Directors: Lana and Andy Wachowski
Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Plot: A human girl (Kunis) lives a dull life, until she is attacked by extra-terrestrial creatures. It turns out she is the heir to the Earth and is wanted, dead or alive, by an intergalactic corporation.
Out of all of the films of 2015, Jupiter Ascending seems to be the one that can’t catch a break. It follows the same vein as Flash Gordon or Star Wars, a gigantic space opera that boasts an underdog hero gifted with royal blood, and dragging her through glorious set-piece after set-piece, a cast of bizarre and visually stimulating creatures cropping up along the way. While my fears of it being more silly than camp weren’t true and it boasted a lot of moments that surprisingly impressed, on the whole, the general consensus is correct. There simply aren’t too many reasons to recommend Jupiter Ascending.
This is mainly due to a really poor heroine. You have to feel sorry for Mila Kunis, trapped in the middle of this lead balloon. She is an actress that has got to that stage in her career where she is pretty well-established, but needs a few more mainstream non-comedy roles to really become the powerhouse she could potentially become. Jupiter Ascending could have been her first meaty action role, the lead heroine in a Sci-Fi. You can imagine her agent pitching it to the actress, as her chance to be the next Ripley or Sarah Connor. However, the truth is the character is so bland and frustratingly useless, Jupiter Jones becomes the easiest thing to point at in this movie and condemn. And it’s not really Mila’s fault. There were few moments when I looked at her performance and felt it was the problem with the scene in question. No, it was the character that was a non-starter. She is meant to be that everyday girl with a mundane and hard-working job, trapped in the rat race, who is suddenly swept up one day in an intergalactic adventure that revolves around her. She is essentially Harry Potter or Anne Hathaway from the Princess Diaries. There’s a reason we have seen this plot before: it works. We all want a little bit of escapism to picture ourselves as the hero, and women haven’t had a good one in a few years. However, Jupiter Ascending’s heroine never finds her feet in the story. She is constantly being whipped away from planet to planet, getting caught up in a political game she doesn’t understand, and waiting on being rescued. She is that typical damsel in distress (every plot point in the movie requires her to meet up with a villain and hang around until the male hero saves her – and I mean every plot point!), but because she is meant to be the main character, it is even more unforgivable. At least, it allows Channing Tatum to slip in and steal some limelight from this mess of a movie. He plays a splice, half-wolf, half-human, super-soldier, who glides elegantly around on rocket boots and takes part in action sequences that only occasionally make sense. For the first half of the movie, he is actually enough to entertain. Eventually, the act gets old, as, no matter how original the location or costume department, it is the same ‘rushing in to save Mila Kunis’ structure, but the blame doesn’t lie with Tatum. You could argue he is asked to repress his charisma somewhat, but even on half-power, Tatum brings a comfortable action presence to the film.
And yes, there are little highlights to this movie that kind of makes you want to forgive it. Zone out the terrible lead character and you can get lost in the remarkable costume department and the banter between Tatum and Bean (“Oh beeswax!” sighs Sean Bean’s beekeeper character, before being shot at with a pulse gun). Sometimes you might catch yourself having fun. But the truth is that there is too much rubbish going on as well. The villains are terrible. We have all seen the three ruthless siblings do some amazing acting in their time. Eddie Redmayne picked up an OSCAR with the last film we saw him in, for crying out loud. Here, he is so terribly poor, part of you hopes he never gets an acting role again. The truth is that the three of them are asked to go super hammy, taking on board the campiness of Flash Gordon and over-acting with every line of dialogue. Redmayne plays the stuck-up mother’s boy, whispering every line and, near the end of the movie, breaking down into a tantrum every two seconds to highlight that the movie has entered its final act. Douglas Booth is the rock star brother, also annoyingly in love with his mother, yet given the roguish good looks that means he will probably be having a confrontation with Mila Kunis in a forced wedding scene. Tuppence Middleton is the best of the three, but only because she doesn’t have enough screen-time to get on your nerves. All three overwork their characters, which doesn’t work with Tatum’s laid-back hero and Sean Bean, deciding that this is probably not the kind of project he should be working too hard at. Better are the non-human characters, like the reptile henchmen that make for a decent finale punch-up or the agile aliens first sent to find Jupiter Jones. Their first appearance, as they semi-invisible try to abduct a girl, was thrilling, eerie and the kind of scene that made me think that Jupiter Ascending might have more weight than promised.
Then why has this movie gotten so much hate? When it comes to characterisation, we have seen and liked worse movies. For every terrible villain character, there is a good fight with Channing Tatum that makes the film bearable. It is silly and cringe-worthy, but just about entertaining enough that there was never a moment I felt pressurised into turning off the film, as I find myself doing with a lot of other commonly-hated films. Some people simply dislike this film and can’t put their finger on why. For me, it was the production value. Halfway through this film, it struck me that no matter how much fun I managed to squeeze out of its clichéd plot and dull characters, it should have been better. So much time and money has gone onto every aspect of this film. The action is filmed like it is aiming to be the next Matrix. There is not one costume or scene that hasn’t had everything thrown at it. Usually films I dislike are down to laziness or incompetence from the film crew as a whole. Here, I get the impression quite a lot of the team were doing a hell of a job… judging from the make-up and elegant dresses everyone is given, a passionate job as well. Yet a clunky script and over-melodramatic direction just killed it for everyone. This should have been a lot better. And that is why Jupiter Ascending will probably be the worst film of 2015.
Final Verdict: Jupiter Ascending isn’t mind-numbingly disastrous as some people might have you believe. It is simply nowhere near as good as it should be.