Jupiter Ascending

She can do everything but stand up for herself
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2015
Director: 
The Wachowski's
Starring: 
Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne
The Setup: 
Insane story about a helpless cleaning lady who is actually an intergalactic queen.
Discussion: 

I’m in Buenos Aires and was REALLY hoping to see this movie in Spanish, so I could just look at the visuals and not have to follow the story. I think there really may be a market for big, insipid movies like this [and Tron: Legacy, among others] to be released with just musical soundtracks and no dialogue, kind of like remixes. But no, it was in English, but with subtitles, so at least I could have the illusion that I was “learning Spanish” as I watched. I did learn that “Holy Crap” is “Demonicos!”

So this is the new movie by the Wachowski’s, of The Matrix, and when you think about the necessity of having a big, consistent vision in order to bring a huge undertaking like this to the screen, a vision you [apparently] believe in enough to go through the tremendous effort to make it happen, you have to kind of think… THIS? Was your vision? This was the story you needed to tell? This movie got some decent reviews and a lot of poor ones, but all of them agree that it is pretty batshit crazy [the good ones mostly saying you should see it just because it’s so batshit crazy]. And batshit crazy is precisely what gets me into a theater.

We open in an apartment [somewhere?] with a guy and his pregnant wife. He’s into astronomy, and has a telescope. Suddenly stormtroopers invade the place [and why not?] because they want… something? They end up killing dad but sparing mom, and let me tell you, honeybunny, we never, ever find out why stormtroopers might invade this couple’s apartment. It’s just one of the things that’s a part of daily life in the 21st century, I guess. We all just have to be ready for stormtroopers to charge in at any moment.

Things go even more insane when, two seconds later, mom is giving birth in a cargo container on a freight ship crossing the ocean. Sure. The point of this seems to be that Jupiter, our heroine, was born without a country, and… in a way it’s kind of liberating that the filmmakers seem to have no interest whatsoever in making sense. It also introduces an element of surprise unusual in blockbusters as, obviously, anything can happen. An element that is not really followed through upon, but whatevs. Anyway, in two shakes she’s grown into Mila Kunis, who is part of a large Latin family who lives in Chicago, and part of her family’s cleaning business. We see her cleaning numerous toilets in luxury apartments, and particular hilarity comes from seeing her gathered around the family dinner table, all of them skanky and lower-class with frizzy hair, and Mila sitting there all high-glam with perfect straight hair.

Abruptly we see Channing Tatum as Caine Wise [yup, Caine Wise] being chased by space bounty hunters, some on space-motorcycles that can go invisible. We also abruptly cut to a deserted planet [designed by Frank Gehry… seriously, he is one of two architects in the credits], where two pretty-boy brothers meet. Then, back to toilets in Chicago. The movie simply cuts to them without introduction, as though we are as a culture are so inured to any manner of fantastic image that we don’t need any kind of “meanwhile, below this everyday existence, another world lurks…” type introduction content, we can simply cut from cleaning ladies to space bounty hunters, and it all goes down smooth. I mean, OF COURSE there are space bounty hunters among us every day. Like, WHAT is the big deal?

Blah, blah, while cleaning house in the dressing room of her friend the anorexic, tiny skeleton-people invade and, in the movie’s sole example of wit, Mila doesn’t react, just snaps a pic on her phone. You’ll be confused when this suddenly ends and goes nowhere, but it’s explained later. In an extremely ugly subplot that goes nowhere, Mila is being exploited by her cousin, and undergoing egg harvesting, which he will take the majority of money from. While she’s unconscious, the skeleton-people prepare to kill her, but Caine comes in on his jet boots, which allow him to essentially skateboard through air, and after a shootout, saves her. She wakes on an upper floor of the Willis [formerly Sears] Tower, and after a bit of exposition, they jump out, but oh right: space bounty hunters.

The shootout that follows is the best sequence of the film, and the only one that fulfills the film’s promise of action scenes so dazzlingly overwhelming they put you into a kind of dizzy trance. Mila is hanging on to Caine, or falling and being caught just in time [another review was commenting on the sheer amount of times in this film she freefalls, only to be caught just in time], while he flies around, leaving little light trails, as they zoom around the upper stories of Chicago’s skyscrapers, which are turning upside-down and whirling as they zoom through them. It’s really good! I kind of wish I could watch this scene again [in 3D, of course] without having to pay for the whole movie. Anyway, all downhill from here.

They take off to visit Sean Bean in a farmhouse in the cornfields, where Mila is surrounded by bees swarming in ribbons to her every move, and anyone who has ever read a science book of any reading level will get a huge chortle when we are told that bees “instinctively respect royalty.” You see, Mila is a queen on some other planet, mother, through some way that is impossible to understand, to the two brothers, who both are princes or some shit. Caine, by the way, is half-man, half-wolf, and has lost his wings through some punishment [man, wolf… wings? Am I missing something?]. Anyway, another huge battle [routine] and Mila is taken into space. She takes to all of this with only the most mild surprise, which becomes especially comic as she is suddenly in vast civilizations in space but barely raises an eyebrow, or utters a breathy “Holy crap!

