board for this movie, but it wouldn't let me love it. The plot is so convoluted and the movie's technically so well made but it doesn't take any time to let you care about the characters at all.

    Eddie Redmaynes performance was so enjoyably embarassing. Especially his scene with Mila Kunis, with her acting at a 0 and him at level 100.TravisL says it all with describing her as a block of wood. I wanted to like her so bad but there was just nothing to hold on to. I kept imagining the movie with a different lead actress and whoever I placed there would have been better.

    I always wonder how something like this happens. The casting people and directors can't have missed her lethargic performance, right? Did she SHINE at the audition and then suddenly stop caring/trying during shoting? Her complete lack of interest in the proceedings and chemistry with Tatum apparently didn't matter to anyone? So weird. Took me out of the movie completely.
    I really wanted to love this movie but it's just too much of a mess. I did enjoy the "I'm not your mother" one liner. After The Ring Two and Orphan, this seems to be happening a lot in films and it's always amusing to me somehow.

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    1. Yeah, the romance didn't work at all. It's weird too because both Tatum and Kunis have been romantic leads before and you would think the two could have chemistry together. I think it was more a problem with the writing than anything.

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  7. Just got back from seeing this. Maybe it was the three margaritas (I went to one of those theaters where you can get booze and food), but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

    I also didn't hate Eddie Redmayne. Again, maybe it was the margaritas.

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    1. I might have liked it better if I were boozy. I saw Speed Racer while on medicine and it was like a fireworks display. I was entranced.

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    2. I believe I saw speed racer while I was intoxicated and it made me ill. Haven't seen it since.

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  8. I don't like to watch the trailers for movies that I'm interested in due to the fact that they can often be spoiled in the trailers themselves nowadays. I almost stepped out of the theater when the Jupiter Ascending trailer came on not for that reason, but because of Channing Tatum's nasty ass elf ears. Those things look like a cheap Star trek Halloween costume. Also the trailer looked horrible.

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  9. I saw this just this afternoon actually, and you pretty much nailed it Adam. It really is just a bunch of CGI nonsense, and for the life of me i can't figure out what Eddie Redmayne was doing. I mean did he think that talking like he was just getting over a cold was menacing? And Kunis was definitely in a totally different movie. But the tone of this movie was mucked up from the start. Tatum is playing in a very serious movie, Kunis is playing in a weird rom-com and Redmayne is in a silly 80's movie. It's really all over the place. But the tonal issues stems from every part of the film making, in particular because nothing ever seems to be that dangerous because it is exclusively CGI. Still, I didn't really hate it, btu I really didn't like it. I think the character that most sums up my feelings about this movie is the crazy Elephant man ship driver guy. The second I saw that guy I just burst out laughing, and if I'm not mistaken, we first see him in a very intense, pivotal moment of the movie, which just about sums up the tonal issues I had with this movie.

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    1. That elephant person totally caught me by surprise too. I was on board with all the human-animal hybrids, but that appearance came way out of left field!

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    2. I'm all for craziness like the elephant guy if you make him into a character but I agree it's sort of jarring and strange just to have this random elephant dude show up and then never explain what the hell is up with that.

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  10. Unfortunate indeed - I had already read a few negative reviews but it's good to hear it from someone who I know is giving it a fair shake. Love the soccer analogy.

    The Wachowskis have been more miss than hit but have earned so much goodwill from me from The Matrix and Cloud Atlas (which I LOVE) for me to ever write them off completely - hopefully their careers will survive this one.

    And Mila Kunis is super cute and seems like a cool person but has she ever really had a strong performance in anything? I haven't seen a lot of her movies but when I think of something like The Book of Eli which was solidly OK, she stands out as the worst part for me. Not sure she's ready for Prime Time...

    Great review, Adam - unfortunately it's the last nail in the coffin for me.

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    1. "Black Swan" knew how to use Mila pretty well. But yeah, she's not ready to be the star of a movie, let alone a $200 million sci-fi fantasy epic. Shoot, I don't think even Natalie Portman in the lead could have saved "Jupiter Ascending" and she's beloved by all. I'd be curious to know who the Wachawskis asked to be the lead of "JA" and turned them down before they settled on Kunis.

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    2. Funny you mention Natalie Portman, she was actually originally cast to play Jupiter "call me Jupe" Jones but backed out at the last second. Rooney Mara was then considered before they settled on Kunis.

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    3. I think Kunis is good in something like Friends with Benefits. She's just not right for this type of material. Then again, the part of Jupiter is so poorly written I think any actress would have a hard time making something out of it.

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  11. If you were trusting directors to do a 175 million dollar movie then you can understand why they got the gig, I also think a shout out for the screenplay for V for Vendetta is also worth a mention. A not perfect movie but there is a lot I like about it. I personally am kinda bummed by the review and comments, I was quite looking forward to this and I will support it because I want new idea movies like this and Guardians of the galaxy to be made,

    Cheers

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    1. I agree on V for Vendetta.You should give Jupiter Ascending a shot, who knows, maybe you'll like it? If you see it..let me know what you think.

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    2. As Arnie says "I'll be back". with a comment after ive watched it. I'm definatley going to go see it on the big screen

      Ps did you see Patricks header on facebook

      "Enthusiasm Decending" clever bastard ;)

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  12. I share many of Adam's observations, but I was OK with the movie overall. The choral score during one of the explosive action sequences helped me to reframe the picture's genre from sci-fi to space opera. (There probably won't be any "The Philosophy of Jupiter Ascending" books published any time soon.) Viewing the movie as an audio/visual spectacle for quick consumption eased me through the more troublesome scenes. YMMV. Sounds like tequila has a similar effect. :-)

    I like the theme regarding the value of time, but was disappointed that it wasn't a more dominant part of the story. It seemed to be used as a throwaway line to justify the antagonists' behavior. Also, there was a line that made me think about Agent Smith's classification of humans in The Matrix, but, again, the idea wasn't explored here.

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  13. I just watched Jupiter Ascending. Holy F. That movie cost 175 million dollars. Hahahahaha. It is already Junesploitation worthy.

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