Popcorn and Pepsi Reviews: Jupiter Ascending
So when it comes down to it, movies cannot survive on their special effects alone. Various big-budget blockbusters over the years have taught us that- just look at “47 Ronin”. When it’s done right, there’s a balance of eye candy and mind massages that complement each other. Modern movies like “The Avengers” or The Dark Night trilogy do this well, but to get a sense of how special effects are supposed to compliment a science fiction story, you have to go back to the old Star Wars and Terminator movies.
What made those stories great is that they didn’t have to spell everything out for the viewer. There’s an anecdotal quote attributed to George Lucas that says “If the audience doesn’t know what it is within the first 5 seconds, you’re doing it wrong.” These stories spun their tale visually, which allowed the dialogue to be sparse yet poetic. If you’re characters aren’t having to explain everything, they can really develop and the audience can form a relationship with them.
While “Jupiter Ascending” is by no means a bad movie, it illustrates why so many sci-fi movie fail- they try to do too much with too little. Large chunks of the movie are spent spoon feeding the viewers this universe the characters occupy. That’s all fine, except that for the most part what they’re explaining really doesn’t matter. When the screen is being eaten up by gorgeously rendered spaceships and aliens, we don’t need to know all of the details of why Channing Tatum’s character was discharged from the services. Or rather, what the movie took three or four long monologues describing could have gotten the same message across in three or four lines of dialogue.
Identity is also a major crisis with this movie. At times it feels like 3 different movies trying to occupy the same slot- imagine “Time Cop” but with movies instead of Jean Claude Van Damme. At one part it’s a working city girl trying to find love, then it’s an “Avenger’s” style action romp, followed by attempts at “Pan’s Labyrinth” style visuals, now it’s a Harry Potter whimsical fantasy comedy, now its…
The detours taken by the writers force the story to become something it’s not. As a result, the plot muddles and we spent less time getting to know characters who seem like they might actually be interesting given more screen time. Instead our eyes are light-years ahead of our brains thanks to one thing the Wachowski’s do well- using special effects to distract you from a lack-luster script.
Lastly there’s the problem with the main characters. Jupiter- played annoyingly by the lovely Mila Kunis- isn’t what viewers want in their heroines. She is everything wrong with the average female, and she’s made the ruler of a planet. Time and time again she screws things up, almost forcing the death of herself, her family and namely the entire human race. In fact, if it wasn’t for Channing Tatum’s character, Jupiter may have easily brought the destruction of the planet thanks to her own desires to be a princess. Cause what girl doesn’t want to be a princess? Only being a princess- or in this case and Empress- means you actually have a lot of responsibility on your hands, and no woman wants to deal with that.
I won’t even mention the absolutely criminal under-use of Sean Bean here. Instead I’ll move on to the other protagonist- Channing Tatum’s Caine Wise. Caine is some sort of human-wolf hybrid who really is just a human with pointy ears and good sense of smell. I don’t mean to detract from Mr. Tatum at all- I’m sure he’s an absolutely fine human being and an admirable actor. But he phones this one in. There’s not chemistry between his character and Jupiter, and that’s not for lack of effort on Ms. Kunis’ part. In trying to play the distant, guarded, masculine male Mr. Tatum instead comes across as a disinterested actor only in this movie for the paycheck until he can reap the critical benefits of “Foxcatcher”. That is, of course, excluding the fight scenes. I have to admit, the sold the idea of gravity skating really well, and it makes for some really great action sequences. Of course Channing Tatum is the top of the totem pole when it comes to action stars, but I still can’t help but feel that someone else might have given the role the same physicality while also giving the character a bit more depth. My mind rushes immediately to Tom Hardy, but we must unfortunately live in the real world.
In a box office weekend that included “50 Shades of Grey”, you can’t hate “Jupiter Ascending”. Though it misses the mark by quite a bit, it does make an honest effort at being a good science fiction movie. And if nothing else, you don’t feel like you wasted the price of a ticket. “Jupiter Ascending” is great escapist film making, the type that makes you forget what previews you saw and where you parked your car.