SPOILERS > > >
The first thing is she’s introduced to some woman—no clue who she is—who tells her that they harvest human beings in order to make some fountain of youth kind of thing, and we see a demonstration of it in action. Meanwhile, Caine is somewhere else, shooting some people, and you’re like “Who is he shooting? Why are they bad?” and honestly, I still don’t know. Anyway, he eventually takes her away from the woman, where she meets pretty boy #1, who wants her to marry him. He tells her it’s not a love thing, more of a formality, but it’ll save the people of some planet she’s never heard of, so she agrees. Sure, I’ll marry anyone, so long as it’s not about love. Soon she’s put in a huge dress and taken to the front of the ship, which is decked out like a massive Gothic cathedral, complete with stone bricks.

Meanwhile, Caine is thrown out into space to die, but happens to kick some packs of instant spacesuits which float out with him, and he gets in one, but only has 17 minutes of air. Well, maybe a good idea to gather some of the others, no? Maybe your jet boots might be of use here? Anyway, the tension had me on the edge of my seat [sarcasm], and it was a total shock when another ship appeared just in a nick of time to save him. There’s a huge battle and they stop the wedding just in time. Then something happens, and before you know it, Mila is on Jupiter, with pretty boy #2.

He is played by Eddie Redmayne, pitching his voice like Marlon Brando in The Godfather. I don’t really know what he wants, either, but all of it has to do with controlling the universe or whatever. The reality seems to be that Mila is a queen, only she doesn’t know the extent of her power, and the more she realizes it… she still doesn’t do a damn thing. Toward the end, I was like “Wow, she can do anything except stand up for herself!” because she just goes along with anything and never, ever expresses her own wants. First she’s marrying this stranger, then she’s about to enter a huge contract with that stranger, while you keep waiting for her to say “Hey, I’m the queen, and I am NOT putting up with this shit!” My friend also noticed, thanks to the subtitles, the sheer amount of times she says “I’m sorry.” It’s a huge bummer, and if the Wachowski’s hadn’t given us Trinity in The Matrix, I would be diagnosing some quite retrograde gender politics.

Anyway, if you guessed that there’s going to be a huge battle and that Caine would save her from her own passivity, you’re right. In the end, she’s back to cleaning toilets, only now she also owns the Earth.
< < < SPOILERS END

Well, I knew it was going to be a wash as a story, but I was hoping the visuals would be amazing. But aside from the Chicago battle scene, it was all just a bunch of pretty pixels, without any shape or resonance or beauty or monumentality. There are things you see in the trailer—like a ship rising magnificently through the ring around a planet—but they’re just plopped into the film with no build-up or flow. There are spaceships and planets and this and that and the other, but they’re arranged so artlessly they just plop there on the screen. There is no sense of leading up to a fantastic image or letting things be drab for a while so an amazing image will pop. It kind of reminded me of Guardians of the Galaxy that way, which caused a great deal of visual overload in me, only this film has half as many fantastic visuals—and can’t make much of any of them. And it reveals how [comparatively] good Guardians was. It also made me feel old, because soon people born in the 2000’s will look back at these movies and be seeing visual poetry in them, and bemoaning the lack of quality they’re seeing at films current then.

It was also like Guardians it that you simply have to sit back and wonder at the sheer amount of designs that are produced for these films… from costumes to spaceships to cities and more… and think about what an essentially pointless task it is. All these people spinning their wheels to create… this? It really makes you see Hollywood as some sort of economic engine that employes thousands solely for the sake of employing thousands, while producing the most useless, disposable product. And again, the incredible effort, on the part of so many, to bring something like this to the screen. Something like THIS? When they could be working on something worthwhile? And again, the Wachowski’s… THIS is their vision? They went through all that effort to create THIS?

Which would all be fine, if it only had some panache, some sense of style with its visuals that rocked your retinas and left you feeling dizzy and satisfied. What seems left out of the equation is that story—let alone structure, editing or rising and falling rhythms—could actually be used to enhance the visuals. As it is, it functions best as something that employed a number of people in the special effects and filmmaking industries, and provided jobs, more like a construction project than an artistic endeavor.

Should you watch it: 

It's insane fun, but not as insane or fun as you'd wish it would be.

Comments

I just have to say, in the pic you posted where the young lady is falling to her doom, it looks as if she's displeased with her manicurist and is telling her as much. "You B@#&H I said Rose Pink NOT Strawberry Milk!!"